The following information will help you understand Georgia’s adoption laws and the different types of adoptions. Please contact me with specific questions because this information is only intended to be general in nature. Adoption law is generally governed by state statute. Therefore, it is essential that you consult an experienced adoption attorney for guidance regarding specific adoption cases.
- What is adoption? Adoption is a legal process that results in a court order declaring one person (generally a minor) to be the legal child of the adoptive parent or parents. When an adoption is finalized, the birth parents have no legal rights to the child, are no longer responsible for the child and no longer have an obligation to support the child. In essence, the child becomes a legal stranger to his or her biological family.
- Who may adopt in Georgia? Georgia law provides that any adult single or married person living with his or her spouse who is at least 21 years old or older may adopt a child or is at least 21 years of age and is a relative of the child. The prospective adoptive parents must be at least 10 years older than the child except the ten-year requirement will not apply when the individual seeking to adopt is a stepparent or relative. The prospective adoptive parent must be a bona fide resident of Georgia at the time of filing the petition for adoption or is a bona fide resident of their own state when the child was born in Georgia and was placed in compliance with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.
- Who may be adopted? A child may be adopted if (a) the living parents or guardians voluntarily and in writing surrender all rights to the child to a licensed adoption agency or directly to the prospective adoptive parents; (b) the child has been abandoned or has no living parents; or (c) the rights of the biological parents are involuntarily terminated through a court proceeding. In addition, the court must find that the adoption is in the child’s best interest.
- What is a private licensed adoption agency placement? In a private agency adoption, the birth mother relinquishes, or transfers, her parental rights to the licensed child-placing agency following the birth of her child. Thereafter, the adoption agency places the child with a prospective adoptive family approved through a comprehensive home study process. The private agency is responsible for screening the adoptive family, counseling the birth parents, handling the termination of rights of the biological parents of the child, providing permissible financial assistance to the birth mother, and supervising the placement until finalization. The agency holds legal custody of the child until finalization. Families can apply to Georgia licensed adoption agencies or out-of-state licensed adoption agencies.
- What is a public agency placement? State agencies place children who are in state custody in foster care, foster/adopt, or adoptive placements with families who have been screened through a comprehensive training process. These children generally are in the custody of the state agency due to neglect, abandonment or misconduct of a parent, although in some cases there may be a voluntary transfer of parental rights to the agency. Most of the children are in foster care for a significant period of time before becoming legally free for adoption. In addition, many of the children have medical or emotional issues due to their difficult backgrounds and may be eligible for adoption assistance. If a prospective adoptive family is willing to have a child placed in a legal risk placement, it may be possible to adopt a younger child.
- What is an independent or private adoption? Georgia law permits the biological parents and prospective adoptive parents to work together in an adoption plan without the involvement of an adoption agency. In an independent adoption, the birth mother transfers all rights to a child directly to the prospective adoptive parents who are not related by blood or marriage. A licensed agency is not involved in the placement process. In Georgia, the prospective adoptive parents may network with family, friends and other acquaintances to identify a birth parent and child. Prospective adoptive parents and attorneys are now permitted to advertise as long as they comply with the stringent restrictions in the Georgia adoption code. In addition, Georgia attorneys are permitted to disburse living expenses to birth mothers as long as they comply with the provisions of the Georgia adoption code. It is essential for families to consult with an experienced adoption attorney early in the process to prevent problems.
- Are there special rules that apply to interstate adoptions? Yes. Many adoptions are more complicated because a prospective adoptive family may reside in one state and the birth mother may be a resident of another state (or a licensed adoption agency may be located in another state). In such cases, with limited exceptions, the adoption must satisfy certain legal requirements of both states before the child comes into or leaves the states. There is a specific statute, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, that governs interstate adoptions.
- What is a stepparent adoption? These are adoptions in which a spouse of a biological parent seeks to become the legal parent of a child. The adoption terminates the rights of the other biological parent (not the spouse of the prospective adoptive parent). Frequently, the child’s name is changed as part of the adoption. A court generally will not grant a stepparent adoption when the child’s legal mother or legal father objects and is participating in the child’s life in a meaningful way.
- What is a relative adoption? These are adoptions in which a blood relative seeks to become a legal parent of the child. The adoption statute sets forth which relationships will be classified as “relative.” The adoption terminates the rights of both biological parents to the child.
