Every child deserves a stable, loving home. In the state of Washington, adults may adopt people of any age to make these special relationships legal and official.
For the safety of adopted children, and the stability of family units, adoption is a lengthy process of petitions, approvals, and hearings. Further, there’s always the chance for obstacles and disputes.
Let’s explore the legal perspective on adoption and outline the steps to growing your family this way. We’ll also discuss how an adoption attorney can help along the way.
Legal Requirements for Prospective Adoptive Parents in Washington
In the state of Washington, anyone who is at least 18, legally competent, and passes relevant assessments may adopt. No requirements exist concerning marital status, whether you rent or own your home, or sexual orientation.
You’ll undergo background checks and home studies. You’ll also need to prove a level of financial stability and the capacity to care for a child, and possibly go through foster parent training.
Types of Adoption in Washington State
Several paths to adoption exist. Depending on your situation, you may choose to work with an agency, independently, with your existing family, or internationally.
Agency adoptions involve state-licensed organizations that place children in qualified homes. Agencies manage not only the adoption itself, but also offer legal, financial, and emotional support to adoptive families.
Public Agency Adoptions
Public adoption agencies get state funding to connect families with children in the foster system. This tends to be one of least expensive ways to adopt a child.
Private Agency Adoptions
Private agencies work with birth mothers and people hoping to adopt in order to place children in good homes. They do tend to cost more than public agencies.
Independent adoptions don’t involve agencies. This means parents don’t automatically have access to the support many agencies provide, such as an attorney, counseling, and prenatal care for the birth mother.
For families who’ve already connected to each other as birth parents and prospective adoptive parents, independent adoption can be a sensible option. However, for people at the very beginning of the process, independent adoption may not be the best route.
Relative and Stepparent Adoptions
Often, people want to adopt children to whom they’re already related, either biologically or through marriage.
- Relative adoption is when prospective adoptive parents are related to a child in the foster system and want to give them an official home.
- Stepparent adoption is when someone adopts their spouse’s child from a previous relationship. This requires that the other biological parent gives up their parental rights.
Adopting a child from outside the United States means finding an international agency and working with the laws of the country your child is from. If both countries deem you eligible to adopt, you’ll need to apply for your child’s immigration eligibility and finalize the adoption once you’re all in the United States.
Birth Parent Rights and Consent in Washington State Adoption
Biological parents, or “birth parents,” have automatic rights to their children, unless they relinquish those rights. Birth parents’ rights vary once they do that, depending on the age of their child and the circumstances of the adoption.
Parents planning to put an unborn child up for adoption have a say in who the adoptive parents will be. They may meet with any prospective parents and ask questions about living arrangements, religion, other children, etc. Once the baby is born, birth parents generally have a couple of days to change their mind about not keeping the baby.
Once an adoption is finalized, it’s difficult for anyone to overturn it. However, if the birth parents file a petition, they might be able to convince the courts it’s in the child’s best interest to overturn the adoption.
Voluntary Relinquishment of Parental Rights
For a child to be eligible for adoption in Washington, the biological parents must voluntarily relinquish their parental rights before or after the child is born. The state won’t accept relinquishment if it finds a parent was forced to give up their rights.
The exception is if a separate party files a petition to have parental rights relinquished involuntarily because the parent negatively impacts the child’s life. Circumstances warranting involuntary relinquishment of parental rights include:
- Abuse or neglect
- Drug or alcohol addiction
- Chronic mental illness
- Violent crime conviction
Consent Revocation Period and Legal Implications
Biological parents must consent to the adoption of their child when relinquishing parental rights, if that child is under 18 by submitting a written consent and petition to the court.
Once consent is submitted, birth parents have 48 hours before the court makes it official. During those 48 hours, they may take their child back. If it’s discovered that consent was submitted fraudulently, under duress, or by someone without mental competency, consent may be revoked sometime in the next 12 months.
If the child is Native American, Washington State adoption law makes it more difficult to terminate parental rights, and the consent revocation period is 24 months instead of 12.
