DC adoptions can be categorized as Child and Family Services (“CFSA”) involved or private adoptions.
The legal paradigm remains the same.
The CFSA involvement could and generally does complicate the process as there are additional requirements to make the child eligible for the federal subsidy. Such requirements are adoption licensing, home study/visits, Interstate Compact (“ICPC”) when applicable, adoption final report, adoption subsidy agreement, federal and state police as well as Child Protection Registry (“CPS” ) clearances just to name a few.
Once the CFSA procedural requirements are met, there still remains the legal threshold to completing the adoption and entering of the final order and decree.
This blog however will focus on these legal requirements and the legal elements that must be established by clear and convincing evidence.
After filing an adoption petition content of which is strictly confidential, the court will issue a show cause order to the biological parents with a court date for service to be completed. At the show cause hearing, assuming the parents are properly served with the show cause order, the court may move forward with the hearing.
The parents may either enter a written consent, or contest the adoption. If contested, the court can waive their consent as long as it is established by clear and convincing evidence that either the biological parents cannot be located or that they have abandoned and have failed to contribute financially toward the child for a period of six month prior to the adoption filing date.
Under such circumstances consent is not legally required.
The court may also waive consent if such is deemed to be in the child’s best interests. The adoption-best interests analysis triggers the following elements:
1) The court uses a legal term “continuity of care” and “timely integration into stable home” to describe the first criteria. Translated it addresses generally the stability and consistency of child’s care. Legally adoption cannot be granted unless the child has been placed in the adoptive home for at least 6 months.
However, in most CFSA involved cases, the child has been in home for a period significantly longer than 6 months. The court will seek out evidence to establish that the care has been uninterrupted, continuous, consistent, and reliable.
In viewing the evidence, the court generally would want evidence on the record to demonstrate clearly a strong bond between the child and the prospective adoptive family as well as the extended family.
For example, does the child refer to the prospective adoptive parents as Mom or Dad or just calls them by the their first names. What are the family dynamics. Family functions and outings, trips, play sessions all are relevant and evidence needed to cement this first legal criteria.
2) The physical and mental health of the child as well as the prospective adoptive parents is also factored in. Here the court would want evidence on record from either doctors or the social workers attesting to the foster parents’ attention and care to all medical issues and health appointments.
That the child has both emotionally and physically excelled and flourished under care. Evidence related to schooling and performance in school as well as therapist reports are all entered on the record through testimony and critical to cementing this legal element.
3) The “quality of interaction” and relationship between the child and his or her parents as well as siblings and the foster parents are all considered very closely. At this stage, evidence of bonding studies is relevant and pertinent. In close cases where there is bond and continued relationship between the child and the biological parents – such bonding studies can tip the scale.
The DC Court of Appeals in adoption finalization reviews relies heavily on the expert testimony and considers credible bonding studies to be very probative.
The court would also need written consents form the GAL (guardian at litem) as well as the child if fourteen years or older.
It is also noteworthy that termination of parental rights is prerequisite to an adoption. Often times, the government will file a Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) motion for the children who linger in the foster care system without being adopted to encourage adoption by the prospective adoptive family.
With the TPR motion granted, most of the enumerated elements listed above have already been adjudicated and thus the adoption process will be less litigious.
It is absolutely critical to have the assistance of an experienced DC adoption lawyer to successfully prosecute and file an adoption petition. Not only to establish the legal elements, as they are numerous and complex, but also to confront the Agency (CFSA) with challenges as to the adoption subsidy, home studies, clearances, and host of other requirements that are ever evolving and fluid.
Contact our Washington DC Family Lawyer/DC Adoption Lawyer today to schedule your case evaluation.