How to Nullify an Adoption

There are provisions in law to nullify an adoption, but nullification is difficult and only very rarely achieved.  Adoption is intended to be permanent, not something about which people can later change their mind.  An adopted child has already changed parents at least once, which can be traumatic enough.  Judges strongly prefer to avoid the instability of making them change parents yet again, so circumstances have to be extreme for a court to reverse an adoption.

Petitions to nullify an adoption have their greatest (though still low) chance of success the sooner they are filed.  After a child moves in with the adoptive parents, there is a significant amount of time that passes before the adoption is finalized by a court.  If possible a petition to nullify should be filed during this transition period, as a judge will be even more reluctant to undo the adoption after it’s been finalized.

Any of three parties can petition the court for an adoption nullification—the birth parents, the adoptive parents, or the adoptee.

Generally for the birth parents to prevail if they petition for nullification, the adoptive parents must agree.  But in some states even that is often not enough.  If a birth mother wants her child back, and the adoptive parents agree that, yes, they too want the child to go back to the birth mother, the judge might still disallow any such “do over.”

It is not surprising that a birth mother might have trouble letting go and want to continue contesting an adoption even after it’s a done deal.  It’s much more unusual that the adoptive parents would go along with her wishes, or that they themselves would be the ones to petition the court to nullify the adoption.

That can happen, though, when the adoptive parents’ relationship with the adoptee is very bad and they have given up hope it can improve, rather like “irreconcilable differences” in a divorce.  The problems might have gone beyond just a kid being rebellious or difficult to where it’s open warfare.

Or the adoptive parents may simply no longer be able to care for a child, due to health or financial issues.

On occasion the adoptee may be the one to petition the court, seeking emancipation from the adopted parents.  Actually this happens far more often after an adoptee reaches adulthood, due to a deteriorating relationship with the adoptive parents and a desire to sever even a symbolic tie with them, or in some cases because there is an opportunity to inherit from the natural parents.  Though very rarely an adoptee will petition the court for nullification while still a child.

The main factor the judge will consider when asked to nullify an adoption is the present and future welfare of the adoptee.  Any evidence that the wellbeing of the child will suffer will have to be highly compelling to overcome the strong presumption against nullifying an adoption.

Sometimes adoptive parents have made the case that they were fraudulently induced to adopt the child, for instance by an adoption agency that knowingly withheld information about a child’s behavioral problems or health issues.  More often, though, those considerations are raised not in an attempt to nullify an adoption, but to get monetary damages.  For instance, if the adoptive parents had to pay a large amount of money for medical costs that would have been foreseeable had all relevant information been revealed to them by the agency, they might seek to be reimbursed for that.

Also note that if an adoption is nullified, it does not necessarily relieve the adoptive parents of their financial obligations toward the care of the child.  Typically they will be ordered to pay child support until the child is adopted into a new home.

Adoption laws differ from state to state, and can be quite complex.  If you are going to attempt to have an adoption nullified, or if you will have to defend against having an adoption nullified, it is imperative to retain legal counsel with an expertise in family law and adoption matters in your state.


Ken LaMance, “Can An Adoption Be Reversed After it Has Been Finalized?” Legal Match.

James Withers, “How Can an Adoption Be Made Null & Void?” eHow.

“Adoption annulment or revocation.” Law Guru Answers.