The adoption process generally starts with filing of the adoption petition.
Once the adoption petition is filed, the DC family court adoption clerk issues an order of reference and a show cause order both required to be served on the biological parents to provide the initial legal notice.
The parents would either consent or the matter would be contested in which case the court will evaluate the following factors in rendering a decision.
If the matter is contested, the court may waive the need for parental consent when:
- A parent cannot be located
- Or has abandoned the prospective adoptee
- And has voluntarily failed to contribute to the child’s support for a period of at least six months next preceding the date of the filing of the petition
The court may also independently waive the need for parental consent when the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the consents are withheld contrary to the “best interest of the child”.
DEFINITION OF THE “BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD”
In determining the “best interest of the child” the court will consider the factors listed below, which are essentially the termination of parental rights elements:
1) The child’s need for continuity of care and caretakers and for timely integration into a stable and permanent home, taking into account the differences in the development and the concept of time of children of different ages:
This element focuses on the child’s home environment. The foster parents seeking to complete the adoption need to establish that they have provided “continuity of care” and for a significant period. That is, a safe, stable, and sustainable home environment.
2) The physical, mental and emotional health of all individuals involved to the degree that such affects the welfare of the child, the decisive consideration being the physical, mental and emotional needs of the child:
Here the physical, mental and emotional development and attachments of the child are all considered. Bonding and attachment studies, psychological evaluations, and evaluations by therapeutic services provide significant evidence.
Moreover, the court will consider physical health of all the individuals involved.
3) The quality of the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent, siblings, relative, and/or caretakers, including the foster parent:
Psychological studies and again bonding/attachment assessments and evaluations are considered here to determine who is the primary caregiver to the child as well as the psychological parent.
Parenting evaluations provide insight for the court as to which party is effectively raising and parenting the child, the foster parents or the biological parents and to what degree. Sibling bond and interactions also play a significant role.
4) To the extent feasible, the child’s opinion of his or her own best interests in the matter:
Here if the child is less than age of legal consent (14), then the Guardian Ad Litem — the child’s lawyer submits her consents to the adoption.
Comments made by the child to social workers, school teachers, and other independent parties, if admissible, may also provide persuasive evidence.
5) Evidence that drug-related activity continues to exist in a child’s home environment after intervention and services have been provided ….
Clearly if the biological parents still struggle with drug or substance abuse, this factors in significantly in the parental rights termination in favor of stable and sustainable long term provider.
Especially if the drug use has been long term, untreated and having impact on parental capacity.
The court after considering the petition, the consents or waiver of parental rights via elements enumerated above, still has to make a fitness determination before an adoption petition is granted.
That is, whether the adoption petitioner is fit to adopt and the child is fit to be adopted. The adoption petitioner would have to show by clear and convincing evidence that:
- the prospective adoptee is physically, mentally, and otherwise fit to be adopted by the petitioner;
- the petitioner is also fit and able to give the adoptee a proper home and education;
- the adoption will be for the best interests of the prospective adoptee; and
- all the requisite state and federal forms have been completed by the petitioner.
STEPPARENT AND SECOND PARENT ADOPTIONS
Stepparent adoption refers to an adoption petition filed by the spouse of a natural parent and the second parent adoption by domestic partner of a natural parent.
Such adoption petitions would require the consent of the natural parent.
The Court generally waives requirements for:
- Adoption investigation
- Adoption report
- Interlocutory decree or
- Disclosure of race and religion in the adoption petition
The court upon filing of the the adoption petition will issue an order of show cause be served upon the non-consenting natural parent.
The adoption petition will be prosecuted against the non-consenting parent in order to terminate their parental rights.
SUMMARY LEGAL EFFECTS OF AN ADOPTION
The adoption decree:
- Establishes parental rights for the adopter;
- Creates natural parent/natural child relationship between the adopter and the adoptee;
- Establishes right of mutual inheritance and succession between the adopter and the adoptee;
- Terminates parental rights of the natural parent.
DC ADOPTION RELATED FORMS, BLOGS, AND RESOURCES:
- Petition for Adoption
- Vital Records Form
- Adoption Information Sheet
- Proposed Final Decree
- Proposed Notice of Issuance of Final Decree
Our Washington DC adoption lawyer has extensive experience litigating adoption cases and in numerous cases has escalated or invoked appellate review by the DC Court of Appeals.
We are not only implementing and applying the adoption laws during your representation but establishing and paving new precedents along the way.
If you are either a parent facing termination of parental rights, or a prospective petitioner seeking to file an adoption petition for a child in US territory or outside the US territory, contact our experienced DC adoption lawyer/DC Family Lawyer for a comprehensive case evaluation.