While the road to legal adoption can sometimes be time-consuming and complicated, many adoptions are relatively simple. If you are the spouse or partner of a child's parent, you may be able to simply get a few forms from the court and fill them out in order to adopt a child without going through a social worker or even a court hearing. Once the adoption is approved by the court, the adoptive parents have the same permanent legal rights and obligations as any parent.
Types of Adoption
If you go through an adoption agency, either in the U.S. or internationally, the adoption is usually reviewed by a social worker and requires a court hearing before it can be approved. In these cases, you may choose to consult with a lawyer. But an independent adoption doesn't go through a third-party agency. In some cases it's simply a matter of the legal parents signing over their parental rights to the adopting parents. Independent adoptions also involve a stepparent or domestic partner of a single parent adopting the single parent's child. These situations where the birth parent is widowed or when the child was born without a named father do not generally need a social worker or a require a court hearing. Simply fill out the forms and submit them to the county court.
Getting the Adoption Papers
The papers you need for an adoption are specific to each state. For example, California provides the required forms online, and other states, like Massachusetts, make them available at the court clerk's office. And, some states authorize independent publishers to provide the forms online, but you should verify that they are acceptable to your court before purchasing them.
In California, you'll need at least four forms. An adoption request form contains your information and information about the child and her parents, as well as any relationship you may have with them. An adoption agreement form needs to be signed by the child's current parents or guardians and, if the child is over age 12, the child must agree to the adoption. California requires an Indian Child Inquiry form, stating that the child is or isn't of Indian descent. If the child is of Indian descent, an additional form needs to be submitted. The fourth form that is always required is the adoption order itself, which a judge signs to finalize the adoption.
Also, in the situation where a stepparent is legally adopting a partner's child in California, both the parent and stepparent must complete forms declaring their parentage. Essentially, the birth parent and the stepparent declare their relationship to the child and each other through their marriage or domestic partnership.
Before submitting the required forms, be prepared to provide copies of any papers showing your relationship to the child and the child's parents. This would include, for example, a certified copy of the child's birth certificate, your certified birth certificate, a marriage certificate or proof of a domestic partnership, as well as a certified copy of the divorce judgment if you are divorced. In California, it is not required that your signature to be notarized, but you should check with your own state's requirements.