What should I do if I want to adopt a child or give up my child for adoption?

Contact a lawyer. Adoption law is complex.  It is best to find a lawyer who can help you.   

What are the types of adoptions?

There are six types of adoption in Georgia:

(1) Public or private agency adoptions: The State or a private agency places the child with the adoptive parents. 

(2) Adoptions by third parties: Someone who is not a stepparent or a relative adopts the child.  These adoptions do not involve an agency. 

(3) Stepparent adoptions: A stepparent adopts the child.

(4) Adoptions by relatives: A grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt, uncle, great aunt, great uncle or a sister or brother of the child adopts the child.  The child may be related to the person adopting the child either by blood or by marriage.

(5) Adoptions by foreign decree: The child has already been adopted in another country.  The child must have a valid visa.

(6) Adult adoptions:  The person who is adopted is over 18.

Where do you file a petition for adoption?

If you are adopting a child, file a Petition for Adoption in the Superior Court for the county where you live.  You can also file the petition in the county where the child is living or where the agency is located, if you have a good reason.

Who may adopt?

To adopt a child, you must meet the following conditions:

(1) You must have lived in Georgia for at least 6 months before filing the petition.

(2) You must be at least 10 years older than the child.

(3) You must be at least 25 years old unless you are married and living with your spouse.

(4) If you are married, you must list your spouse on the petition for adoption unless you are the child’s stepparent.

(5) You must have the money, health and mental ability to take care of the child. 

Does the child have to agree to be adopted?

The child must agree to the adoption if he or she is 14 years old or older.  The child must agree in writing.  You have to show the judge at the final hearing that the child agreed.  Usually, the child has to give his or her consent in front of the judge.

Will someone come to look at my home if I adopt a child?

You must have a home investigation if

  • you are adopting a child through an agency (Agency Adoption) or
  • if you are not related to the child you are adopting and you are not their step-parent (Third-Party Adoption).

The judge will send someone to your home to check to make sure everything you said in the Petition for Adoption is correct.  They will also check to see if you or your spouse has a criminal history. 

If you are the child’s stepparent or relative, the judge will decide whether to send anyone to your home.  Adoptions by foreign decree or adult adoptions do not require home investigations.

What rights do biological parents have?

Under Georgia law, there are two different types of parents (see definitions below): legal parents and biological fathers.

Legal parents have more rights than biological fathers. Legal parents have the right to agree to the adoption.  They have 10 days to change their minds after they agree.   

A court can take away a legal parent’s right to agree to the adoption. The legal parent still has the right to know about the adoption. A legal parent also gets the chance to show the court why they should keep their parental rights.

A biological father has the right to know about the adoption.  After he knows about the adoption, he may want to become a legal parent of the child.  He has 30 days after he knows of the adoption to file a Petition for Legitimation saying he wants to become the child’s legal parent.  He must also tell the court and the lawyer for the adoptive parents that he has filed the petition to become the child’s legal parent.  The biological father may agree to let the child go to the adoptive parents or to a child-placing agency.

Who are legal parents?

The child’s biological mother or adoptive mother is a legal parent. The child’s legal father is also a legal parent.

Who is a legal father?

A legal father is the man who:

(1) was married to the birth mother when the child was conceived or born; OR

(2) married the birth mother after the child was born and recognized the child as his own; OR

(3) has adopted the child; OR

(4) has been determined by the court to be the father of the child according to a Final Paternity Order ; OR

(5) has filed a Petition for Legitimation asking the court to make him the legal father and the court has agreed.

In addition, to be a legal father, the man must not have "surrendered," or given up, his parental rights.  He must not have had his parental rights taken away by a court.

Who is a legal mother?

The legal mother is the woman who is the biological mother of the child or the adoptive mother of the child. To be the legal mother, the woman must not have surrendered, or given up, her parental rights.  She must not have had her parental rights taken away by a court.

Who is a biological father?

The biological father is the man who impregnated the biological mother.

If I give up my parental rights, can I change my mind?

