Adoptions in North Carolina

Not all Domestic Law attorneys encompass Adoption Law in their practice. Based on her compassionate spirit, diligent work ethic, and strong sense of family, Adoption law is a natural fit for
Ashley Michael’s law practice. This article will provide a brief outline of North Carolina’s laws surrounding Adoption in order to reach your goal of building a family.

In North Carolina there are 5 types of adoptions: (1) Agency (otherwise known as public adoption); (2) Direct Placement; (3) Stepparent; (4) Relative; and (5) Adult Adoptions. Not included in the 5 types are Interstate Adoptions  (ICPC) and International/Foreign adoptions (Re-adoption) outside of North Carolina. The adoptive child’s facts and past dictate the adoption type and process, contents of the adoption packet and timeline to reach your goal of a successful adoption.

Public versus Private Adoptions: It is a common assumption that private adoptions are expensive; however, there are other ways to extend your family besides going through the state’s foster care system.

Public Adoptions:

Agency Adoptions occur when an adoptive family seeks out a child for adoption and uses a state welfare agency or becomes a licensed foster parent/family. There is very little control or decision making in this process for the foster family and typically when a child becomes available you must act and have your home ready to accept the child. Generally there is no charge for an attorney as the state pays the fee for the adoptive parents. The adoptive parents, while fostering, usually collect money from the state/county for their services to house and care for the child.

The ultimate goal of the placing agency is reunification of the child with their parent or a blood relative, so fostering a child can be highly emotional. Most of the time, the foster parent(s) is(are) providing a safe haven for the child while the parent(s) is(are) working on reunification efforts; this can take a few months but typically lasts one to two years. If the child is placed back with their parent(s), you do not get the chance to adopt the child. Also, while the child placed in your home might be perfectly happy, healthy and loving, the children taken into custody by the state welfare agency have been removed for a reason and that child might have medical, educational, or mental  health issues as a result of things which happened to them in their prior environment.

Contact your local Department of Social Services Child Protection Services division in order to find out more about class cost, registration, and training. It is an amazing and selfless action to foster a child.

Private Adoptions:

1. Direct Placement Adoptions occurs when the biological parent(s) and the potential adoptive family have already connected (found each other and are interested in the adoption process). When Direct Placements derive consent to adopt from both biological parents to the intended adoptive family, the adoption process is less costly, mostly straightforward and form driven. The adoptive family should hire an attorney to complete the legal forms for the adoption process with the Court. The biological parent(s) could work with their own attorney, represent themselves, or ask the adoptive family to pay for their attorney.

Direct Placement using an adoption agency for coordination can be quite costly. An adoption agency tries to locate a child and match the child with a family seeking adoption. Beginning rates estimate around $20,000.00. The adoption agency does not provide attorney services in their adoption rate and the prospective adoptive family must secure their own legal advice and counsel. It is suggested, even before contracting for services with the agency, to have an attorney working with the adoptive family to protect and advise them of the agency’s process.

2. Stepparent Adoptions occur when a biological parent has married another person who then petitions the court to adopt the child. Should the other biological parent execute a consent the legal process is less costly and also  mostly form driven. The stepparent should hire an attorney to complete the legal forms for the adoption process with the Court.

Please note, North Carolina law does not allow same-sex couples to adopt a child even if marriage was legal in the state it occurred.

3. Relative Adoption occurs when a family member is adopting and both biological parents consent. Only close kin blood relatives fall into this category. The relative(s) should hire an attorney to complete the legal forms for the adoption process with the Court.

4. Adult Adoption occurs when a person or married couple petitions to adopt a person over the age of minority (18). The adoptee as well as the biological parents must consent to the adoption. One example is when the adult has been declared incompetent; the adoptee is appointed a Guardian ad Litem Attorney to represent the adoptee’s best interest and will then consent to the adoption. The potential adoptive parent/family should hire an attorney to complete the legal forms for the adoption process with the Court.

