Do you have a child in your care that you are thinking about adopting, but you aren’t sure how to get started? First, let me say “Congratulations!” Making the decision to grow your family is exciting, but the process can be overwhelming. Virginia has multiple types of adoptions based upon the child’s relationship to you and how the child ended up in your care. These types of adoptions are as follows:
- Agency Adoption – Virginia Code Section 63.2-1221
- Parental Placement Adoption – Section 63.2-1230
- Stepparent Adoption – Section 63.2-1241
- Close Relative Adoption – Section 63.2-1242.1
- Adult Adoption (not addressed by this blog post)
Which adoption is right for you?
First things first – regardless of which type of adoption you need, with a few exceptions, you must first have consent of the child’s parents. Without consent, you will always have an uphill legal battle.
If you are adopting a child from an adoption agency or the local Department of Social Services, this is referred to as an Agency Adoption. The child has likely been in the care of the agency or Department, and no longer with the birth parents. This can be helpful because the agency or the Department does the heavy lifting of obtaining consent from the birth parents, and filing the appropriate paperwork. You are technically adopting the child from said agency or Department, as the birth parents’ have already signed an agreement to terminate their rights. I would suggest having an attorney review the final paperwork to confirm that everything is in order so you are less likely to run into trouble down the road if a birth parent changes their mind.
If a birth parent has placed their child in your care, this is a Parental Placement Adoption. I highly recommend seeking the help of an attorney for these types of adoptions because there are very specific steps that must be taken to ensure that the birth parents’ consent is valid, and typically there is not an agency or Department involved to handle this portion. The Court must be sure that the process is not being abused for financial gain. Just to be clear – it is illegal to purchase or sell a child in the Commonwealth of Virginia (and probably several other places, as well).
If the child you are adopting is the biological child of your spouse, you are solidly in the Stepparent Adoption category. This process can sometimes be smoother than other adoptions because your spouse joins in your petition for adoption to indicate their support, and there are fewer requirements to have the adoption granted. However, if the child’s other biological parent does not consent to the adoption and you cannot prove that said parent has abandoned the child, you need a lawyer. You likely have a legal battle ahead of you that begins in the Circuit Court. It’s certainly possible to have an adoption granted without one parent’s consent, but the court has numerous factors it must consider, and it is generally an uphill battle.
What if the child is related to you? You need a Close Relative Adoption. This adoption is unique because the starting place is different depending on how long the child has lived with you. If the child has lived with you for less than two years, the process is similar to a Parental Placement Adoption and begins in the Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court. If the child has lived with you for more than two years, the adoption is a bit more streamlined and begins in the Circuit Court.
Now that you have the basic information and you are ready to move forward with your adoption, you should consult an attorney. This attorney should be familiar with the different types of adoptions and should have a thorough understanding of the process. The attorneys at Strentz, Greene & Coleman, PLC have extensive knowledge in this arena and have assisted numerous clients with this exciting but highly technical process. Let us help you grow your family! Contact us at 540-479-1511 and visit our website at virginiafamilylawattorney.com.
Leah T. Dubuisson, Associate Attorney