If you are in a same-sex marriage or partnership and want to expand your family through adoption, you may have concerns about whether you will face any legal challenges in the adoption process. Fortunately, same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015, and state laws banning adoption by same-sex couples were struck down in 2016, removing the legal hurdles to same-sex adoption. Same-sex couples may now utilize all the adoption resources available to other couples.
In any adoption case, the rights of the biological and adoptive parents, as well as the needs of the child must be considered. Balancing these interests can sometimes be difficult, but if you are ready to meet the challenges, a Washington DC adoption lawyer can explain the different ways to adopt and what to expect at any court proceeding.
Types of Adoptions
If a same-sex couple is considering adoption, there are several options available.
Public Agency Adoption
To protect them from harm, the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency can remove an abused or neglected child from their birth parents. If that child cannot be safely reunified with the parents, they may be placed with foster parents who want to adopt. In Washington, D.C., same-sex couples can foster children and serve as pre-adoptive placements, which is the first step in a public agency adoption.
Private Agency Adoption
A same-sex couple may apply with a private agency that matches them with birth parents, often prior to the child’s birth. The birth and adoptive parents may choose to have contact before the adoption is finalized, or the birth mother can maintain confidentiality and not disclose her identity. In a private agency adoption, the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency is not involved, and typically, the only court proceeding is the final adoption hearing.
Stepparent and Second Parent Adoption
If one spouse or partner in the same-sex couple has children, the other spouse or partner may adopt those children if there is no other legal parent. If there is another parent, that person must consent to the adoption or have their parental rights involuntarily terminated by a judge. An adoption under these circumstances may be beneficial if the child has a contentious relationship with that other parent, or perhaps no relationship at all.
In kinship adoptions, also known as relative adoptions, an adult adopts a member of their family, such as a younger sibling, a niece or nephew, or a grandchild. Kinship adoptions often occur in situations where a child has already been living with a family member who has acted as the child’s parent, or a birth mother is unable to care for her child and entrusts the child with a family member. A same-sex couple facing this situation may wish to legally protect their relative child through formal adoption, and an experienced adoption lawyer could guide them through the kinship adoption process.
The Legal Process for Adoption
Regardless of what type of adoption a same-sex couple chooses to pursue, they must have the adoption approved and finalized in Court. As a couple considers their options, it is helpful to understand the legal adoption process.
The Adoption Petition
Under District of Columbia Code §16-305, to begin an adoption, the adoptive parents must file a court petition that includes the following information:
- Name, sex, date, and birthplace of the child
- Names and addresses of the adoptive and birth parents, except that if the child is placed with a state agency, the birth parents’ information may be kept confidential
- Adoptive parents’ names, address, ages, and employment
- Relationship, if any, between the adoptive parents and the child
- Race and religion of the child, the biological parents, and the adoptive parents
- Date the child began residing with the adoptive parents
- Any name change for the child
A Washington DC adoption attorney could prepare this petition for the same-sex couple and file it in the Superior Court’s family division.
After filing the adoption petition, a couple must undergo an adoption home study, or ‘home assessment.’ In the assessment, a licensed social worker will visit the couple’s home to interview them and inspect their residence to ensure the child’s safety. The home assessment also includes obtaining documentation, including background checks, birth and marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, financial information, and references from the couples’ family and friends.
Once the Court approves the adoption petition, a final adoption hearing will be scheduled. The hearing is usually short and straightforward, with the judge signing the final adoption decree and formally awarding legal care of the child to the adoptive parents.
The adoptive parents may invite family members and other guests to witness the occasion, and the judge may permit photographs to be taken of the new family.
Benefits of Working With a Washington DC Adoption Attorney
An experienced adoption attorney could assist prospective parents in many ways, including:
- Obtaining the birth parents’ medical histories and consents to the adoption
- Filing all legal documents, including the petition, consents, financial information, employment verification, and proof of residency
- Assisting the adoptive parents in obtaining an adoption subsidy from the child welfare agency
- Representing the adoptive parents at a termination of parental rights hearing and the final adoption hearing
- Explaining how and when information about the biological parents may be obtained if the adoption is closed
If for some reason, the adoption cannot be finalized, an adoption lawyer could explain other options for the same-sex couple, including seeking custody or guardianship of the child.
Contact a Washington DC Adoption Attorney Today
Becoming adoptive parents is often both a challenging and exciting experience. Fortunately, recent changes in the law have cleared the way for same-sex couples to bring a child into their lives through adoption.
A knowledgeable adoption attorney understands the significance of adopting a child and can provide a thorough explanation of the available adoption methods and the legal process. The attorney can help you develop an adoption plan that meets your family’s unique needs. Call our firm today to consult with a Washington D.C. same-sex adoption lawyer.