How to Contest an Adoption

Adoption is a complex and potentially lengthy process, especially if it is being contested.  The specifics of this process will differ according to state law, but there are many stages along the way where an adoption can be challenged and potentially blocked.  The deeper it gets into the process, however, the less likely it is that an adoption can be successfully contested.  Courts need highly compelling reasons to reverse an adoption process that is well underway, and they need extraordinary reasons to overturn an adoption that has already been finalized.

Typically in an adoption case the birth parents must first relinquish their parental rights.  There will be one or more hearings at which this can be contested if they are not doing so willingly.

If an unmarried mother voluntarily gives up the child, the father must be informed, or at least an attempt must be made to do so in the manner required by state law.  The father may then withhold consent and contest the adoption, and one or more hearings will be held to determine whether the father is a fit parent and should retain parental rights, which would block the adoption.

Some states also allow certain rights to birth grandparents or other relatives that may give rise to attempts to contest an adoption if they assert those rights.

After a child has been placed with adoptive parents, the adoption is not final until a certain period of time passes and a hearing is held for that purpose.  At that hearing, again, one or both of the birth parents, or other parties, could oppose the granting of the petition to adopt.

After an adoption is finalized, there are still provisions within the law to try to have it nullified.  So this is yet another stage at which the adoption could be challenged.

But again, the earlier the process is contested, the more likely the adoption could be stopped.

What are the grounds upon which an adoption could be blocked?

If the child has been involuntarily removed from the custody of the birth parents on grounds of some form of abuse or neglect, then the birth parents could make the case that the allegations are false, and that they remain fit parents.  Or that even if there is some truth to the allegations, and they were not fit parents when the child was taken from them, that that has changed and they are fit parents now.

If a birth father wishes to contest an adoption to which the birth mother has consented, he needs to show that he has not implicitly forfeited his parental rights by abandoning the child and mother.  The kind of evidence that would be relevant here would be that he paid some or all of the maternity care costs for the mother, that he has paid some or all of the costs of raising the child since its birth, that he has spent significant time with the child and bonded with it, etc.

Where grandparents or others are allowed by state law to make some claim to custody of the child, it would be on similar grounds as the birth father.  They would need to show that they have supported the child and mother, and have established a relationship with the child that it would damage the child to sever.

If the birth mother consented to the adoption but now wishes to withdraw her consent, time again is of the essence.  If she changes her mind before the birth, or during whatever additional time period is allowed by her state law, then normally she can withdraw consent no questions asked and it’s a done deal.  After that, however, she would need to show that some kind of deception or coercion was used to obtain her consent, and that therefore her consent lacked legal force.

As a sort of catch-all, it will always be relevant to cite the best interests of the child.  If it can be shown that the adoptive parents are unfit parents, that the child is in danger by remaining under their custody, even when everything else has failed or it’s too late for anything else to be tried, a judge will examine allegations like that very seriously.

The reason it’s so difficult to overturn an adoption is that it’s generally highly contrary to the welfare of the child for an adoption to be unstable and impermanent like that, so the goal would be to convince the judge that the circumstances are so extraordinary that that harm would be the lesser of the evils compared to allowing the child to remain with the adoptive parents.

It’s also worth noting that adoption can be a very complex area of family law, and if the process is not followed to the letter it may be possible to contest it on grounds that a layperson would think of as unimportant “technicalities.”  But forms have to be filled out, documents have to be produced, deadlines have to be met, etc.  This is why it’s strongly recommended that adoptive parents have qualified legal counsel to handle these matters so there are no slip ups (and why anyone looking to contest an adoption should have qualified legal counsel precisely to find any subtle little slip ups like that).

Even if one prevails on a technicality like this, it’s more likely to delay the adoption than actually prevent it.  But at least it keeps hope alive and gives one more time to put together a substantive case against the adoption.


Carrie Craft, “Can Consent to Adoption be Revoked?”

Jessica Martinez, “The Adoption Process: A Birth Father’s Rights.” Live Strong.

Erik L. Smith, “Unwed Fathers: Preventing Your Infant from Being Adopted Without Your Consent.”

“Can a Birth Parent Stop an Adoption from Happening?” The Labor of Love.

“Grandparents Rights Regarding Adoption.” Adoption Services.