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.
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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