Adoption Laws Vary from State to State

Each of the fifty states has its own laws governing adoption of a minor child. These laws are inconsistent with one another, and always complex.

Adoption laws deal with such legal points as who can legally place a child up for adoption, whose consent is required and when that consent becomes binding, the exchange of monies in independent and agency adoptions, and what information is available to whom during and after the adoption.

The inconsistencies in state law can lead to adoption disputes, delayed placements and inappropriate placements, none of which are in the best interest of the child.

Anybody wishing to adopt a child should first research the laws of the state in which they live. Prospective parents must be certain that any agreement they enter into will be upheld in their home state. Even then, there are gray areas, and a good adoption lawyer is most likely a necessary expense in the process.

There are three types of adoption: domestic agency adoption, domestic independent adoption, and international adoption. From a legal standpoint, any adoption must be either an agency adoption or an independent adoption. The primary difference is in how the birth parents pass their rights onto the adoptive parents. (1)

In an agency adoption, the birth parent(s) relinquish parental rights to an agency, be it a government or private agency. It is then the agency places the child, and the adoptive parents obtain legal status as parents.

In an independent adoption, the parental rights of the birth parent(s) are relinquished and consent given directly to the adoptive parents to take the child and retain parental rights.

Even in this generalization, state laws differ. Four states, for example, do not allow independent adoption: Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. However, an agreement between the prospective adoptive parents and the birth parent(s) can be made independently, and the agency is involved only in the legal aspect of relinquishing of rights.

Another important aspect of adoption law lies in the time period necessary after the birth of a child before rights can be relinquished. This differs from state to state, as does whether or not the birth parent(s) have a grace period in which to change their minds.

And what of the child? Do current adoption laws provide for an adopted child to obtain information about his or her birth parents? Again, each state has its own laws governing the sealing of birth records, open adoptions, and releasing medical information to the adoptee.

There is hope that someday adoption laws will be consistent nationwide. That hope lies in the Uniform Adoption Act, adopted by National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. (2)

The Uniform Adoption Act, though, is not law; it is a legislative proposal that can be adopted and modified by individual states, but states are not required to do so. However, as adoptions become more complicated, and litigation surrounding them increases, the act may become an invaluable tool in creating a consistent and stable adoption process nationwide.