Overview of the Adoption Process in Washington State
Many people wonder about adoption and stop because they don't know how it works. This guide is intended to help people cement those emotional bonds they have already formed with either stepchildren or children they have welcomed into their home through programs like foster care.
What is adoption?Adoption is the legal process whereby a child becomes a member of the family for all legal purposes. Adoption is a product of statutory law and has ancient historical roots. Among the Romans, adoption occurred in order to grant favors and create heirs among Roman families--think Ben Hur. Adoption remained a legal process primarily among adults until the nineteenth century.
Child adoption really started in the United States and our legal system has developed the model for the rest of the world. When a child is adopted, the rights of any natural parents are terminated and new rights of parenthood are created.
An adopting parent must be willing to accept the duty to raise and care for the child as his or her own, recognizing that an adopted child will have all the rights of inheritance as any natural child. Legally speaking, an adopted child is no different than a natural child.
First step: pre-placement reportsThe first step in any adoption is placement into the home. Adoption commonly occurs in four ways: 1) a step-parent adoption, 2) adoption of a family member (niece/nephew, grandchild, cousin, brother/sister), 3) adoption of a non-family member, or 4) an adult adoption.
With a step-parent adoption, one of the child's natural parents chooses placement. Because of the legal assumption that a fit parent makes choices that are in the best interests of their child, all that is required is that the natural parent be married to the potential adoptive parent.
With the adoption of a family member or non-family member, a child must be placed in the home first. Often, this is done through the state. The state is responsible for ensuring that the placement is in the best interests of the child. It will make sure to create a pre-placement report. Foster parents are often screened to ensure the child will be safe and protected. If the adoption is through an agency, the adoption agency will have a state-certified social worker perform a pre-placement report. As long as the potential adoptive parents have a clean background, the child can be placed in their home.
With adult adoptions, it is much simpler. Adults may be adopted at any time. The only test is that the adults are aware of what they are doing and competent to make the decision. These kinds of adoptions are often done to cement emotional bonds forged in childhood or to ensure a family connection of a close friend.
Filing and service of petitionsAfter placement, the next step will be to file the correct petitions. In many adoptions, there are two phases: 1) ending the parent-child relationship of a natural parent and 2) creating a new relationship with the adoptive parent. Each step can be the subject of its own petition. In Washington, you can combine both petitions into one.
Separate petitions are most commonly seen when the state has taken charge of a child. Otherwise, it is more common to combine a petition for termination and adoption into one filing.
The petition, summons, and any supporting documents are all filed together. Among the supporting documents will be any consent forms of natural parents, relinquishment statements, and the pre-placement report.
After the documents are filed, they must all be served on all parties. This will include all natural parents (unless they have waived the right to notice), all adoptive parents, and any involved government agencies. Service must be according to Court Rule 4, but there are also special rules if service is not possible that allow for service by alternate means.
Ending parental relationshipThere are two ways to end the parental relationship of a natural parent can be terminated: 1) voluntarily and 2) involuntarily.
Voluntary termination occurs when a parent believes their child should be adopted because he or she is unable to provide the care that the child needs. It can also be done to end child support payments that continue to accrue when one parent has no contact with the child and does not desire any future contact. Voluntary termination is termed relinquishment. The Relinquishing parent must sign a declaration stating that relinquishment is voluntary and acknowledges they have a right to retract relinquishment before their rights are terminated. The relinquishment must also be signed under oath.
Involuntary termination occurs in all other instances. This usually means that a trial will occur. The basis for termination is a refusal to perform basic parenting duties for an extended period. The refusal must be voluntary and willful. The parent seeking termination must also show that it is in the child's best interest to terminate the parent-child relationship. Once proven, the Court will enter an order terminating the natural parent's rights.
Open adoption agreementsFor parents that voluntarily relinquish their child for adoption. An open adoption agreement is possible and enforceable. Under an open adoption, the natural parent will still have some rights to see their child. These rights will not be at the same level as parental rights. That means that a parent, at any time, can forbid contact if it is in the child's best interests.
But open adoptions allow for natural parents to remain in contact with children they have given up and support them emotionally as they grow up.
Adoption hearingThe second phase is the adoption hearing itself. Before the adoption hearing, you must have completed a post-placement report and file it with the court. As long as the report is good--and they usually are unless there are criminal convictions or other reasons that call into question the safety of a child--the adoption can proceed.
At the hearing, the adoptive parent will be put under oath and asked to answer some basic questions. Often, if the child is old enough, he or she may be put under oath, as well.
These hearings are usually very informal and friendly. It is one of the only times a judge gets to make a decision in which all people present leave happy. After the officical adoption decree is signed, there may be an opportunity for pictures with the judge and any family members who are present.
Birth CertificateIt will take several weeks, but after the final Adoption Decree has been filed. The clerk of the court will process forms that will update the child's birth certificate with their state of birth. The adoptive parents will then receive their child's new birth certificate to use for identification purposes.