What is adoption?
Adoption is a legal process to recognize the relationship between a parent and their non-biological child. It ensures the child receives the same legal rights, medical insurance coverage, and inheritance as a biological child. On an emotional level, it’s also a way of telling the world you are permanently family.
Regardless of the situation, prospective parents will need to find a competent, experienced, and responsive adoption lawyer to ensure all legal processes are correctly followed. If you work with an adoption agency, they may provide one for you. In other cases, you will need to hire one yourself.
Who is eligible for adoption in Washington State?
Any person may be adopted in Washington state, regardless of age or residence. However, there are restrictions on who is allowed to adopt a child.
To legally adopt a new family member, prospective parents must be at least 18 years old and considered legally competent by the court. They must also pass a family assessment to ensure they can meet the child’s needs. The birth parent, any alleged father, the agency or department which has been caring for the child, and the legal guardian must consent to the adoption, as well as the child being adopted if they are 14 years of age or older.
Some adopting parents may struggle to get consent from one or more of the birth parents. In this situation, social services, the other birth parent, or the adopting parents may seek termination of the non-consenting birth parent’s rights. Termination of parental rights allows the court to move forward without the birth parent’s consent.
In addition to the requirements above, you may need to meet the requirements for adoption in the child’s native country if you are adopting internationally. Some prospective parents find that they or their adoption attorney must go to court in the child’s native country as well as in the U.S.
Adoption in Washington state does not require temporary residency. Unlike in some other states, the adoptee does not need to live with the adoptive parents before the adoption is finalized.
Two common types of adoption in Washington state are stepparent adoption and second-parent adoption. In stepparent adoption, the stepparent adopts a child from their partner’s previous relationship and the non-custodial parent terminates their parental rights. In second-parent adoption, a partner can adopt their partner’s child without terminating either biological parent’s rights. In Washington state, both same-sex couples and single LGBTQIA+ persons are allowed to become adoptive parents.
Other common scenarios for adoption include couples wishing to become parents through non-biological means and adults choosing to formalize a familial relationship. The adoptee doesn’t have to be a minor. Older adults may choose to adopt another adult as their child after developing a parent-child relationship with them.
How do I begin the process for adoption in Washington State?
If you intend to adopt a child, you must start by filing a petition for adoption with the court. This is typically done with the help of an adoption attorney. The petition should include the following information
- The name, address, and age of the prospective parent(s)
- The name, address, and place and date of birth of the adoptee (if known)
- The name and address of the person, agency, or department that currently has custody of the child
- Written consent to adoption by all parties required to consent
- The relationship between the adoptive parents and child, e.g. non-familial or stepparent
- The legal reason for terminating the biological parent’s rights, if applicable
- A statement that the adoptive parents are the best caregivers for the child
- A statement that the adoption is in the child’s best interest
- A statement of whether or not the child is covered by the Indian Child Welfare Act
- A signature from the prospective parent and their spouse (if married)
Many adoptive parents wish to change their child’s name. If this is the case, your adoption attorney should file a request for a name change with your adoption petition.
What happens at court?
In most cases, the actual court hearing is a formality. The adoptive parents must testify that they understand their rights as parents and obligations to support the child. If the court finds the adoption is in the child’s best interest, the judge will sign the adoption order and the name change order.
The main situation that can cause a difficult adoption process is if a biological parent does not willingly give up their parental rights in a stepparent adoption. In this case, the biological parent’s rights typically must be terminated for the adoption to go through.
What is the role of an adoption attorney?
Adoption attorneys are lawyers who specialize in family law. They handle the legal aspects of adoption, including the following:
- Filing the adoption petition with the court
- Preparing all the necessary forms, consents, releases, decrees, and finalization documents for a legal adoption
- Handling legal paperwork with social workers
- Getting a court date
- Working with legal representatives of biological or prospective adoptive parents
- Interfacing with adoption agencies
- Coordinating home studies and placement reports
- Representation in court hearings
- Budgeting assistance
- Counseling and options in case of speed bumps
You are not legally required to hire an adoption attorney. However, working without an adoption lawyer means you must write your own petition, represent yourself in the adoption court, and perform all of the functions listed above on your own. The legal process for adoption can be extremely complicated, so adoption experts nearly always recommend hiring an adoption attorney.
Quick FAQs About Adoption in Washington State
For Adoptive Parents
- How much does it cost to adopt a child in Washington State? The cost of adoption can vary widely. On average, prospective parents in Washington State can expect to pay anywhere from $4,000 to $50,000 for private or independent adoptions. However, it may be possible to adopt a child from the state foster care system at no charge in some cases.
- Is Washington an open adoption state? Yes, Washington is an open adoption state. That means adoptive parents, birth parents, and children (if appropriate) may choose to enter into a legally binding arrangement regarding the terms of future contact between each family post-adoption. Some families agree to in-person visits. However, there is no legal requirement for families to enter into an open adoption agreement, and some families do not wish to have any contact whatsoever between the birth parents and the child after the adoption.
