Adoptions are about strengthening families. If you choose to adopt, understand that you are making a long-term commitment to your family and to the children that will be joining your family unit. While the adoption process may be complex, the rewards are tremendous for you and for the child looking for their “forever family.”
Are you are a step-parent looking to adopt a step-child, a couple looking to add to your family, or are you motivated by a desire to assist underprivileged children in foster care? While many different motivations inspire people to adopt, the result is the same; a bond is created that will last a lifetime.
Our guide gives an outline on the legal aspects of adoptions in North Carolina, what is required to file and win your adoption action, and an analysis of potential pitfalls. Whether you’re seeking to do-it-yourself or legal assistance, we’re here to point you in the right direction.
The Legal Effect of an Adoption
The effect of an adoption is the complete substitution of families for all legal purposes after the entry of the adoption decree. Each petitioner becomes the legal parent of the individual being adopted. All legal rights and obligations between natural birth parents and children are afford to adoptive parents.
The biological parents are relieved of all legal duties and obligations and are divested of all rights with respect to the adoptee, with the exception of child support arrears. The exception is with step-parent adoptions. Step-parent adoptions have no effect on the relationship between the child and the parent who is the step-parent’s spouse. An adoption can strengthen the bond between a step-parent and step-child and entitle the step-child to all the benefits of a step-parent’s biological children.
Any parent with custody of their child can place the child up for adoption. If the parent is married and living together with their spouse, both parents must place the child up for adoption.
Initiating an Adoption
The first step in placing a child up for adoptions is figuring out who is going to choose the adoptive parents. Each placement option has different implications as to how adoptive parents are chosen.
A child can be placed up for adoption with agencies, such as your local department of social services (DSS), a licensed adoption agency, or with adoptive parents. Parents must voluntarily assign their rights via relinquishment to any agency. If the adoption is directly with adoptive parents, the parent must execute a consent to the adoption. It is required that the birth parent knows the adoptive parents to complete an independent adoption.
Choose the option that is best for you based on your circumstances and desires. While an independent adoption may be ideal, it’s not practical in many circumstances, as it requires you to know the adoptive parents. In cases where you haven’t identified adoptive parents, going with a reputable adoption agency is likely your best option.
Who Can Adopt
Adoptions are usually initiated by step-parents, foster parents, or married couples. Any adult may adopt another individual, but spouses may not adopt each other.
If a married adult wishes to adopt, the spouse must sign off on the adoption petition unless this requirement is waived by the clerk. An unmarried adult must adopt on their own and cannot have any other persons on the petition. The legalization and recognition of same-sex marriage in North Carolina allows both same-sex partners to adopt a child thereby obtaining parental rights equivalent to those of a heterosexual married couple.
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Unmarried fathers must move quickly to protect their rights during an adoption proceeding. Fathers have an absolute right to contest the adoption and must be involved in the legal procedure. When a birth mother places a child for adoption, she is required to complete an affidavit of parentage which identifies the birth father and his address or location.
If the father agrees to the adoption, there are a number of ways for him to avoid being part of a hearing. If the father was never married to the birth mother, he can sign a denial of paternity. If the father is deceased, a death certificate will suffice. If paternity has been established the father can sign a relinquishment or consent in the same manner as the birth mother.
If the father contests the adoption, the adoption can only proceed if 1) the father’s rights are terminated. (Termination of Parental Rights Guide) or 2) a clerk finds his consent is not necessary. A clerk may find a father’s consent is not necessary if he doesn’t respond to the adoption petition or if he hasn’t taken steps to “grasp the opportunity to be a father.”
Notice must be given to the father by personal service (sheriff or process server) or certified mail return receipt requested. Fathers can be served by publication in extreme circumstances where the father cannot be found after a diligent search.
If you are a father who hasn’t been involved in the life of your child, you run the risk of being excluded from adoption proceedings. Take action promptly to preserve your rights.
What if I Change My Mind?
The permanency of a decision to place a child up for adoption or relinquish your parental rights necessitates safeguards for biological parents who second guess their initial decision. It is not uncommon for a parent who puts a child up for adoption to have second thoughts in the days following the decision. North Carolina law provides relief for biological parents for a short time after this life changing decision.
You have 7 days after you relinquish your rights or consent to an adoption to revoke and maintain your rights. The revocation must be in writing and served via certified mail or personal delivery. If properly executed and served, you are entitled to the child’s return to your custody.
Jurisdictional Requirements to File
Adoption petitions shall be filed in the special proceedings division before the clerk of superior court. In order for jurisdiction for adoption to exist, at the time of filing:
- The adoptee must have lived in this state for at least six consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of the petition or from birth;
- The adoptive parent has lived in this State for at least six consecutive months immediately preceding the filing of the petition
- An agency licensed by this State or county department of social services in this State has legal custody of the adoptee.
Jurisdiction shall not be exercised if at the time of the petition filing, a court of any other state is exercising jurisdiction and has entered a custody order.
The Court Hearing
An adoption petition will be granted if the petitioner is able to establish:
- 90 days have elapsed since the filing of the petition for adoption (unless waived)
- The adoptee has been in the physical custody of the petition for at least 90 days, unless waived.
- Notice has been properly served on all required parties.
- All necessary consents, relinquishment, waiver, or termination of parental rights orders have been obtained and filed and the time for revocation has expired.
- Jurisdiction is proper
- All determinative motions have been denied.
- The petitioners are suitable adoptive parents
- Petitioner has received information about the adoptee and the adoptee’s biological family if required.
- Substantial compliance with these provisions
If you are seeking to adopt and looking for legal advice, contact us today to get started. We recognize and fight everyday for families in North Carolina.
- N.C. Gen. Stat Chapter 48 (Adoptions)
- Affidavit of Parentage Form
- A Guide to Adoption for North Carolina Birth Mothers