Adoption Law

In every state in the U.S., adoption is the legal transfer of parental rights from a child’s birth parents to a third party through the court system. However, adoption laws vary widely from state to state and are constantly in flux. In general, there are several legal concepts that all prospective adoptive parents should be aware of:

  • Consent: In all 50 states, the birth mother and father, assuming he has properly established paternity of the child under state law, must voluntarily consent to relinquish their parental rights over a child or must have their parental rights terminated by a court. Most states require the birth parents’ consent to adoption to be in writing and witnessed or notarized.
  • Revocation of Consent: Because adoption aims to provide a stable and permanent home for a child, it is difficult and rare for a birth parent to revoke their consent to relinquish their parental rights once such consent has been given. In order to successfully revoke consent, the birth parent must show that he or she was coerced under duress to consent, the birth parents and adoptive parents must mutually agree to withdraw consent, the birth parents must revoke consent within a specific time frame established by state law, or a court must find that the revocation of consent is in the best interests of the child. Once a court finalizes an adoption, the consent becomes irrevocable.
  • Termination of Parents Rights: If one or both parents will not consent to relinquish their parental rights, a court may terminate their parental rights involuntarily. In order to terminate a party’s parental rights, most states require that a court make a finding of mental incompetence, abandonment, failure to support the child, or parental unfitness due to acts of abuse or neglect.
  • Putative Father Registries: Birth fathers who are not married to the birth mother at the time the child is born and who has not established paternity of the child are known as “putative fathers.” While many states require that a birth mother give notice to the putative father that the child is being placed for adoption via putative father registries, state laws vary regarding what rights putative fathers have in adoption of their child.
  • International Adoption: Twenty-five states have laws providing that adoptions finalized abroad are to be given the same effect as if they were finalized in the adoptive parents’ home state.  In addition, many states allow or require “re-adoptions,” the process whereby a final adoption decree is issued by a state judge despite the finalization in a foreign country.