Adoption in North Carolina is a fairly complicated statutory process and it is advisable to retain an adoption attorney when attempting to adopt. At the Law Office of James Tyler Brooks, our adoption attorney navigates adoptive parents through the legal process of adoption in North Carolina in the following counties: Wake County, Durham County, Orange County, Chatham County, Johnston County and Harnett County.
Adoptions in North Carolina
Adoptions in North Carolina are governed by Chapter 48 of the North Carolina General Statutes (“Adoptions”). North Carolina adoptions include: adoption of a minor child by a relative; adoption of a stepchild by a stepparent; adoption of a minor child by an unrelated adult (either by direct placement [also known as an “independent adoption”] or by agency placement; additionally, these adoptions can be domestic or international); “re-adoption” under North Carolina Law of internationally adopted minor children; and even adoption of an adult by another adult (as you might imagine, this is relatively uncommon).
Adopting a Minor Child in North Carolina (Domestic Adoptions): Independent Adoptions; Agency Adoptions; and Stepparent Adoptions
Domestic adoptions are those that take place in the United States (as opposed to international adoptions – see below). Domestic adoptions include: independent adoptions (often referred to as private adoption or direct placement adoption); agency adoptions; and stepparent adoptions.
•General Requirements (Steps) for Adopting a Child in North Carolina:
•Home Study (Preplacement Assessment): A home study must be completed by a licensed agency within 18 months of placement.
•Consent/Relinquishment: In a direct placement (independent adoption) the biological mother must execute a consent to the adoption. In an agency placement, the biological mother must execute a relinquishment, which vests legal and physical custody in the agency. In either situation, the putative father (the biological father) may have to sign a consent or relinquishment or otherwise have his parental rights terminated. Putative father’s rights are complex and the assistance of an adoption attorney is critical here.
•Compliance with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) if this is an interstate adoption.
•Compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA): If the child is an “Indian child” as defined by the ICWA.
•Placement: The transfer of physical custody of the minor from the biological parent (or agency) to the prospective adoptive parents.
•Petition for Adoption: The petition for adoption must be filed within 30 days of placement. As a practical matter, our firm files the petitions very shortly after placement. North Carolina General Statute § 48-2-305 lists the attachments that must accompany the petition.
•Adoption Finalized: By statute, the court is required to set a hearing date on your petition within 90 days of filing and the hearing must take place within 6 months of the filing.
•Independent Adoptions in North Carolina:
The vast majority of newborn adoptions completed in North Carolina are independent adoptions (also known as direct placement adoptions or private adoptions). Independent adoptions are adoptions where the birthmother selects the adoptive parents and places her child with the prospective adoptive parents for adoption. Independent adoptions can be less expensive than agency adoptions because the prospective adoptive parents do not pay agency fees. The downside is that finding a birthmother may be more difficult without the assistance of an agency. There are, however, tools and resources available to match birthmothers and prospective adoptive parents. In independent adoptions, the prospective adoptive parents are responsible for paying their attorney’s fees (and are expected to pay for the birthmother’s attorney’s fees if she elects to be represented – most do not so elect), the cost of the home study and “reasonable” pregnancy-related expenses for the birthmother.
•Agency Adoptions (Private Agency) in North Carolina:
In an agency adoption, the prospective adoptive parents retain an adoption agency to find a birthmother. Typically, the agency fees will include the costs of the home study and will sometimes include attorney’s fees. Agency fees vary widely, but so do the services included in their fees. Make sure you are comparing apples to apples. Some agencies have eligibility requirements for prospective adoptive parents (i.e., must be married, must be married for __ number of years, must be Christians, etc.).
•Stepparent Adoptions in North Carolina:
It is not terribly uncommon for a stepparent to adopt his/her stepchild(ren) in North Carolina. Stepparent adoptions are governed by North Carolina General Statute § 48-4-100 et. seq. As with all adoptions, the stepparent’s legal relationship with the stepchild is changed and the stepparent becomes the legal parent of the child.
Contested Adoptions in North Carolina
When we refer to a “contested adoption” we are talking about challenges to the adoption by the putative father (biological father). Often, we will know upfront whether an adoption will be contested. Additionally, there are several steps that can be taken to avoid putative father issues. It is important to contact an adoption lawyer and discuss issues related to the putative father’s rights.
North Carolina General Statute § 48-3-601 outlines persons whose consent to adoption is required and North Carolina General Statute § 48-3-603 outlines persons whose consent in not required. These statutes and the caselaw that has interpreted them are very significant in determining what rights the putative father will have in the adoption process.
Adoption attorneys in North Carolina have a limited role in international adoptions since the implementation of the Hague Treaty. The Hague Treaty is a multilateral treaty that includes approximately 78 countries. The intention of the treaty is to regulate and set a standard of practice in international adoptions.
In general, North Carolina families wanting to adopt children from another country (typically a Hague signatory country) will retain an adoption agency in the United States that is accredited pursuant to the Hague Treaty. The adoption agency will walk you through the steps on this end and will work to identify the adoptive child. The actual adoption, however, will happen in the adoptive child’s country pursuant to their laws.
Here is some general information about international adoptions:
•According to the U.S. Department of State, the five most popular countries from which Americans adopt are: (1) China; (2) Guatemala; (3) Russia; (4) South Korea; and (5) Ethiopia.
•It is difficult to categorize the pros and cons of international adoption because what may be a “pro” to one adoptive family may be a “con” to another. That said, here are a few of the main characteristics of international adoptions:
•Internationally adoptive children tend to be older (i.e., you are unlikely to be able to adopt a newborn);
•Most countries will require the adoptive parents to travel to the adoptive child’s country (usually once or twice);
•Often the adoptive children are raised in orphanages that lack the resources and staff to fully nurture the child (both emotionally and physically) and, therefore, the child may be negatively impacted by this environment. Some families see this as a con – other families, however, view this as an excellent opportunity to provide these children with a life infinitely better than the life to which that child would otherwise be destined.
Our adoption attorney’s role in international adoptions (and the role of other adoption attorneys in North Carolina) usually is limited to “readoption.” So, what is “readoption”? Readoption is the legal process whereby a court in North Carolina reviews the foreign adoption and issues a new order of adoption under North Carolina law. Readoption allows families to obtain a birth certificate from North Carolina’s Department of Vital Records.
Why readopt? There are several reasons to readopt your internationally adopted child under the laws of North Carolina: (1) North Carolina adoption documents are much more easily replaced than foreign ones if they are lost or destroyed; (2) readoption documents are more readily accepted by schools and other organizations; (3) readoption makes it easier for families to change their adopted child’s name and to obtain a North Carolina birth certificate; and (4) readoption may protect your adopted child’s inheritance rights.
The procedures for readoption in North Carolina are the same as those for domestic adoptions of minor children, except: North Carolina General Statute § 48-2-205 allows adoptive parents seeking to readopt their internationally adopted child under the laws of North Carolina to use the foreign adoption order in lieu of the consent of the biological parent(s) to the adoption.
Readoption in North Carolina is a relatively straight-forward process, but does require strict adherence to statutory procedures. For this reason, it is usually advisable that adoptive parents utilize the services of an adoption attorney to complete the readoption process in North Carolina. Our adoption attorney would be happy to assist.