Through the years I have done adoptions in Kitsap County for married couples, domestic partners and step-parents. Some of these were private adoptions, that is, done independently or through an agency and others were adoptions of foster children where the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) does much of the preparation otherwise done by an attorney or agency.
PRIVATE INDEPENDENT ADOPTIONS
Private adoptions are legal in Washington but it is important to have the assistance of an attorney to insure that all legal requirements are followed. In private independent adoptions the first step for the prospective adoptive parents is to get a home study. This is a report about the adoptive parents and the future home environment for the child. This report must be done by a person approved by the Court, often a licensed social worker. After the completion of a favorable home study the prospective parents may begin to search for a child to adopt. This may be done with or without an agency. There are many resources available on line for parents in search of a child to adopt. Independent adoptions often are situations where an expectant mother agrees to consent to the adoption after the child is born. Washington law makes it illegal to sell or purchase a minor child. This law means that payments by the prospective adoptive parents are legally limited to medical expenses associated with the birth of the child, attorney fees, court costs and fees to a licensed adoption agency. Washington law does allow considerable flexibility regarding agreements about contact between the birth parents and the adopted child. These agreements range from closed adoptions, where there is no contact between the two families, to open adoptions where there may be substantial and continuing contact.
TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS
Prior to the adoption of any child the parental rights of the birth parents must be terminated. This can be done by the consent of the child's natural parents or involuntarily through a Court order terminating the rights of the father or mother. Because the law protects the rights of the natural parents it is important that you have an attorney to assist you in obtaining and filing the consents. It is not uncommon for the identity of the natural father to be uncertain or for the father to be difficult to find. The attorney can help you to satisfy the legal requirements in cases like these, in order to insure that the parental rights are terminated and the adoption can go forward.
ADOPTING FOSTER CHILDREN
Prior to an adoption of foster children there will usually have been a dependency action, in a situation where the birth parents are unable or unwilling to care for the child and may even have abandoned the child. While any adult may file a dependency petition, the cases are often brought by an attorney from the state acting on behalf of DSHS. The state will allege that the parents cannot or will not do an adequate job of caring for the child, that is, that the child will suffer harm if left with the parents. The law favors leaving children with their parents whenever it is possible to do so, but in some cases that cannot be done. If the child’s parents are unable to demonstrate they will be able to care for the child, the Court will terminate their parental rights and give legal custody to DSHS. Typically, the Court orders the child to be placed with a relative, other suitable person, or foster parent, but legal custody remains with DSHS.In this sort of adoption, DSHS will arrange for the necessary home studies and if they are satisfied that the adoption is in the child's best interest they will provide the required legal consent. In foster parent adoptions DSHS will compile the medical history of the child, and there may be an adoption support agreement between the adoptive parents and DSHS. The state can also provide some reimbursement to the adoptive parents for legal fees.
A step-parent adoption occurs when a step-parent adopts the child of their spouse, or registered domestic partner. Washington law makes step-parent adoption somewhat less complicated than other types of adoptions. The home study will not be required but the parental rights of the non-spouse parent still must be terminated. Failure of that other parent not to pay child support is not sufficient to justify a termination of their parental rights. Either consent by that parent must be obtained or there must be other circumstances proven to the Court that justify terminating that parent's rights.
The adoption process can be complicated and an experienced attorney can insure that the adoption goes smoothly.