Q: What are the requirements to adopt in California?
A: The requirements vary by type of adoption. In general, there are private, independent adoptions, agency adoptions, Dependency adoptions, stepparent adoptions, and adult adoptions.
Q: What adoption services does your law office provide?
A: Most of the legal services involve the representation of adoptive parents, preparing court documents, filing them at court, and obtaining a hearing date at court to finalize their adoptions. In private and stepparent adoptions, if a birth parent does not consent to the adoption and thereby voluntarily give up his/her legal parental rights to the child or children being adopted, the attorney will then take legal steps to obtain a court order which will involuntarily terminate the parental rights of the birth parent who does not consent. In Dependency adoptions, County attorneys take care of terminating the parental rights of the child’s birth parents so that the child may be adopted.
Q: How long will it take?
A: The duration of the entire process depends upon which kind of adoption you are talking about. In a Dependency/Fost-Adopt case in Los Angeles County, it typically takes roughly four months from the time the attorney receives all necessary documents from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services to the day of the court hearing at which the judge or commissioner signs the Adoption Order making the adoption final. That time frame will be extended significantly if either or both birth parents appeal the court order terminating his/her/their parental rights. In those instances, we have to wait until the case in the Court of Appeal runs its course to conclusion. In the vast majority of those appeals, the trial court’s order terminating parental rights is upheld by the Court of Appeal.
In Los Angeles County, it usually takes about a year to complete stepparent adoption. It is more difficult to estimate time frames in private, independent adoptions because each case is unique with respect to facts and challenges. Often what takes a long time is to legally terminate the parental rights of one or more birth fathers who cannot be found despite due diligence in searching for him/them. When that happens, the court may require the adopting parents to publish a citation in a newspaper in an attempt to give notice to the birth father(s) that legal action is being taken to terminate his/their parental rights regarding the child who is the subject of the adoption. If a birth father is notified and contests the termination of his parental rights, the case can go to trial and prolong or terminate the adoption process, depending on the outcome of the trial.
Q: How much does adoption cost?
A: The range of services and costs vary by the type of adoption. In Los Angeles County, the attorney charges a flat fee to handle Dependency/Fost-Adopt cases. In private, independent
adoptions, fees are usually billed on an hourly basis. In private, independent adoptions, a home study is required. California law sets the maximum fee for such a home study at $4,500.00. We will always be up front about fees and costs so you will know exactly what to expect.
Q: Can I adopt a special needs child?
A: Absolutely! Special needs children are adoptable in each of our adoption processes. Many Dependency/Fost-Adopt children often qualify as “special needs” because of prenatal exposure to drugs and/or alcohol, having cerebral palsy, being diagnosed with emotional/behavioral issues or classification-related characteristics that make them harder to adopt - like age, race, or being in a sibling group. Financial assistance is provided by the government to special needs children who are adopted usually until they reach the age of eighteen.
Q: What is the process like to adopt a child in foster care (“Dependency adoption” or “Fost-Adopt”)?
A: In Los Angeles County, you begin by signing up with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (“DCFS”). Things have been changing recently and people who used to be called “foster parents” are now being called “Resource Families.” You will have to take classes and then satisfy the requirements to become a licensed Resource Family. You will then go through a thorough assessment of your family’s ability to provide the child a safe and stable home environment. This includes in inspection of your home and yard and examination of pets. If your home or apartment complex has a swimming pool, it will have to be gated and locked. If there are guns and ammunition in the home, it must be shown that the guns are locked up and kept separate from ammunition which must also be inaccessible to children. The assessment will also include interviews, references, medical clearances, background & fingerprint checks, and training specific to adoption topics.
After that, DCFS will try to match you with a child. Once matched, you will be assigned an Adoption Social Worker who will help you do all that’s necessary to finalize your adoption. The child must live with you for at least six months before you can adopt him or her.
Q: When adopting a foster child, how much choice do I have?
A: You have every right to choose characteristics that will best suit your family, including race, age, gender and/or special needs. Note that many private adoptions are less forgiving when it comes to the sex of the child, but you can still not go through with it if that is your desire. In Dependency/Fost-Adopt adoptions, you will be well-informed on the various characteristics of all available children in the foster system at the time you are looking.
Q: In a private adoption, can the biological mother ever ask to get her child back?
A: The legal act of adoption is a permanent process. Whether it's a private adoption with a prospective birth mother or a Dependency adoption of a child from foster care, adoption terminates all birth parent rights. A birth parent will not have any legal ties to the child upon
finalization of the adoption. In a private adoption where the birth mother voluntarily gives up her child, under California law she has thirty days to change her mind and get her child back. However, she may take an additional step and sign a waiver which says she gives up that right. Adopting parents must be very careful that procedures are followed carefully and that all documents are prepared correctly and signed properly to avoid legal problems should a birth mother try to get her child back after signing a waiver of her right to revoke her consent to the adoption.
Q: Will the adopted child be issued a new birth certificate after the adoption is finalized?
A: Yes. The office of Vital Records in the state where the child was born will issue an amended birth certificate which will include the adoptive parents names and information on it, along with the child’s birth information. The child’s original birth certificate will then be sealed so that it will no longer be accessible to the public unless the applicant has obtained a court order authorizing access to it. In states other than California, the adopting parents will likely have to fill out an application for the issuance of an amended birth certificate following an adoption, provide a certified copy of the California court’s Adoption Order, and pay a fee. Adopting parents may pay for additional certified copies of the Amended Birth Certificate if they want or need more than one.
Q: If the adopted child was born in a foreign country, can the adoptive parents obtain an amended birth certificate following their adoption?
A: Only the governmental office or agency that issued the original birth certificate can issue an amended birth record. However, the California Office of Vital Records will issue a “Delayed Registration of Birth” to parents who have adopted a child born outside of the United States. That document is the legal equivalent of and “amended birth certificate.”