Tina Turner wonders “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” when she is touched by a man’s hand, but adoptive couples wonder “What’s Law Got To Do With It?” when they are touched by an adoption situation. The answers to these two questions are quite different. Tina might realize that love has nothing to do with it, but adoptive parents will realize that law has everything to do with adoption because adoption is a legal process.
Adoption is entirely statutory. It exists only because laws (statutes in legalese) create the process. And because each state has its own laws, there are 50 sets of laws governing how an adoption must occur. The way an adoption plays out in Kansas is not necessarily how an adoption will unfold in Montana. Significant differences exist between state adoption laws; therefore, an eager prospective adoptive couple cannot read about what will happen in an adoption in one state and expect that what they learn will apply to what happens in an adoption in another state.
It is always good to begin at the beginning. An excellent starting point is to understand exactly what an adoption is. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, an adoption is the:
“Legal process pursuant to state statute in which a
child’s legal rights and duties toward his natural
parents are terminated and similar rights and du-
ties toward his adoptive parents are substituted.”
So, while adoptive parents may think adoption is all about baby clothes, baby kisses, and baby love, the truth is that adoption is really a legal process to sever certain family ties and to create new family ties. Initially, the child to be adopted has ties with a biological family. Those ties are legally severed so he can then be legally connected to his adoptive family.
Typically, adoptive couples believe an adoption is legal in the sense that a court hearing occurs to finalize the adoption. While court proceedings are necessary for an adoption to occur, the truth is that the applicable state law will control the entire process from the beginning until the end. So, if the adoptive couple wants to know why something has to be done in a specific manner or timeframe for an adoption, the answer is going to be, “Because the law says so.”
And the law can be very detailed about the requirements and procedures for an adoption. In Florida, for example, an entire chapter of the Florida Statutes—Chapter 63 to be exact—details the adoption process. The law is not on the periphery of an adoption; the law is the essential framework for achieving the addition of a family member through this process.
How detailed could state law be about an adoption? It is extremely detailed. Initially, the law will address who can adopt. For example, may an unmarried adult adopt? May a married adult adopt if his spouse is not also adopting? If an individual can adopt according to state law, then that law will set forth the requirements the individual must meet to be approved to adopt. A favorable home study (extensive background investigation) might have to be obtained. State law will identify who is authorized to conduct a home study, what things must be addressed in a home study, how long a home study is valid, etc.
A birth parent may be asked to sign a consent for his/her child to be adopted. State law will specify when that consent can be taken (prebirth? postbirth?) and the manner of its execution. Must the consent be notarized? Witnessed? Taken in front of a judge? Once the consent is signed, may it be revoked? If so, is there a time limit for doing so?
As the legal dictionary definition of an adoption states, the process includes terminating rights of the natural (biological) parents. A court judgment/order to that effect is required to terminate an individual’s rights. A birth parent merely signing a piece of paper saying that his/her child may be adopted does not automatically result in a termination of the parent’s parental rights. These rights are extinguished in a proceeding often referred to a TPR proceeding, with TPR standing for Termination of Parental Rights. State law will set forth when and how a TPR hearing is to be conducted.
Once the biological family ties have been severed, the child to be adopted needs to be connected to the adoptive family. Again, a court proceeding is required. State law may provide for a minimum amount of time for the child to be in a home prior to finalization of the adoption. Certain post-placement supervision may also be required prior to finalization with the state law, specifying who can conduct the supervision and how many supervisory visits must occur.
After wending their way through the adoption process as detailed in the applicable state law, the adoptive couple finally and happily arrives at the big day when the child is legally decreed to be their child. The details of the final hearing are addressed by state adoption law. Must the adoptive parents be present in person? Must the child be present? Is a telephonic appearance by the adoptive parents authorized? Is the hearing closed for privacy?
The legal details for an adoption are seemingly endless. Fortunately, adoptive couples are guided in their adoption journey by adoption professionals who are familiar with the governing law. Adoptive couples can focus on consulting baby books for details on caring for the new member of the family. Adoption professionals will consult the law on the books to ensure that the required procedures are followed and the necessary requirements are met for the adoption. Adoptive couples do not have to know all the legal details, but they do need to understand that there will be lots of legal details since adoption is a legal process and law has everything to do with adding to their family through adoption.
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