Adopting a child can be one of the most rewarding and emotionally-fulfilling experiences. It can also be a very complex and stressful undertaking. There is a lot that goes into adopting a child before it becomes official. This article deals specifically with Relative or Kinship Adoption. That is when a relative as defined by statute adopts the child as opposed to the adopting family being chosen through a direct placement agency. Also keep in mind that while most of the requirements I talk about are general, some courts have their own nuances or requirements. An attorney familiar with that court will be able to fill you in on the specifics.
I. Who is a Relative for Purposes of the Adoption
Anyone who is related to the child within the fifth degree either by blood, marriage, or adoption.
II. Where Do I Start the Proceedings
You will need to file a petition in the family division of the circuit court where the child resides
III. What Fees Will I Pay
· Filing Fee-- $150
· Petition to Identify Father-- $20
· Certified Copy of Adoption Order-- $10
· New Michigan Birth Certificate-- $40
Note: Not all fees apply to every case. You may not have to file to determine the identify of the father and if the child was not born in Michigan, then Michigan cannot issue a new birth certificate.
IV. What Documents Will I Need to File the Petition
· Certified copy of adoptee's birth certificate
· Certified copy of petitioner's marriage license
· Certified copy or true copy of Affidavit of Parentage, divorce decree, and/or support order (including modification) involving adoptee
· Certified copy of order appointing guardian, letters of authority, order granting guardian the authority to consent to adopt involving adoptee
· If the biological parent is deceased, a certified copy of the death certificate
· Doctor's statement regarding physical and mental health of petitioner
· Reference Letters-- usually three
· Social History forms
· Adoptee's Birth Information (for the benefit of the adopted child)
Some counties have their own requirements in addition to the ones required by statute. Here is a sample list of things that some counties require:
· Fingerprints of the Petitioner
· Pertinent legal papers regarding child, such as Order of Filiation/Support, Affidavit of Parentage, Order to Change Name, previous orders of Adoption, letters of guardianship
· Letters of employment verifying employment, job classification, date of hire, salary
· Proof of relationship to adoptee
· Most recent federal and state tax returns
V. Consent of the Child
The adoptee or child must give consent to the adoption if he/she is at least 14-years-old
VI. Termination of Parental Rights
The rights of the legal parents must be terminated before the adoption can be finalized. This can either be done voluntarily or involuntarily. Voluntarily is the easiest and most efficient method. If the parents will not voluntarily consent to terminating their parental rights, then the petitioner has no choice but to ask the court to involuntarily terminate their rights. Before we get into the dynamics between voluntarily and involuntary termination, let’s discuss the difference between a legal and putative father.
A. Legal vs Putative Father
A father is considered the legal father of a child if the child was:
· Born during a marriage between the father and mother
· The father was determined after a court-ordered paternity test
· The father acknowledges paternity by signing an Affadavit of Parentage (Important Note: it gives the father no legal status by having his name on the birth certificate)
A putative father is someone who is believed to be the father but none of the incidents have occurred to make him the legal father.
If the mother does not know or is not sure who the father is, then the father is simply unknown.
B. Petition to Identify Father to Determine or Terminate His Rights
If there is no legal father, then efforts must be made to establish who the legal father is before the termination of parental rights can occur. The putative father can acknowledge paternity or a hearing will have to be held to determine who the father is. If the father is unknown, a hearing will have to occur stating why the father is unknown and what steps have been taken to determine who the father is.
C. Hearing to Terminate Parental Rights
There are three possible scenarios: 1) Both parents voluntarily consent to the adoption, 2) One parent consents and the other one doesn't, and 3) Neither parent will consent to the adoption.
Depending on how the parents consent will determine on what type of hearing must be held.
This is when both parents voluntarily consent to the adoption and is the easiest and most efficient method of terminating the parental rights. Both parents must appear before the judge and orally agree to terminate their parental rights on the record.
2. Partial Consent
This is when only one parent consents to the adoption. The parent that does not consent must have their parental rights involuntarily terminated with a hearing before the judge. The consenting parent just has to consent to the termination of their parental rights before the judge.
3. Involuntary Termination
If neither party wishes to voluntarily terminate their parental rights, then a hearing must be scheduled before the judge to involuntarily terminate them. In other words, evidence must be presented to the court that would warrant them to take away their parental rights. Various circumstances provide adequate grounds for involuntary termination, such as:
· Failure to provide financial support to the child(ren)
· Failure to see or visit with the child(ren)
Other grounds may exist that would convince the judge to terminate their parental rights.
VII. Home Visits
Sometime before the final hearing, a court investigator will schedule a home visit to make sure the home is a safe and fit place for the child to be. It can take up to three months before this is completed.
VIII. Statement of Money
This is a document that must be filled out and completed to the court prior to the adoption finalization. This is a statement of any money or other consideration that has been paid by the petitioner which includes but is not limited to any attorney fees, investigative costs, court fees, etc. The judge must approve any amount of money that has been paid.
VIX. Mandatory Waiting Period
There is a waiting period imposed by statute before the adoption can be finalized. The waiting period is a minimum of six months from the time the petition was filed. The waiting period can be waived for “good cause" by the judge. For example, if the child(ren) has been under the petitioner’s care for a substantial amount of time then the judge may waive the waiting period. Also, the petitioners must be married for at least six months before filing the petition as well.
X. Final Hearing
This is the day that you've anxiously awaited since the process began several months ago. The proceedings are usually private meaning you will have the courtroom all to yourself. You may invite friends and family members who wish to be a part of this day of celebration. Most judges readily pose for pictures with you and the newest addition to your family. At the end you'll receive the final adoption order making it official.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
As you can tell, the process of adoption is very tedious and cumbersome. This only adds stress and confusion during a time when you should be concentrating on preparing your household for the newest additions of your family. An experienced lawyer can help alleviate this stress by doing the heavy lifting and making sure it's done correctly. If the biological parents cannot be found or do not wish to voluntarily terminate their parental rights, it is especially recommended that you hire a lawyer. You will find that what you spend in retaining a lawyer is well worth it.