Yes. You have 10 days to change your mind after signing a document to give up your parental rights. Write down on paper that you do not want to give up your parental rights.  Deliver the paper yourself to the person whose name is on the document you signed.  If you cannot deliver it yourself, use registered mail or overnight delivery service.

The law is very strict about when you can change your mind.  After 10 days have passed, you cannot get your parental rights back unless you have been tricked into giving up your rights (fraud) or you have been forced to give up your rights.

If you are adopting a child, remember that after the biological parents give up their parental rights, they have 10 days to change their minds.

Does the legal parent have to give up his or her parental rights for the child to be adopted?

No. There are two ways the adoption can happen without the legal parent’s consent.

(1) For public or private agency adoptions, third party adoptions, stepparent adoptions, or relative adoptions, the court can take away a parent’s rights when:

(a) adoption is in the best interests of the child AND:

(b) any of the following is true:

(i) The parent has abandoned the child; OR

(b) The parent cannot be found after a careful search; OR

(c) The parent is insane or otherwise physically unable to agree to the adoption ; OR

(d) The parent has not used good parental care or control due to misconduct and inability to be a proper parent.

(2) In stepparent and relative adoptions, the court can also take a parent’s rights away if:

(a) the adoption is in the best interest of the child AND

(b) for at least a year right before the adoption process started, the parent has failed to:

(1) communicate or try to communicate with the child in a meaningful way; OR

(2) provide for the care and support of the child.

Even if the parent does not have parental rights, the parent still must be told about the adoption.

Does the biological father have to give up his parental rights for the child to be adopted?

No. There are two ways that the biological father can lose all rights to the child. If he loses these rights, he cannot object to the adoption. This can happen if:

a) he does not file a Petition to Legitimate to become a legal parent of the child within 30 days after he finds out about the adoption; OR

b) he does not notify the court and the lawyer involved in the adoption that he has filed a Petition to Legitimate to become a legal parent.

If the biological father files the petition and the court gives him parental rights, then he becomes a legal parent.  Once he is a legal parent, the adoption cannot happen until he agrees to give up his parental rights.

Is it ok if the biological parents get money or anything else valuable because of the adoption?

No. It is illegal for the people adopting the child to pay the biological parents for the adoption.  This includes payment with money or anything else valuable. Adoption agencies may help the biological parents, but there are strict rules about that.

When the mother has given up her parental rights, she must also fill out a Mother’s Affidavit . On this form, the mother must tell if anyone has given or promised her anything valuable in connection with the child that is up for adoption.

In third party adoptions, the person who wants to adopt must file a report with the court listing anything valuable that they have given to anyone in connection with the adoption.

Can the court deny an adoption?

Yes, the court always has the power to deny an adoption.  This may happen if the court finds at least one of the following:

a) the adoption would not be in the child’s best interests;

b)  the legal parents have not agreed to give up their rights; OR

c)  there is not a good reason to take away the rights of the legal parents.

If this happens, who keeps the child?

It depends on the type of adoption. In a public or private agency adoption or a third party adoption, the court may place the child with a public or private agency.

In a stepparent or relative adoption, the child remains in the custody of the person who asked to adopt the child (if that person is able to take care of the child). The court may also place the child in the custody of the Department of Human Resources (DHR)  for the purpose of determining whether the child should be taken away from the stepparent or relative. In this situation DHR brings a case in Juvenile Court. This is called a Deprivation Action . 

Are adoption records private?

Yes.  The public cannot look at adoption records.

A person trying to find out about his or her birth family, adopted siblings, or child placed for adoption may be able to look at the records in some situations.  If you want this type of information, contact:

Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry
Families First/Office of Adoptions
2 Peachtree Street, N.W.
Suite 8-407
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-3142

In the Atlanta area: (404) 657-3555
Outside Atlanta: 1-888-328-0055

Does the law allow brothers and sisters to find each other?

Yes, the law allows this in some situations. To get this information, contact the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry .

