Adoption Court Procedures FAQ

Frequently asked questions explaining the involvement of courts and lawyers in the adoption process.

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Do I need to go to court for an adoption?

All adoptions, whether handled by an agency or done independently, must be approved by a court. The adoptive parents must file a petition -- basically a request for approval -- with the court and go through an adoption hearing.

Before the hearing, anyone who is required to consent to the adoption must receive notice. Usually this includes the biological parents, the adoption agency, the child's legal representative if a court has appointed one and the child himself if he is old enough (12 to 14 years old in most states). States vary on the particular notice requirements, so check your state's laws.

At the hearing, if the court determines that the adoption is in the child's best interest, the judge will issue an order approving and finalizing the adoption. This order, often called a final decree of adoption, legalizes the new parent-child relationship, and usually changes the child's name to the name the adoptive parents have chosen.

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What should my adoption petition say?

A standard adoption petition will generally include five pieces of information:

  1. the names, ages and address of the adoptive parents,
  2. the relationship between the adoptive parents and the child to be adopted,
  3. the legal reason that the birthparents' rights are being terminated (the reason usually being that they consented to the termination),
  4. a statement that the adoptive parents are the appropriate people to adopt the child, and
  5. a statement that the adoption is in the child's best interests.

Typically, the written consents of the birthparents or the court order terminating their parental rights is also filed along with the petition. Adoptive parents also often include a request for an official name change for the child.

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Do I need an attorney to handle the adoption of my child?

If you do not use an agency, yes. Even if you do use an agency, you will probably need to hire a lawyer to draft the adoption petition and to represent you at the hearing. Although there is no legal requirement that a lawyer be involved in an adoption, the process can be quite complex and should be handled by someone with experience and expertise. Having a lawyer experienced with adoptions can reduce the chances of having an adoption that is contested or develops other complications.

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Copyright 2004 Nolo