Domestic adoptions essentially come in two forms: agency adoptions and private, or independent, adoptions.
In an agency adoption, the prospective adoptive parents contact an adoption agency. An adoption agency facilitates the identification of a birth mother, the matching of a birth mother to a prospective adoptive family, the termination of birth-parent rights and the placement of the child with the prospective adoptive family. Some adoption agencies also help finalize the adoption. Prospective adoptive parents choose between a public adoption agency and a private adoption agency.
Public adoption agencies are funded by the state in which they are located and find adoptive homes for children who have been placed in the state’s custody, normally in the foster care system. Prospective adoptive families willing to adopt older children or children with special needs or emotional disabilities should consider contacting a public adoption agency. There is little cost associated with a child from a public agency, and in fact, until the adoption is completed, the child may be eligible for government subsidies.
For prospective adoptive families searching for a newborn or infant child, a private adoption agency likely will be more able to locate a child. A private adoption agency can be a profit or non-profit business and is licensed by the state in which it is located. A private agency adoption usually is more expensive than a public agency adoption but allows prospective adoptive families to have more control over the adoption process and over the age, sex and race of the adoptive child.
If there are birth-mother expenses, some states require that the prospective adoptive parents use a licensed adoption agency to monitor payment to prevent later claims that the prospective adoptive parents essentially were “buying” the child from the birth parents. Although some expenses can be provided, it is illegal in every state to pay the birth parents to adopt their child.
In an agency placement, the child may be placed at birth with the adoptive parents, or if there are any legal risks, the child may be placed in transitional care until the risks are minimized or eliminated.
Some states provide that the birth parents’ rights are terminated upon signing the relinquishment/consent, and some require that the relinquishment/consent be taken to a judge for approval and an order of termination. The first type of state is known as a consent state and the latter a judicial-termination state.
Once the birth parents sign the relinquishment/consent, if the case is in a judicial-termination state, the agency will have a legal termination hearing to officially terminate any rights the birth mother and any potential birth father have to the child. After a set period of time determined by state law, the prospective adoptive parents may finalize their adoption at another hearing held in the court where the termination took place or in their home state. If an order of termination is required, the prospective adoptive parents need the written consent of the adoption agency. In some states, the adoption may become valid by operation of law.
In a private or independent adoption, prospective adoptive parents choose a birth mother themselves and hire an attorney to handle the adoption process. Private adoptions are governed by the laws of the state in which the adoption takes place, usually the state in which the child was born. Unlike an agency adoption, in a private adoption, the birth mother relinquishes the child directly to the prospective adoptive parents. After a period of time determined by state law, the prospective adoptive family may finalize the adoption at a court hearing.
In some states, if a birth mother requests living expenses, the prospective adoptive parents are required to hire an adoption agency to facilitate the adoption.
In either an agency or a private adoption, the prospective adoptive family must choose whether they want an “open” or “closed” adoption. An open adoption usually means the adoptive family and birth mother (and possibly birth father) will know each other’s names and contact information and may remain in contact throughout the child’s life. The frequency and manner of contact between the birth parents and the adoptive family, including the adopted child, usually is decided before the adoption. A closed adoption is the opposite; the birth family and the adoptive family do not know anything about each other. Any contact between the two families is facilitated by an adoption agency or the attorneys for the adoptive parents and birth parents, if the state allows for such. Another option is a “semi-open” adoption, which involves the prospective adoptive parents and the birth family meeting before the birth and having written post-birth contact but not face-to-face contact.
Last updated: Sept. 26, 2008
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