Requirements to Legally Finalize an Adoption in California
Building a family is an exciting, emotional process — but in adoption, it is also a legal one. Many adoption laws and requirements must be followed by every family going through the process in order for their adoption to be legally finalized.
Read the following for more information about the legal adoption process and the requirements to legally finalize your adoption in California.
Termination of Parental Rights
One essential legal adoption requirement is termination of parental rights. Before a child can be adopted by a new family, the parental rights of his or her birth parents must be legally terminated, either voluntarily or by the court. This is often referred to as “TPR” as a shorthand for “termination of parental rights.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
When birth parents make an adoption plan for their child, they are voluntarily terminating parental rights. Voluntary termination, whether by relinquishment to an agency or and independent consent to adoption, is typical in private infant adoptions.
In California, specific laws spell out who must consent to an adoption, when and how consent must be executed, and when and how consent can be revoked. If your adoption involves voluntary termination of parental rights, you will need to work closely with your attorney or agency to ensure all consent laws are followed.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
In some cases, the rights of a biological parent may be terminated involuntarily by the court. In California, parental rights can be terminated involuntarily when a child cannot safely remain in the care of the legal parent due to:
- Neglect or abuse
- Inability of the parent to provide for the child’s basic needs
- Conviction of a serious felony
- Two consecutive years of legal guardianship by a non-parent
This type of TPR is most commonly associated with adoptions from the foster system, or adoption by a child’s existing legal guardians.
A legal action to terminate parental rights can be filed by a legal guardian, a prospective adoptive parent, an adoption agency, the other parent, or another interested person. Parental rights termination is a complex legal process. Most families use the services of an experienced adoption attorney or licensed adoption agency to assist them with this process, which is quite technical, expensive, and time-consuming.
Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA)
ICWA is a combination of state and federal laws that requires certain legal proceedings in Native American adoption. These laws were enacted to help preserve American Indian tribes, families and cultures. If you are adopting a child of Native American heritage, the tribes for which the child may be eligible for enrollment must be notified of the adoption proceedings.
If a tribe finds that the child is eligible for enrollment, your adoption will need to meet certain ICWA requirements, including:
- The birth parents must sign their consent to the adoption in court before a judge
- The birth parents’ consent will be revocable until the adoption is finalized
- The tribe must be given written notice and the opportunity to attend all hearings related to the adoption
- In some cases, the tribe may be allowed to object to the adoption if the adopting family does not share the same tribal heritage.
If you are adopting a Native American child, FCCA will work with you to legally complete your ICWA adoption.
Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)
The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) governs the transfer of children from one state to another for the purpose of adoption. With very rare exceptions (usually for close relatives), a child cannot be moved from one state to another for the purpose of adoption without the prior written approval of both states. Approval requires the filing of Form 100A - ICPC Request with a significant amount of supporting documentation, including the adoptive family’s approved home study, the child’s medical records, ICWA compliance forms, and others.
Because ICPC regulations are complicated, every interstate adoption requires the assistance of an experienced adoption lawyer and/or adoption agency in each state. FCCA assists many families and agencies across the U.S. with the preparation of ICPC adoption packets, and is authorized by California law to approve ICPC placements for children being placed into or out of the State of California for the purpose of adoption.
After your child is placed in your home, you must complete at least six months of post-placement supervision before your adoption can be finalized. During this time, your social worker will visit with you to confirm that you and the child are adjusting well to each other, and to provide any additional support or services you may need.
Post-placement services are rather similar to the pre-placement home study. The worker must complete at least four visits with you and the child, at least one of which is conducted in your home with all household members present. Following each visit, your social worker will write a post-placement report that discusses the adjustment and notes whether the placement appears to be in the child’s best interest.
Once you have satisfied all the necessary legal adoption requirements, and assuming you will finalize the adoption in California, FCCA will file the necessary paperwork with the court to arrange a finalization hearing for you. NOTE: Some families who are working with a private attorney may have their attorney complete this process instead of FCCA.
The finalization hearing is an exciting milestone in the adoption process. Many adoptive families invite friends and family members to celebrate the official completion of their adoption. Because most of the legal work is completed prior to the hearing, the proceedings are typically brief.
While finalization proceedings may vary based on your individual circumstances, you can generally expect the following at your final adoption hearing:
You will be sworn in before the judge
Your attorney or the judge will ask you to introduce yourself and the child
The judge may ask a few questions before signing the final adoption decree, granting you permanent legal custody of your child
Most judges will invite everyone to take pictures, and many judges will join the family for this picture, as well.
While legal adoption requirements may seem overwhelming at times, they are a necessary step to reaching your adoption goals. FCCA provides all of the services you need to safely complete your adoption in California, so you will not need to hire outside legal counsel to complete your adoption unless you wish to do so, or unless you case is contested for any reason.
For more information about legal adoption requirements or the adoption services offered by FCCA, please contact us or attend an upcoming information session at any of our California offices.