This document tells you the following:
- What is the adoption process?
- When do parents surrender the rights to their children?
- What rights do natural parents have?
- Who can adopt a child?
- Where do people who want to adopt a child go?
- Who Can Be Adopted?
- What happens to the adoption records?
The Adoption Process
An adoption is a legal process in which one or both parents (the adoptive parents) are legally substituted for the biological parents. When a child is adopted, the rights and duties of the biological parents end. There are no visitation rights for biological parents unless the adoptive parents allow visitation by the biological parents. A situation in which the biological parents may visit the child is known as an open adoption. An adopted child will not inherit from the biological mother and father unless he or she is named in a will.
CASE OF THE WANTED/UNWANTED CHILD
Lisa is going to have a baby. She is still in school and has no income. She is not married and knows that she cannot support the child.
Chuck is the father. He is about seven years older than Lisa. Chuck plays the drums with a struggling country western band. He’s broke most of the time. He thinks Lisa should have an abortion. However, Lisa carries the baby to term. After it is born, she decides to put it up for adoption.
Lisa is advised to notify either the state Department of Human Resources or a licensed child-placing agency. She is told the mother and the father of the child (the biological parents) must consent to the adoption unless one or both cannot be found. To start adoption proceedings, she and the child’s father must fill out and sign a form titled “Surrender of Parental Rights: Final Release for Adoption.”
After these surrender forms are signed, parents have 10 days to withdraw their surrender of rights to the baby.This 10-day period is a cooling-off period during which parents may change their minds. After this period, it is very difficult to withdraw the surrender.
Parents also surrender their rights to children if they abandon them. Abandonment means deserting a child-that is, physically moving apart from the child-with the intent of ending the parental relationship. In adoption proceedings, the father sometimes cannot be located. Such abandonment may result in the forfeiture of his natural parental rights. Legal abandonment occurs when a parent fails to pay child support, communicate with the child, or visit with the child for over a year.
After a petition for adoption is filed, the Department of Human Resources investigates this case to attempt to verify the information in the petition. The legal procedure for an adoption takes at least three months.
Rights of Natural Parents
CASE OF THE WANTED/UNWANTED CHILD, concluded
Lisa’s baby is adopted by Andy and Gretchen. Andy manages a large grocery store. Gretchen teaches preschool children. They have not been able to have any children. They adopted the baby through proper court procedures.
However, Lisa lied when she filled out the surrender forms for adoption. She said she did not know where the father could be found. She said she was not even sure of his name. Because he wanted her to have an abortion, she didn’t think Chuck would care. Chuck was never notified about the adoption proceedings.
Six months after the baby’s birth, Chuck learns about the adoption proceedings. His country western group is making it big. He has a new girlfriend. They plan to get married soon. He’d like to have his child. He files a motion to set aside the adoption. He claims, as the child’s natural father, he was not given proper legal notice of the adoption. Nor was his written consent obtained. He wants custody of his child.
In general, courts favor natural parents in deciding cases involving adoption laws. In 1978, a Georgia statute put much more importance on the rights of the natural parents of a child who is placed for adoption.
A father has legal parental rights whether or not he is married to the mother. A biological father must be given the opportunity to care for and know his child. The 1990 Adoption Act specifies how the father of a child born out of wedlock is to preserve his right to object to the adoption of the child and seek custody. If, as in the case of Lisa, the mother knows who the father is, she must, by law, reveal his identity and location. The father must be given personal written notice of the adoption proceedings, if possible. Otherwise, an attempt must be made to notify him through a notice in a newspaper.
The natural father has a right to ask the court for custody of the child if he has made any efforts to support the child in the past or to develop a relationship with the child. Recently, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the father must be given an opportunity to explain his reasons for not doing either before an adoption can be allowed over his objections.
If you were the judge in this case, what would you do? What are Chuck’s rights as the natural parent? Should Andy and Gretchen have any rights as adoptive parents? What is in the best interest of the child?
Who Can Adopt?
Any adult person-wHether married or not-may petition the court to adopt a child if he or she
• is at least 25 years old or is married and living with his or her spouse;
• is 10 years older than the child;
• has lived in Georgia for six months before filing the petition; and
• is financially, mentally, and physically able to have permanent custody of the child.
If the person is married, the petition must be filed by both spouses unless the adoption is requested by a stepparent. Persons who want to adopt children can apply to the state Department of Human Resources or a licensed child-placing agency. Agencies may have their own rules about the kind of parents who may adopt a particular child. They may want the adoptive parents to have a background as similar as possible to the child’s biological parents. Georgia, however, has no laws about matching backgrounds of children and adoptive parents. For example, biracial adoptions are legal in Georgia.
Who Can Be Adopted?
Tom’s parents were divorced when he was 10. He was put in his mother’s custody. When he was 13, his mother remarried. Now he is 17, and his stepfather would like to formally adopt him.
Who must consent to the adoption?
Many stepparents adopt stepchildren. Tom’s stepfather can petition the court to do so. If the natural parent or parents of the child are living and have not abandoned the child, their consent must be obtained. Children older than 14 years (as Tom is) must also give their consent. A person can be adopted at any age. At 21, a person can be adopted with his or her own consent alone.
If parents have had their parental rights terminated by the court or they are dead, their children may be adopted. In this case, whoever had custody of the child would have to give consent.
According to law, the records of an adoption proceeding must be sealed, or closed. Some adopted children want to look into these records to find out who their biological parents are. Sometimes biological parents wonder what happens to their children. Courts have only reluctantly allowed records to be seen. Georgia law provides a procedure for obtaining these records. A parent or child may list his or her name with the state registry. This listing makes it easier for either party to find the other if they choose to.
Recently, more adoptions have become open, meaning that the biological and the adoptive parents know who each other are. Depending on the degree of openness of the adoption, the biological parents may communicate with or even visit with the child. Or the adoptive parents may send pictures of the child to the biological parents. Even in an open adoption, though, the biological parents have no legal rights to visitation. Neither may they ask the court to enforce visitation.
SOURCE: Georgia Legal Aid (Authored By: Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia)
* Excerpted from An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Fourth Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2004). The Vinson Institute is not responsible for errors in the online text. Content is for information only; in no way should the information in the book be considered legal advice to anyone on any matter for which there are legal implications. Any such matter should be specifically addressed with an attorney. The book is available for purchase ator by contacting the Publications Program, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 201 M. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30602; telephone 706-542-6377; fax 706-542-6239.
GeorgiaFamilyLaw : Worrall Law LLC attorney Steve Worrall is an adoptive father and is passionate about helping his clients form new families through the process of adoption, whether that occurs through private adoption, agency adoption, relative adoption, step-parent adoption, or foreign adoption (domestication of foreign adoptions). Our adoption clients primarily come from Georgia cities in Cobb County GA (Acworth, Austell, Kennesaw, Marietta, Powder Springs and Smyrna and the communities of Mableton, Vinings, Fair Oaks, Cumberland, Town Center, East Cobb, West Cobb, North Cobb, and South Cobb), Fulton County GA (Alpharetta, Atlanta, College Park, East Point, Fairburn, Hapeville, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain Park, Palmetto, Roswell and Union City), Cherokee County GA (Ball Ground, Canton, Holly Springs, Sixes, Towne Lake, Waleska, and Woodstock), Paulding County GA (Braswell, Dallas and Hiram), and Bartow County GA (Cartersville, Emerson, Euharlee, Kingston, and White) and other counties throughout metropolitan Atlanta and North Georgia.