The decision to adopt a child may be one of the most meaningful choices you ever make. Bringing a child into your lives or creating a legal bond with a child already in your care can be life-altering for your whole family. However, the preparation and legal requirements surrounding the adoption process can be complicated and intimidating.
Sullivan Law Associates, LLC understands how significant the decision to adopt is and has the experience to guide you through the legal process.
ADOPTION CHANGES CHILDREN'S LIVES
At any time, there are hundreds of children in Alabama waiting for permanent homes. Adoption is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child, and that holds true whether you are adopting a stepchild or are interested in adopting a child unrelated to you or your spouse (should you be married). However, it is important that you have a clear understanding of the Alabama adoption process and the legal effect of adopting a child. Sullivan Law Associates, LLC can help ensure that your adoption moves forward as smoothly as possible and that the terms are as beneficial as possible for your family.
WHAT IS AN ADOPTION?
Adoption is the legal procedure through which a minor is recognized by law as being the son or daughter of the adopting adult(s) and as having all of the rights and duties of such relationship including the right of inheritance. The adoptee takes the name designated by the petitioner(s).
ADOPTION LICENSING REQUIREMENTS
Of course, the state of Alabama and the agencies that assist in the adoption process want to ensure the best care possible for adopted children. Therefore, most adoptive parents must undergo evaluation. Some typical criteria for approval include:
Being at least 19 years of age
Completion of criminal background checks on all household members aged 19 or older
Maintaining a stable family life
Being of reasonably good health (this will be verified via medical forms)
Providing character references
In addition, at least one of the prospective parents must be a U.S. citizen.
EXCEPTIONS TO ADOPTION LICENSING REQUIREMENTS
Under certain circumstances, the State Office of Adoption may issue an exception to one or more of these requirements. This typically occurs when the family in question proves to be an exceptionally good option for placement of the child, despite failing to fulfill a particular requirement.
Requests for exceptions must be submitted in advance and require the support of the child-placing agency or county processing the application. Thus, if you know that you don't meet a particular requirement or are concerned that you may not fulfill all of the criteria, it is in your best interests to get help from an experienced adoption lawyer early in the process.
Stepparent adoptions are among the most common types of adoption in the state of Alabama. In a stepparent adoption case, the Petition for Adoption must be served on the child's “other” biological parent. Ideally, the other parent will consent, clearing the way for the adoption. However, in many cases, it is possible to proceed with the adoption over the natural parent's objections. An experienced adoption lawyer can be your best source of information about your options for pursuing stepparent adoption, with or without the consent of the other parent.
RELATIVE AND GRANDPARENT ADOPTIONS
Grandparent adoptions and other relative adoptions allow family members who are raising children informally or as guardians to legally cement their relationships, giving the children greater security and stability. Under Alabama law, relatives who have been caring for a child for a year or more are exempt from parts of the pre-adoption investigation, allowing the adoption to move forward more quickly and easily. Working with a Huntsville adoption attorney can further smooth the process, moving you efficiently toward a successful adoption.
WHO CAN BE ADOPTED?
The following persons may be adopted:
An adult under any one of the following conditions:
He or she is totally and permanently disabled
He or she is determined to be mentally incapacitated
WHAT STEPS ARE USUALLY INVOLVED IN AN ADOPTION?
Preplacement investigation (may petition the Court or go to the Department of Human Resources or a Licensed Child Placing Agency);
All necessary consents and/or relinquishments concerning the adoption are obtained;
Guardian ad litem is appointed for the minor child;
Petition court for authority to pay fees or expenses;
Placement of the child with petitioners;
File petition for adoption within 30 days after placement;
Serve notice or obtain a waiver of notice on or from all parties entitled to notice of the adoption;
Post-placement investigation; and
WHAT IS A PRE-PLACEMENT INVESTIGATION?
It is an investigation conducted for the purpose of determining the suitability of each petitioner and the home in which the adoptee will be placed. The investigation will include a criminal background search and will focus on any other circumstances relevant to the placement of the adoptee.
IS IT ALWAYS NECESSARY TO HAVE A PRE-PLACEMENT INVESTIGATION?
Yes, unless the persons seeking to adopt are a stepparent or a close relative of the adoptee as listed in Section 26-10A-27 and 26-10A-28 of the Code of Alabama.
WHOSE CONSENT TO THE ADOPTION IS REQUIRED?