- What is an adult adoption? These are adoptions in which one adult adopts another adult and all parties support the adoption. The adoption results in a legal parent-child relationship. In an adult adoption, biological parents do not need to surrender their rights and notice does not need to be provided to the biological parents. Although most adult adoptions involve adoptions in which a stepparent adopts the child, there are instances in which a person adopts an adult who is not a stepchild.
- What is an international adoption? Families are frequently adopting children who are born in other countries, either through a licensed adoption agency or working privately with an attorney or intermediary in the other country. If the adoption is finalized in the other country, families should domesticate or “re-adopt” the child once they return home to the United States. With Georgia re-adoptions, the family will be able to obtain a Georgia adoption decree or certificate and a birth certificate from the Georgia Vital Records office (called Certificate of Foreign Birth). If the adoption has not been finalized in the other country, the family will need to satisfy more stringent requirements of the adoption code governing either agency or independent adoptions. Following the adoption, the child will be issued a birth certificate (Certificate of Foreign Birth) from the Georgia Vital Records office. In other international adoptions, Georgia residents may seek to adopt a child already in their home who does not have permanent resident status.
- When is a home study done? In an agency placement, a comprehensive home study assessment is completed before a placement occurs. A comprehensive home study must be done for all interstate independent adoptions before a child can be placed. Families seeking to adopt children in state custody must complete a more comprehensive home study/education process, currently called IMPACT. Recent federal and state statutes require that all adoptive families finalizing their adoption in the Georgia courts complete criminal background checks through the FBI and Georgia Crime Information Center. As of July 1, 2011, a home study completed by an approved evaluator must be completed prior to the placement of a child into the home of adoptive parents by a third party who is neither a stepparent nor a relative and for this study to recommend placement. If the home study is not completed before a child is born and all parties are in Georgia, an attorney can file a motion with the court to permit placement before the completion of the investigation.
- Is it necessary for the adoptive parents to go to court? In Georgia, the adoptive parents will file a Petition for Adoption in their county of residence. The petition will culminate in a court appearance by the lawyer and the adoptive parents along with the child. The birth parents do not need to appear in court. With out-of-state families, the court may in its discretion allow the adoptive parent or any witness to appear via electronic means instead of requiring his or her physical presence before the court. Out of state adoptive parents may file with the Superior Court of Fulton County in addition to other options.
- Following the final hearing, what kind of documentation is provided to the adoptive parents? In Georgia, in addition to receiving a Certificate of Adoption and/or certified copy of the final adoption decree, the prospective adoptive parents will obtain a new birth certificate reflecting the adoptive parents as the child’s parents and the child’s new name.
- Can biological parents change their mind, or revoke their surrender, after signing the legal documents? Many states have a waiting period before a birth parent can sign a surrender (or relinquishment). In addition, many states have a certain period of time after signing in which biological parents can change their mind. In Georgia, biological parents proceeding in an independent adoption can sign surrender documents any time after a child is born. In an agency adoption, the biological mother and legal father of the child are not permitted to sign the surrender until 24 hours have passed from the birth of the baby. A biological father can sign a pre-birth surrender document in all types of adoption. In all adoptions, Georgia law gives the biological parents a four-day revocation period in which they can change their mind. The last day upon which a revocation can occur must be a business day.
- What happens to the adoption records? In Georgia, after an adoption is finalized, the adoption record is sealed. The original birth certificate is also sealed. The only way the record can be accessed is by court order or by following the procedures of the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry.
- Why should I choose an attorney with expertise in Georgia adoptions laws? Many family law attorneys or attorneys with a general practice handle only a small number of adoptions each year. Attorneys who do not devote their practice to adoption law do not always have comprehensive knowledge of Georgia’s adoption laws and do not have familiarity with the legal requirements of most adoption cases. Remember that you are making one of the most important decisions of your life. Make sure that the adoption process is handled properly so that your adoption is secure. Our commitment is to treat all parties involved in your adoption process in a caring manner.
Please understand that there are specific statutes that govern issues related to financial assistance that can be provided to a birth parent, the ways adoptive parents can locate birth parents, interstate adoption, birth parents with Native American ancestry, biological fathers who are in the armed forces, termination of rights of biological fathers who are not going to sign surrender documents, as well as other issues. Contact Rhonda Fishbein.