The adoption process in California is regulated by the California Family Code. The laws govern who can adopt, what expenses may be paid to the birth mother, and what must be done to finalize the adoption. Any single adult or a married couple together is eligible to adopt in California, and a stepparent may adopt the birth child of her spouse. As with all family court matters, the best interests of the child is the judge's paramount concern in the adoption court.
Adoption Process in California Basics
Every state has laws regarding eligibility to adopt. In California, prospective adoptive parents must be at least 10 years older than the child they are adopting, with exceptions for stepparent or relative adoptions.
All adoptive parents must complete a home study, which includes an in-home visit, a home inspection and criminal background (fingerprint) checks, before they can be approved to adopt in California.
California Adoption Home Study
During the adoption home study, a prospective adopter is required to:
- Submit fingerprints.
- Complete a physical examination.
- Attend adoption training classes.
- Complete individual interviews with a social worker.
- Complete an in-home visit and investigation with a social worker.
A home study will not be approved if the prospective adopter or any adult living in her home has ever been convicted of a felony for child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, a crime against a child (including child pornography), or a crime involving violence, including rape, sexual assault or homicide. Additionally, the home study will not be approved if an adult living in the home has been convicted of a felony for physical assault, battery, or a drug- or alcohol-related offense within the past five years.
Required Documentation for Prospective Adopters
Prospective adopters must be prepared to provide several documents, including birth certificates, a driver’s license and proof of insurance, marriage certificates (if applicable), health statements, background checks and clearances, financial statements, references and autobiographical statements.
Legal Requirements to Finalize Adoption
Before an adoption can be finalized in California, the prospective adopter needs to complete a post-placement supervision period, which lasts for six months. This includes at least four interviews with a social worker, one of which must take place in the home with the prospective adopted child present.
Consent to Adoption
In California, both of the child's living parents are required to give their consent to the adoption if they are married or if the father is named on the birth certificate. However, the consent of the father is not required if he is not married to the mother or is not named on the birth certificate, provided he has been given notice of the adoption or the court had ruled that notice is not required.
If the non-custodial parent has failed to communicate with and support the child for one year, or has failed to respond to notice of adoption proceedings, only the consent of the custodial parent is required.
If the adoptive parent is married, her spouse is also required to consent to the adoption. If the child is age 12 or older, the child is also required to give her consent.
Timing of Adoption
If an adoption goes through an agency, the birth parent may sign a relinquishment any time after the child is born and hospital discharge is complete. The forms must be signed before two witnesses, plus an agency social worker.
In a private adoption process in California (i.e., an adoption from a pregnant woman without the help of a professional), the prospective birth mother must wait to sign the placement agreement or consent form until after she’s been discharged from the hospital after the birth of the baby. The forms should be signed before an adoption service provider or another professional who has advised her and the prospective birth father of their parental rights.
If the child is covered by the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the forms must be signed before a superior court judge any time after the child’s birth and after the appropriate tribes have received at least 10 days’ notice of the hearing.
Revocation Period Depends on the Type of Adoption
The revocation period (the period during which the birth parent can change her mind about the adoption) varies depending on the type of adoption. In an agency adoption, consent can be revoked within 10 days or before the Acknowledgment is issued by the Department, whichever is sooner. In an independent adoption, consent may be withdrawn within 30 days of execution. In either case, the birth parent can sign a Waiver of the Right to Revoke, which makes her consent or relinquishment irrevocable at the close of the next business day.
If the child is subject to ICWA, the birth parent is legally allowed to withdraw her consent or relinquishment at any time before the adoption is finalized.
The Baby's Birth Father
In California, each man who might be the child’s father must be given notice of the adoption plan. Although the birth mother cannot be forced to name the child's father is she is afraid for her safety, it is important to provide as much information as possible to ensure that the adoption is legally secure.
If the birth father is supportive of the adoption and wants to be involved, he can sign the consent forms with the birth mother after the baby is born. If he is supportive of the adoption but does not want to be involved in the process, he can sign a Waiver of Notice or Denial of Paternity. If he fails to respond to notice, his parental rights will be terminated by the court after the baby is born.
Birth Parent Expenses
Under California adoption laws, an expectant mom who is making an adoption plan for her baby may be paid reasonable maternity-related medical costs and living expenses. These expenses might include housing, food, utilities, transportation, maternity clothing and medical expenses. A prospective birth parent must make written requests for payment and provide written receipts for any money exchanged. These must be filed with the court before the adoption can be finalized.
Stepparent Adoption Process in California
The stepparent adoption process is different in that a home study is not required. In most cases, this happens when a spouse or domestic partner of the child’s custodial parent adopts the child, typically when the child’s biological or birth parent is no longer involved in the child’s life.
An application must be made to the family court by completing and filing the correct forms (the court clerk can confirm what forms to file). The original form and two copies should be filed, and the filing fee should be paid, unless the applicant applies to have the fee waived. The child’s other biological or birth parent must be served with the adoption request to make him aware of the petition and the date of the court hearing. If the other birth parent does not give his consent to the adoption, the only option is to get a court order terminating his parental rights.
As part of the stepparent adoption process, a social worker will carry out an investigation and write a report to help the adoption judge decide whether the adoption is in the child’s best interests.
International Adoptions in California
After adopting internationally, an adoptive parent usually "re-adopts" his child in California. This process usually involves at least one post-placement home visit and a review of the foreign adoption by a state court. To re-adopt, an adoptive parent needs to file the following documents with the court:
- An adoption petition.
- Certified translations of the legal documents for the foreign adoption.
- Accounting reports.
- The home study.
- The final adoption order.
If the adopted child received an IH-4 or IR-4 visa, it is necessary to finalize the adoption in California. This is because the child came to the United States under guardianship, and the adoption was not legally finalized in the country where she was born. If the child received an IH-3 or IR-3 visa, re-adoption is optional but highly encouraged, as it allows the adoptive parent to get a state-issued birth certificate in English for the child.
- California Legislative Information: California Family Code CHAPTER 1. General Provisions [8600 - 8622]
- The Superior Court of California County of Santa Clara: Independent Adoption
- Childlawhelpcenter.com: Stepparent Adoption Guide
- The Family Network, Inc.: Citizenship and Re-Adoption Process in California