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Adoption Laws

Everything you need to know about adopting a child.

Adoption is the process by which the law permits the creation of a parent-child relationship which did not previously exist. When you adopt a child, the law recognizes the child as the equivalent of your biological offspring. The adopted child has the same rights of inheritance as a biological child, and adoptive parents have the same duty to provide financial support for an adopted child as they have for their biological children.

Most adoptions take place in one of two ways. The most common way to adopt a child is through an adoption agency operated or licensed by the state. The second way, private adoptions arranged by an attorney, are becoming an increasingly important adoption method.

In a private adoption, the birth mother will usually know more about the prospective adoptive parents than she would in an agency situation. She may even meet with them in person to discuss the way in which she wants her child raised. The adoptive parents may agree to provide for the natural mother's medical expenses and living expenses during the pregnancy, as well as to pay the legal fees and costs associated with the adoption. However, state laws often prohibit any other kinds of payments to the natural mother, and making such payments can render the adoption illegal.

Qualifications for adoptive parents are set by the laws of your state, and some variations exist from state to state. Generally, however, all states consider such factors as the age of the adoptive parents, their financial situation, and personal stability. Although at one time it was virtually impossible for a single person to adopt a child, today more and more children are placed with single parents. And while homosexual couples were almost always excluded from consideration as adoptive parents, the modern trend in many states is to give these couples equal consideration.

Most adoption agencies discourage the placement of African-American or mixed race children with Caucasian adoptive parents, since some social scientists believe that such children will be denied the opportunity to learn about their cultural heritage, and will suffer from a confused sense of cultural identity.

Of course, the consent of the child's natural parents is required, unless the state has terminated their parental rights. If the child is old enough, (usually around twelve years of age), the state may require that he or she consent to the adoption as well. In most states, it's even possible for one adult to adopt another, a process that has sometimes been used in order to provide inheritance rights to a longtime friend or companion when it would have been difficult to do so otherwise.

The issue of consent is an important one, and an individual or couple considering adopting a child needs to be well informed about the rights of the birth parents to withdraw consent to the adoption. In some states, the birth mother has the right to change her mind about giving her child up for adoption for as long as six months. If she withdraws her consent during this period, the courts will probably return the child to her, unless it can be shown that she is unfit to be a parent. And if the birth mother can convince a court that her consent to the adoption resulted from fraud or undue influence, the right to withdraw her consent can continue for far longer.

Similarly, it's important to take every possible step to identify the child's biological father and obtain his consent to the adoption as well. In several cases, birth mothers have intentionally misrepresented the identity of the fathers of the children they have put up for adoption, or indicated that they did not know the father's identity. When the child's biological fathers learned of these deceptions, they have been successful in obtaining the return of the children from their adoptive parents.

Although at one time a great deal of secrecy surrounded adoption records, a number of states have made it easier for adopted children to learn about their natural parents. In some states, an adopted child can gain access to non-identifying information about a biological parent, such as medical histories. In other states, information about the biological parents' identities can be released to an adult adopted child, but only if the biological parent consents in advance. Your county law librarian can refer you to sources of information about the specific laws in your state.

Adopting a child can be an expensive and time-consuming process, and failing to follow the appropriate procedures to the letter can result in heartache for just about everyone involved. If you are considering offering your child for adoption, or if you're considering becoming an adoptive parent, you should consult with an attorney experienced in the field for a thorough consultation about the adoption laws of your state.

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