Step 10: Finalize the Adoption

Part of the 10 (Easy?) Steps to Adoption Series

Robyn Chittister September 11, 2015
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There is some time between bringing your child home and the adoption becoming final. In foster adoptions, if you are open to legal risk placements, your children could go back to their biological parents or other relatives. In private and international adoptions, the time between placement and finalization is one for a social worker to monitor your progress as a family to ensure that everyone is adjusting well.

Your finalization could take place in court, or you could simply go to your mailbox one day and find your adoption decree. It depends on the type of adoption you’ve pursued and the state in which you live and in which the child was born.

In private domestic adoption, the period between placement and finalization can be anywhere from one month to one year. Many states require about six months. During this time, you will have at least one, and perhaps as many as six, visits from your home study social worker. When we had our first child, I still cleaned up the house and offered refreshments. When it came to our second child, I just made sure nothing sharp was in plain sight. We had one visit two days after Christmas, when the house still looked like a toy store threw up. I don’t even think my son was dressed. Don’t stress. These visits are just to check in and make sure no one is going to die.

During the time between placement and finalization of a private adoption, the adoptive parents may have custody of the child, or the child may legally be in the custody of the agency. If you are not using an agency, clearly, the child is in your custody. You make all of the decisions, medical and otherwise, for the child. If the child is in the agency’s custody, they may have some authority. When you are searching for an agency, it important to determine what authority, if any, an agency assumes during this time.

Finalizing a foster adoption generally takes much longer than finalizing other types of adoptions. In foster adoption, termination of parental rights may not happen for several months, or even, in extreme cases, years. After a child’s parents’ rights are terminated, there will be a time period during which the child will remain in the custody of the state. During this time, you may still need to ask permission from the state to travel out of state, cut a child’s hair, or make other decisions regarding the child. Again, it is important to learn what you can and cannot do as pre-adoptive parents.

In International Adoption, you will finalize adoption in your child’s original country, and may need to re-adopt in your own state. In addition, there are citizenship matters to consider. Effective April 2008, when an international adoption is completed in a country that has ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, children under the age of 18 automatically acquire citizenship when they enter the United States on an IH-3 visa.

When an international adoption is completed in a country that has not ratified the Hague Convention, the adoptive parents must apply to USCIS to obtain an IR-3 visa, which classifies the child as an immigrant and provides the child with US citizenship upon arrival in the US.

For more information about visas and citizenship processes, see the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Intercountry Adoption website.

After the child arrives in the US, different states have different laws with respect to recognizing the adoption. Your agency should be able to help you determine the laws in your state. If not, consult a knowledgeable adoption attorney in your state. Even if your state recognizes an international adoption, many adoption professionals recommend that you re-adopt your child in your state. This affords you an extra measure of protection.

After you finalize any adoption, you will apply for a new, amended birth certificate for your child. In many cases, you will also apply for a Social Security number (SSN). You will definitely want to obtain a Social Security card in your child’s legal name. But that, I believe, is yet another post.

Congratulations! You have made it through the 10 Easy (?) Steps to Adoption. Now relax and enjoy your forever family.

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Robyn Chittister

Robyn is a full-time writer and mom through private, domestic, open, transracial adoption. She resides in New Hampshire with her family of two adults, two children, and a fluctuating number of animals. She is seriously passionate about adoption and tries to use her words wisely--both here and at her personal blog, Holding to the Ground.

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