The Basics of Adoption

Adoption is the legal process of establishing a legal parent-child relationship when the adopting parent is not the child’s biological or birth parent. That means that once the adoption is final, the adoptive parents have all the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent-child relationship. That new parent-child relationship is permanent and is exactly the same as that of a birth family. An adoptive parent can be a stepparent or domestic partner of one of the birth parents, a relative of the child who has been caring for the child, or someone not related to the child by blood.

Types of Adoptions

Stepparent/domestic partner adoption:

  • The spouse or domestic partner of the child’s parent adopts that child.
  • The couple must be legally married or registered as domestic partners.
  • It is the most common type of adoption.
  • It is a little simpler than other types because 1 of the child’s birth parents still remains the child’s parent.

An independent, agency, or international adoption:

  • Independent adoption is when no adoption agency or the Department of Social Services is part of the adoption case. In these cases, if the existing and adopting parents agree, the parental rights of the existing parents do not have to be terminated (end).
  • Agency adoption is when the California Department of Social Services or a licensed adoption agency is part of the adoption case.
  • International adoption is when the child to be adopted was born in another country.

In all these three types, the court ends the parental rights of the child’s two birth parents, and the adoptive parents become the children’s legal parents.

Notifying the Other Parent of the Adoption

In a stepparent or domestic partner adoption, the court will end the parental rights of your child’s other birth parent. Many times the child’s other birth parent agrees (consents) to the adoption. In some cases, the court will end the other birth parent’s rights anyway even when he or she does not agree. This is very serious, so the court does not want to do it unless the other birth parent knows about the adoption and has a chance to go to court and tell his or her side to the judge. The judge will then decide if the court will end the parental rights or not.

Think about what it would be like if the situation was reversed. You would not want your child’s other parent and his or her new spouse to end your rights as a parent without you knowing about it.

So an important step in your adoption case is to:

  • Find the other parent and get a written consent (agreement) to the adoption.
    OR
  • Get a court order to end the other parent’s parental rights after searching for him or her and proving to the judge that you tried everything possible to find the other parent or to get him or her to agree (consent) to the adoption.

You have to take these steps even if you do not know who the other parent is or your name is the only name on your child’s birth certificate. If you do not know who or where the other parent is, you still have to at least try everything possible to find the other parent. Talk to a lawyer or the court clerk to find out what the judge will want you to do to find the other parent. If you do everything the judge asks and still cannot find the other parent, the judge usually will end the rights of the other parent.

If your child’s other birth parent is deceased, let the court know in your adoption request and at your court hearing. If possible, provide some type of proof, like a certified copy of a death certificate.

If your child’s other birth parent does not admit that he or she is your child’s biological parent, your case may get complicated so talk to a lawyer.

If you are not sure who your child’s other birth parent is (like if there could be 2 fathers, or if 1 man is the biological father but another man raised your child for years), talk to a lawyer.

Note: If your child was conceived through artificial insemination with an anonymous donor, and you were the only person involved in the entire process and the only person to sign the sperm bank and hospital records, and you were not married or in a registered domestic partnership, then you probably do not need to get anyone else’s consent. But talk to a lawyer to make sure. The judge may ask for a letter from the doctor or sperm bank confirming you did the artificial insemination on your own.

Finding your child’s other birth parent

Here are some things you can try:

  • Send a letter, certified with return receipt requested, addressed to the other birth parent at his or her last known address.
  • If you know for sure that the other parent left that last known address, send a letter to that address and write on the envelope: “Do not forward. Address correction requested.” If the other parent left a forwarding address, the post office will return the letter to you with the new address.
  • Call friends you had in common or family members of the other parent to see if they have any information.
  • Call the telephone directory in any city where you think the other parent could be living.
  • Do an Internet search for the other parent.
  • Contact the Department of Child Support Services in your city or county to see if they have any information on the other parent, especially if you ever filed for child support before.
  • Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if they will give you any information. It is very possible that the DMV will not give you information, so just make a note of when you called and what they told you.
  • Contact the county recorder’s office in any county the other parent has lived in to see if you can find any information.
  • Check the voter registration records in the county where the other parent lives or has lived.
  • Pay a private investigator or an Internet search service.

Make sure you keep track of the dates, times, and results of all of your efforts to find the other parent. You will have to give the court all these details in writing to get the court’s permission to let you move ahead with your case even if you cannot find the other parent.

If, after trying everything, you still cannot find the other birth parent, you will have to explain to the judge everything you tried to find the other parent, with the dates you tried and the results. If the judge agrees that you have tried everything possible, the judge may let you go ahead with the adoption without letting the other birth parent know.

from California Courts

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