The adoptee, if 14 years or older unless mentally incapable of giving consent;
The adoptee's mother;
The adoptee's presumed father if he meets the requirements set out in Section 26-10A-7(c) of the Code of Alabama;
The agency to whom the adoptee has been relinquished or which holds permanent custody, except that a court may grant an adoption without the agency’s consent when it would be in the child’s best interest and the agency’s withholding of consent is unreasonable;
The putative father if known, provided that he responds within 30 days of receiving notice of the adoption; and
Others as required by Alabama law.
CAN A MINOR CONSENT TO THE ADOPTION OF HIS OR HER CHILD?
Yes, however, prior to such consent the court must appoint the minor parent a guardian ad litem to represent the minor’s interests. A minor who is 14 years of age or older can nominate a guardian ad litem to protect his or her interest.
WHEN, WHERE, AND IN WHAT FORM MUST A CONSENT OR RELINQUISHMENT FOR ADOPTION BE GIVEN?
A consent or relinquishment for adoption may be given at any time. The pre-birth consent of the mother must be signed or confirmed before a Probate Judge. All other pre-birth or post-birth consents or relinquishments must be signed or confirmed before the Probate Judge or someone appointed by that Court to do such, a person appointed by the agency conducting the investigation or a notary public. The consent or relinquishment must be in substantially the same form as provided in the adoption code and must be in writing and signed by the person consenting or relinquishing.
WHEN MAY A CONSENT OR RELINQUISHMENT BE WITHDRAWN?
A consent or relinquishment may be withdrawn for any reason five days after the birth of the adoptee or five days after the signing of the consent of relinquishment whichever occurs later.
WHERE IS A PETITION FOR ADOPTION FILED?
A petition for adoption may be filed in the probate court of any of the following counties: where the minor resides; where the petitioner resides or is in the military service; or where the office of the agency or institution having guardianship or custody of the minor is located.
WHEN IS A PETITION FOR AN UNRELATED PRIVATE ADOPTION FILED?
The adoption petition must be filed within 30 days after the minor is placed with the prospective adoptive parent(s) for adoption. If the person seeking the adoption is a stepparent or relative of the adoptee, then the adoptee must reside with the petitioner for a year before such petition is filed. If the child has not lived with the stepparent or relative for a year, the adoption will proceed in the same manner as all other adoptions unless the court waives the residence requirement for good cause.
CAN I PAY THE PARENT OF A MINOR OR UNBORN CHILD FOR THE CHILD?
NO! An offer to make such payment is a Class A misdemeanor; to receive payment for a person's consent to adoption is a Class C felony.
WHAT EXPENSES CAN I PAY?
A person seeking to adopt a child may pay maternity-connected medical or hospital and necessary living expenses of the mother preceding birth and during pregnancy and related incapacity as long as such payments are made as an act of charity and such payment is not contingent upon the placement of the child for adoption. All fees and expenses, including legal, medical, investigative, or other legitimate professional fees may only be paid with court approval.
HOW CONFIDENTIAL IS AN ADOPTION?
The adoption code was designed to keep an adoption as confidential as possible.
Before a final adoption decree is rendered, the only people with access to the adoption records are as follows: the petitioner, the petitioner's attorney; the pre-placement investigator, and any attorney appointed or retained by the minor being adopted. No other person has access to the adoption records unless they obtain a court order after showing good cause to allow them to inspect the records.
All adoption hearings are confidential and held in closed court open only to the interested parties and their counsel, except with leave of the court.
After the final decree of adoption is entered, all documents pertaining to the adoption are sealed, and identifying information cannot be obtained by anyone except the adoptee under limited circumstances.
The natural parent(s) may consent in writing under oath to disclosure of identifying information to the adoptee when such adoptee reaches the age of 19. The adoptee, upon reaching the age of 19, may petition the court for disclosure of identifying information or the adoptee can contact the State Department of Human Resources to see if a consent is on file to disclose the name(s) of the natural parent(s). Such information will not be released to the adoptee without the natural parent(s)’ consent unless the court determines it is best after weighing the interests of the parties involved.
THIS INFORMATION, WHICH IS BASED ON ALABAMA LAW, IS ONLY TO INFORM AND NOT TO ADVISE. NO PERSON SHOULD EVER APPLY OR INTERPRET ANY LAW WITHOUT THE AID OF A LAWYER WHO ANALYZES THE FACTS BECAUSE THE FACTS MAY CHANGE THE APPLICATION OF THE LAW.
If you are interested in adoption, why not walk that path with a compassionate and dedicated attorney who can help you understand the process and will keep you up to date? Sullivan Law Associates, LLC works hard to help ensure that our clients receive the best outcome possible.
For more information about how to move forward with the adoption process in Alabama, contact Sullivan Law Associates, LLC, today! Call us for an initial consultation.