A decree of adoption formally recognizes a parent-child relationship. It requires the child to be treated, in legal terms, as if he or she had born and raised from the outset as the biological child of the new parent(s).
California places almost no absolute limitations on an adult’s eligibility to adopt a child. Citizenship is immaterial, and there is no official barrier to adoption by an unmarried person. Courts follow the general rule that the adult must be at least 10 years older than the adoptive child, but even this rule has exceptions where stepparents or relatives of the child petition for adoption.
However, in practice, many prospective parents must meet additional standards before adopting. For example, a child’s placement is typically handled by a licensed adoption agency or the Department of Social Services, rather than through the birth parents’ independent efforts. Such “agency adoptions” require a waiting period before the adoption may be finalized, during which the agency or department monitors placement and retains the right to attempt to remove the child. Likewise, inter-country adoptions, in which the child to be adopted is born in a foreign country, require compliance with additional regulations. Finally, California law requires the court to balance the child’s alternatives and determine whether adoption will promote the child’s best interest. This issue tends to become significant when another party (such as the relevant adoption agency, the birth parent, or a non-parent seeking custody) opposes the adoption.
Ideally, adoptions proceed without opposition. The primary role of an attorney in these proceedings is to ensure that the rights of the birth parents are validly relinquished or terminated, and that the adoption agreement is completely and voluntarily executed. Where applicable, the agreement must include the consent of an adoptive parent’s spouse, as well as the consent of an adoptive child who is over the age of 12 years. The adoptive parent(s) may also wish to arrange a post-adoption contact agreement, which is designed to permit a degree of continuing contact between certain birth relatives and the child.
Raising an adoptive child comes with unique rewards and challenges, and there are many resources available to help prospective parents become successful. For example, California assigns the relevant adoption agency the task of obtaining a written report on the child’s medical background and (to the extent possible) the medical background of the child’s biological parents. Consult with a family law attorney at Bremer Whyte today to learn more about your options and resources.