- What is the most affordable way to adopt? Foster care adoption is generally the least expensive way to adopt a child. In some cases, prospective parents may not have to pay anything to adopt a child this way, and the state may even pay the adopting parents ongoing support.
- How long does it take to adopt a newborn? It may take several months to a year or more to adopt a newborn. After you complete the home study and work to meet any other requirements, you will need to wait for an adoption opportunity to arise, then wait for the baby to be born. However, the baby can usually go home with your family as soon as they are medically ready to leave the hospital. Keep in mind that you will still need to complete post-placement visits (which may take several months) to finalize the adoption.
- Do you get a tax credit for adopting a child? Yes, there is a nonrefundable tax credit for adoption. The maximum dollar limit in 2021 is $14,400 per child for qualified adoption expenses, which include court costs, attorney fees, travel costs, and other expenses that are directly related to adopting the qualifying child. If your tax liability is lower than your qualified adoption expenses, any remaining credit can be carried forward for up to five years.
For Biological Parents
- Can I choose an adoptive family for my child? Yes, you can choose the family that adopts your child. You can meet any family you are considering and select whichever family you feel is best. You may want to consider where the family lives, their religious beliefs and values, and whether the family already has or plans to have more kids or wants to adopt an only child.
- What kind of background checking will my child’s adoptive family go through? In Washington State, adoptive parents must complete a home study before a child can be placed with them. The home study process is an intense investigation of the family’s home, health, and resources. Adoptive parents must also complete criminal background checks and complete some adoption-related training.
- Can adoption be overturned? Overturning an adoption after it has been finalized is difficult. However, birth parents, adoptive parents, or adopted children may file a petition to do so. They must convince the court there is a compelling reason to reverse or annul the adoption, generally weighed based on the legal standard of the best interest of the child.
- Can an adoptive family help with the biological mother’s medical expenses? Yes, an adoptive family can help with the biological mother’s pregnancy-related medical expenses as long as the payments or reimbursements are disclosed to and approved by the court.
- Can a birth parent change their mind? Under Washington State law, birth parents can change their mind until the court has approved the Consent to Adoption form, which will not happen until at least 48 hours after the papers are signed and the baby is born. After this point, adoptions are considered legally binding and final, so it is hard to overturn one.
- Do both biological parents need to cooperate or provide information for an adoption to go forward? Not necessarily. It is better to get as much information and cooperation as possible from both birth parents, but the adoption can still go forward if that information is just not available, and even in some cases when a birth parent is not cooperative. The other birth parent or adopting parents may need to seek termination of the non-consenting birth parent’s rights.
- Will my biological child be able to contact me after adoption? That’s up to you! You may choose to enter an open adoption in which you and the adopting family agree to a set amount of contact with the child, allow contact after the child turns 18, or keep your information private to avoid any post-adoption contact.
- Will Washington State keep my identifying information confidential if I do not want to be contacted? Yes, Washington State will keep your information confidential and will not disclose any identifying information to the child if you do not want to be contacted. You can decide how much information will be available to the child in future years. By default, after they turn 18, an adopted child has the right to get their original birth certificate with their birth mother’s name, but you can opt for the vital records office to not disclose that information to the child.
- Can your parents force you to give up your baby for adoption if you are underage? Under Washington State law, your parents have no say in whether you give up your child for adoption, even if you are a minor. You do not need their permission or consent either way.
For Adopted Children
- Can adopted children get a copy of their original birth certificate? Adopted children in Washington State may receive a noncertified copy of their original birth certificate at any time after they turn 18, as long as the birth parent did not file an affidavit of nondisclosure or a contact preference form indicating they do not want their information released.
- Can adopted children contact their birth parents? In some cases, adopted children may be able to contact their birth parents. It depends on the birth parent’s contact preference and the information (or lack thereof) they provided to the state. In open adoptions, the child may have ongoing contact and visits with their birth parents while they are growing up. In non-open adoptions, birth parents may choose to allow contact only after the child turns 18 or choose not to have their identifying information disclosed.
- Can adopted children refuse to release identifying information to their birth parents? Yes, adopted children may file a refusal of consent to release any identifying information to their biological parents and relatives.
- Can your stepparent adopt you if you’re over 18? Yes, adult adoptions are allowed in Washington State, including stepparent adoptions.
Need help with adoption in Washington State?
Anderson Hunter Law can help with every step of the adoption process in Washington state. Our goal is to help you understand your rights and responsibilities as an adoptive parent and guide your family through the adoption journey.
With over 100 years of experience practicing law in Snohomish county, we have the knowledge to help your Washington state adoption proceedings go as smoothly as possible. Contact us today for a free consultation with one of our experienced Everett-based family law attorneys.
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