International Adoptions: When one adopts in another country, North Carolina allows a Re-adoption which registers the foreign adoption to enable a birth certificate to be issued for the adoptive parents and adoptee in North Carolina. The child is adopted in their respective birth country under said country’s laws then adopted again in the home state of the adoptive parents under US law. This can involve the Embassy from the sending county, interpreting foreign adoption forms to English and having them validly notarized, US Passports and green cards. This is necessary so your adoptive child may take advantage of US citizenship status and reap the state’s laws and benefits.

Interstate Adoptions: When a child born and/or domiciled in one state crosses state lines when being placed with their adoptive family you must work with both the child’s birth state and the adoptive parents receiving state to complete the adoption. Both states have to approve the adoption.

General and Additional Adoption Facts:

All Adoptions must go through the court system for approval. After approval by the Court (Judge or Clerk), the adoption file is sent to our state Attorney General’s Office, Adoption Division for a final audit and approval before indexing in our State’s Registrar system for the regeneration of a new birth certificate. The child’s original birth certificate is then sealed and removed from public records.

Usually only one attorney is involved in the adoption process although the biological parent(s) may also secure their own attorney. The adoptive family’s attorney communicates with the biological parents to draft and execute the legal documents for the adoption. The adoption attorney then prepares an adoption packet and files it in Superior Court. The attorney will work with a Clerk or Judge who ultimately issues a Decree of Adoption and sends the adoption file to Raleigh, Office of Vital Statistics and Records for final approval, indexing and the regeneration of a new birth certificate.

If one biological parent executes consent to adopt an adoption can still be obtained but there are more hurdles to master to clear the child for adoption. What can be time consuming and more costly to the legal process is locating a parent for consent or clearing the child for adoption if the other parent will not consent to the adoption. Sometimes the non-consenting biological parent contests the Adoption and the case must then be heard by a Judge. Additionally, an adoption matter may morph into a Juvenile Court action for Termination of Parental Rights in order to clear the child for adoption. A Judge will ultimately decide if the constitutional right to parent a child should be taken away from a biological parent so the child may then be freed for the adoption. Then the adoption legal process can continue.

Other difficult scenarios to tackle to clear the child for adoption are “putative fathers” and/or “unknown fathers.” Working with an attorney will ensure the adoption result will be steadfast in case a biological parent surfaces years later and attempts to obtain rights to the minor.

A child at age 12 and over must sign a consent to be adopted by the prospective adoptive person(s).

All NC Adoptions are considered “closed” and the records sealed by the Court.

Direct Adoptions and Stepparent Adoptions necessitate Department of Social Services involvement (or another licensed agency) who will be ordered by the Court to perform a pre and/or post-placement assessment. The agency also provides a Report to the Court with background information among other things which must be shared with the biological parent(s). This comes at a cost paid for by the Petitioner(s) who wish to adopt.

Regardless of the facts and circumstances in any adoption case, it would be most prudent to contact an attorney to complete the legal process. Even forms can be intimidating and without legal advice a lay person could miss an important step which could leave a window for a biological parent to contest the adoption and ask the courts for some relief; therefore, usurping your adoptees’ sense of security and permanence. Without legal direction your adoption could also be flagged during the audit process in Raleigh with the Office of Vital Statistics and not approved which leaves the adoptive parent(s) and child without a birth certificate until the error(s) can be resolved.

Adoptions can be mostly form driven within the Superior Clerk of Court in NC, Special Proceedings Division. While it is sometimes mostly a black and white process, it is extremely detail oriented and your clerk of court assigned to the Petition is not allowed to give legal advice. It is not recommend that parties seeking adoption enter Superior Court without attorney representation.

Should you decide the opportunity to adopt is right for your family, the experience and end result will present many rewards too vast to quantify throughout a lifetime. This blog is intended to educate and quell some misbelief that adoption is too difficult and/or expensive to consider. Do not let the legal process, cost or trepidation of navigating legal channels prevent you from giving the gift of a forever family to a child.