Does the law allow biological parents to find information about their children who have been adopted?

Yes, the law allows this in certain circumstances. To get this information, contact the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry .

What is the Putative Father Registry?

The Putative Father Registry has information about any man who may be the biological father of a child. The Registry has the name, address, and Social Security number for two types of men:

(1) A man who says he is the father of a child in a signed writing;

(2) A man who registers to indicate the possibility that he is the father of the child.

A man who believes that he is or may be the biological father of a child can file that information with the Putative Father Registry. 

The Registry is maintained by Vital Records. Contact:

Registry, Vital Records
2600 Skyland Drive
Atlanta, Georgia 30319-3640
(404) 679-4741

If a biological father is on the Registry, a court may use it to require him to pay child support.

If you want to adopt a child, your attorney will search the registry to see if a biological father is registered for the child.  After the search, your attorney will give a copy of the results to the court.

If a father is registered for the child, he must be told about the adoption.  He also has to be told that his parental rights will be taken away if he does not file a petition to legitimate the child.  The lawyer working on the adoption must give this information to the father.

Are there any special financial benefits for adopted children?

Yes. Special needs children may be able to get money from the government.

Who is a special needs child?

A child has "special needs" if the child falls into one of the following groups:

(1) the child is of black heritage and is one year old or older;

(2) the child is of any other ethnic heritage and is eight years old or older;

(3) a doctor or other expert says the child has physical, emotional, or mental problems;

(4) the child only has one sibling and that sibling falls into one of the first three groups; or

(5) the child is one of a group of three or more siblings to be placed together.

What kinds of financial benefits go to Special Needs Children?

The Department of Human Resources is in charge of this money.
There are four types of benefits:

(1) Monthly Subsidy. This is a payment that comes each month and usually lasts until the child turns 18. The amount cannot be more than a family would get for Foster Care.

To get this money, the child must meet several criteria.  In general, the child must be:

a) “special needs” (see definition of special needs above);

b) “dependent” (not being cared for by a parent) when the adoptive parents file the adoption; AND

c) “needy” (eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits) when the adoptive parents file the adoption.

(2) Medicaid. The child must meet the same conditions as for the monthly subsidy listed above.

(3) Nonrecurring Adoption Assistance. This is a one-time payment.  It covers the required adoption fees, court costs, lawyer fees, and other costs that have to do with adopting a special needs child. The most you can get is $2,000 per child.  The child must be special needs.

(4) Special Services Adoption Assistance. A child who used to be in the custody of the Department of Human Resources may be able to get Special Services adoption assistance.  A child can only get this money if he or she has a special need that other family or community resources cannot meet.

If you want to apply for these benefits, you have to do it after you file for the adoption but before the court finalizes the adoption. You must apply for these benefits at the Department of Family and Children Services office in your county.

If the Department of Human Resources denies you benefits, you have 30 days to ask them for a hearing.  This is a complex area of the law.  Get a lawyer if you have a problem with adoption assistance.

In addition, if you are receiving Social Security Disability or Retirement benefits, you may be able to get a child’s benefit. Check with the Social Security Administration to find out.

Do I get special tax credits if I adopt a child?

Yes.  The largest tax credit was $10,160 in 2003.  If you are the child’s stepparent you do not get this credit.

If you adopt a child who is not “special needs”, you may take the credit only for qualifying expenses.  Qualifying expenses are adoption fees, court costs, lawyer fees, traveling costs, and other costs of the adoption process.

If you adopt a special needs child, you do not have to show that your costs are qualifying expenses. You can take the entire credit.

Are there any other laws that might apply to adoptions?

Yes. When children go to another state for adoption the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children applies.

When the children being adopted have Native American heritage, the Indian Child Welfare Act may apply.

If a child’s biological parents are on active duty with the military at the time of the adoption or at the time of the court case to end their rights, the Service members Civil Relief Act may apply.

SOURCE: Atlanta Legal Aid

SOURCE FOR POST: Georgia Adoption Law Blog