In the District, Child and Family Services (“CFSA”) involved adoptions are both complicated in legal requirements as well as in procedural steps needed to reach finalization. The legal process starts with filing of an adoption petition, which would generate show cause orders to be served on parents. Upon service, the parents may either enter a written consent, or contest the proceedings.
The adoption petitioner then in a contested proceedings has to prove by clear and convincing evidence that either the biological parents have abandoned or failed to provide financial support for the child for a period of six months preceding filing of the petition or that they are withholding their consent contrary to the best interest of the child. These elements are generally established through factual witnesses such as the social workers, the petitioners, and in some cases the biological parents.
The best interest of child legal criteria in the adoption proceedings triggers court’s analysis of the following factors:
1) The child’s gradual and consistent care and overall integration in the foster home environment. Evidence again that is either presented through fact witnesses, social worker’s observations etc – or established through a therapeutic relationship/treatment.
2) Physical mental and emotional health of all parties involved with particular attention to welfare and well being of the child. At this stage evidence of child’s physical and mental stability and improvement in the foster home setting is presented.
3) The child’s level of interaction/interrelationship with the foster family, biological parents and also siblings are all compared and considered.
4) When feasible and possible child’s preference. The age of consent in the District for adoptions is fourteen.
After the court concludes that either the biological parents have abandoned the child or that they are withholding their consent contrary to child’s best interest, the court still needs to make a legal determination as to fitness of the foster parents to adopt. It has to be established by clear and convincing evidence that they are fit and proper and able to provide proper home, environment, subsidence, education, etc. There has to be also a legal determination that the prospective adoptee is physically and mentally is fit for adoption. The final decree would not be issued unless the child has resided in the licensed adoptive home for a period of more than six month.
In addition to the above listed legal requirements, CFSA imposes procedural requirements before an adoption can be finalized. Those are adoption licensing process, home studies, regular in home social worker visits, ICPC approval if out of state, adoption subsidy approval and qualifications, and adoption final report and recommendations just to name a few.
In short, CFSA involved adoptions are challenging and at times burdensome and bureaucratic with ever revolving regulations. It is imperative and essential to have the assistance of an experienced DC Adoption Lawyer to prosecute effectively the adoption petition in court and out of court.