The Process of Adoption in Washington State
With every type of adoption, there’s a general process. Depending on your circumstances and potential challenges, the actual process may vary.
1. Initiating the Adoption Process
The very first step is talking to anyone else living with you. Whether this is your partner, children, or a roommate, bringing another person into your family will impact everyone in the home. If appropriate, talk to close friends and family so they can support you through the process.
2. Legal Representation and Adoption Agencies
You can connect with an adoption attorney and, if desired, an agency. Research your options to ensure you’re working with an agency that serves families like yours and understands your hopes for your family.
While you’re not required to have an adoption lawyer, doing so will ensure the process aligns with state requirements and take a lot of legwork off your plate.
At this point, you’ll likely go through a home study. This involves things like background checks, demonstration of financial stability, mental and emotional capacity, and references.
If you’re working with an agency or the foster system, you may also have visitations with children and work toward selecting who you will adopt.
3. Role of the Court and Legal Proceedings
No matter what kind of adoption you’re seeking, the court must ultimately approve it through a hearing. As long as the birth parents relinquish their rights and you’ve taken the necessary steps, this isn’t generally a complicated process.
You must petition the court for the hearing, and provide notice of the hearing to anyone legally involved in the child’s life, such as biological parents, guardians, and an agency.
4. Finalization and Issuance of a New Birth Certificate
Once the court decides that your adoption will be in the child’s best interests, the adoption is final and the child is officially yours.
Adoptive parents often wish to change a child’s name (usually giving the child the family’s last name). You’d submit that request along with your petition to the court, and, after processing, you’ll receive a new birth certificate with the child’s new name.
Interstate and International Adoptions
Adopting a child from outside the state of Washington or from another country means you must understand the laws and requirements of those locations. Here are a couple things to know:
Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)
The ICPC is an agreement between all 50 states, The District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It governs the placement of children outside of their home state, such as in interstate adoptions. Its purpose is to ensure children’s safety and the suitability of their new home.
Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption
The Hague is the location of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. It is the source of many international treaties and laws to promote peace and safety. The Hague Convention provides safeguards for children experiencing intercountry adoption, largely to combat abduction and trafficking.
Post-Adoption Legal Considerations
Adoption is only the beginning of your new family life. It’s not always easy to adjust, and you’ll also have the legal aspects to consider:
- Update documentation, such as insurance policies and wills, to include your new child.
- Implement the child’s new name (if applicable), on their documentation.
- Ensure access to birth records and birth family contact, if available.
- Explore support services for the child’s needs and parent connection, if desired.
Special Considerations for Adoption in Washington State
No two adoptions are the same. It’s wise to consider all options and possibilities before committing to a child.
- Adopting a child with special needs. In some cases, adoptive parents may receive financial support from the state for their child with special needs.
- Contact with birth parents. If the biological parents are open to it, you may opt for ongoing contact (this is called open adoption) or giving the child their birth parent’s information once they’re 18.
- Adopting a Native American child. Be aware that special rules govern the termination of parental rights, consent to adoption, and adoption revocation. If the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) applies to the child, an experienced attorney can help you navigate and ensure compliance.
Potential Challenges and Disputes in Adoption
Sometimes, adoptive parents face obstacles to finalizing the process or managing after the adoption is official. Legal representation is vital in these uncommon and sensitive situations.
Consent Disputes and Contested Adoptions
If one or both birth parents refuse to relinquish parental rights or provide adoption consent, the adoption cannot happen. Adoptive parents may need to seek to terminate the rights without birth parent consent, but that takes significant effort.
Implications of Failed Adoptions
In extreme cases, adoptions may be disrupted or dissolved, though this is an absolute last resort. Sometimes the adoptive or birth family, or the child themself, petitions to overturn the adoption for the child’s best interest. Either is traumatic for everyone, but mostly the adopted child.
Envision Family Law Can Help You Adopt a Child
Adoption in Washington State is complex, and legal counsel offers the support you need for this exciting transition. We’re honored to work with your family if you call or text (888) 211-7814 or complete the contact form on our website.