Our Family Lawyers Will Provide Legal Guidance in the Adoption Process
Adoption is an exciting milestone for your family. While exciting, it can also be incredibly confusing. If you choose to make an impact in a child’s life and welcome them into your family, you can trust the experienced family lawyers at Parks Zeigler to handle what can be a complex legal process to adopt.
Adoption is the process by which a child has been legally separated from his or her biological parents and is legally placed with new parents. The new adoptive parents are granted the rights and obligations of biological parents, as the rights of the original biological parents are terminated.
We make the adoption process as easy as possible for clients
The adoption process can be emotional and potentially overwhelming. It is thrilling for new parents and is a difficult decision for birth parents. It is an arduous process for all involved and it is too important not to have an experienced family lawyer on your side.
One of the first roles of family lawyers is to help you develop an adoption plan that is best for your family. Every family has their own set of needs, preferences, and individual priorities. After we discuss your priorities, we help devise an adoption plan that works best for your family in terms of risk, timing, and budget.
Below is some useful information regarding parts of the adoption process, types of adoption, as well as the potential legal relationships between birth and adoptive parents.
Virginia Home Study Requirement
A home study is a required for most adoptions in Virginia. A home study is regulated by state law and usually takes anywhere from 6-8 weeks to complete. In short, a home study is a review of the person and/or family getting ready to adopt through a series of home visits and interviews completed by a social worker. Areas of review include but are not limited to:
- Current and potential family dynamics
- Home environment
- References from family or friends
- Educational background of adoptive parents
- Reason for wanting to adopt a child
- Financial status of adoptive parents
Potential adoptive parents are eager to get the ball rolling with their adoption case. Learning about the Virginia home study requirement can be overwhelming for families—some adoptive parents wonder where to even begin. It’s imperative that your family has a knowledgeable family lawyer to help explain the process in detail and provide excellent legal guidance every step of the way.
An agency adoption involves a privately licensed agency or a department of social services. Agency adoption is popular because it is one of the easiest and least emotionally exhausting options for adoption. A reputable adoption agency will assist your family in the adoption process and a committee will usually decide if your home would be a safe and happy environment for the child.
When a family adopts a child from an agency, the child’s birth parents have completely lost their legal rights as parents—the child is temporarily in the custody of the agency or the Commonwealth of Virginia. After the adoption process begins through a Petition of Adoption, all that is necessary is the approval of the Petition by the agency and the Commonwealth.
In non-agency adoptions, the child’s birth parents still legally have custody of the child; your family must petition the court to obtain the adoption consent from the birth parents or terminate their parental rights. The child is not ever in the custody of an adoption agency.
Non-agency adoption is most often utilized with adoptions involving other family members, including grandparents, stepparents, and other close relatives.
Close Relative Adoptions
Another non-agency adoption is close relative adoption. Grandparents and other close relatives have certain rights that make their adoption in Virginia more cost effective and smooth. In Virginia, close relatives are considered to be:
- Great grandparents
- Adult siblings
- Adult aunts and uncles
- Adult Great aunts and uncles
- Adult niece or nephew
- Adult stepbrother or stepsister
- Other adult relatives of the child by marriage or adoption
While stepparents are considered “close relatives” for adoption purposes (and can file as such), there is also an entirely separate category of adoption solely for stepparents. A stepparent adoption is a type of non-agency adoption where the spouse of a birth parent is adopting the birth parent’s child and it is the most common type of adoption. In stepparent adoption cases, consent has been given by the birth parents & child (if old enough), and an investigation by the court only occurs if the court deems it necessary.
Remarrying and beginning a new family is an exhilarating time. A stepparent adoption is a big decision for a family as it impacts everyone involved. Stepparent adoptions can become complicated without experienced legal counsel. The trusted family lawyers at Parks Ziegler can steer your family in the right direction and assist you and your spouse in the adoption process.
Parental Placement Adoptions
A third type of non-agency adoption is parental placement. Parental placement occurs when the birth parents directly choose the adoptive parents, which requires the cooperation of both birth parents. When only one birth parent consents to the adoption, that parent must comply to a set of rules stating that good efforts were made in trying to locate the missing birth parent and obtain their consent for the adoption. During a parental placement adoption, Virginia law offers birth parents a small window (a 7-day revocation period) to change their previous decision to consent the adoption of their child.
What if the child your family is trying to adopt is born across state lines? In interstate adoption cases, the best course of action is to decide which state would prove to be most advantageous to complete the adoption in, in terms of cost, risk, and timing.
The best plan for your family will differ based on your needs, finances, and time restraints. If you or the child you wish to adopt lives in Virginia, you will want a Virginia family law attorney on your side.
An adult adoption occurs when a petition to adopt a person 18 years or older is filed. The most common scenarios include the adoption of an adult by a stepparent or a close relative.
In adult adoption cases, consent of legal guardians or birth parents is not required; however, the adult must willingly provide consent to the adoption. A home study is only completed if the court deems it necessary.
A popular adoption option for families is adopting a child from another country. In most cases, this is completed through an accredited agency that specializes in international adoptions. After choosing an accredited agency, adoptive parents must apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to prove that they are capable and ready to adopt.
The adoptive parents will then go through background checks and a home study. Overall, international adoption is an arduous process because the adoptive parents must comply with the laws and regulations of their home state, federal adoption laws, and the regulations set by the country from which they are adopting. It can be daunting and difficult without legal guidance.
Another step in the process that contrasts from a standard national adoption is the fact that the child is not a U.S. citizen. The adoptive parents must apply for a Visa for the child that permits them entry into the United States. Additionally, after the international adoption is complete, it is recommended to complete an in-state adoption and re-adopt the child in the adoptive parents’ home state.
Same Sex Couple Adoption
It is legal for a married same-sex couple to adopt in Virginia and all standards and procedures remain the same. However, it is important to note that a couple cannot jointly adopt a child in Virginia if they are not married. In current Virginia law, only single unmarried persons or married couples can adopt.
Foster Parent Adoption
When a child enters the foster care system, the main goal is to reconnect them with their birth parents if the home environment is safe and appropriate. However, in some cases, the birth parents’ legal rights are terminated and the children become eligible for adoption while still in the foster care system.
Foster parent adoption can be similarly compared to agency adoption except that in a foster care adoption the child who is being adopted has usually been in the care of their foster parents (soon-to-be adoptive parents) for a period of time. This can lessen the requirements necessary to achieve the adoption.
The Department of Social Services offers a Foster to Adopt program. To qualify for this program, foster parents must complete specific training and be willing to take in their foster child without reassurance that the child will be re-homed with his or her birth parents.
Legal Relationships Between Birth and Adoptive Parents in Virginia
In Virginia, there are three types options regarding the relationship between the birth parents, the child, and the adoptive parents. Virginia law allows birth parents and adoptive parents to create post-adoption contract agreements which can be amended or enforced based on the needs of the child.
In an open adoption, the birth parent has access to the child’s identifying information and can keep open communication with the child and his or her adoptive parents as the child grows. Choosing to complete an open adoption gives the birth parent a chance to get to know the adoptive parents and ensure their child is in the right hands.
Semi-open adoption is a more restrictive form of open adoption where communications between the birth parents and adoptive parents are moderated by an adoption professional and there is no exchange of identifying information. The following are examples of communications between birth parents, adoptive parents, and the child in a semi-open adoption:
- Interaction at the hospital at time of child placement
- Picture and letter updates, mediated through an adoption professional
- Phone calls and email exchanges mediated through an adoption professional
- Personal visits with the child mediated by an adoption professional or social worker
In a closed adoption, little to no contact is shared between the adoptive parents and the birth parents to maintain a sense of privacy.