Adopting a child is one of the most wonderful things that a family can do. However, prospective parents often find the adoption laws and process in New York City to be intimidating. While adoption is one of the more complex aspects of Family Law in New York, when broken down, prospective adoptive parents can gain a much better understanding of the legal steps and options involved.
1. What Sources for Adoption Exist?
First, prospective parents should understand what type of adoption they are seeking. Adoptions can be through the government or through private agencies.
If parents wish to go through government agencies, the children they adopt will be children who have been abandoned or neglected by their birth or biological parents. In order to start the process for this type of adoption, you should contact the state agency assigned to your county. In New York City and the boroughs, this is the Administration for Children's Services, or ACS. They help pair parents seeking children with children in the state foster system who need loving homes.
The second option is private adoption through a private agency. It is important, if you go this route, to go through an agency that is government certified. Here, the birth parents have typically given up their children for adoption, as opposed to having their rights terminated or being found to have abandoned their children by a court. There are many agencies listed online that have this certitication.
The third option is to contact a private attorney who specializes in Family Law and adoption, as they many have many contacts in the field for private placements.
2. Who Can Adopt?
Any person over the age of 18, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation, can adopt a child. Additionally, the minor spouses of a child's birthparent (or stepparent) can adopt. Although a criminal record is a concern, typically minor offenses will not preclude approval, rather, the types of crimes that preclude adoption are certain felonies and any record of child neglect or abuse.
3. Who Must Consent to an Adoption?
If the parents of the prospective child to be adopted are married, and their rights were never terminated by the family court, both must consent. If the parents were not married, the mother must consent. The father's consent is only necessary if he had contact or a relationship with the child. If the child's father is known and there is no contact, consent might also not be required, although the judge may require that he be notified.
If the parents' rights were terminated by the court, the agency legally in charge of the child must give consent.
If the child is over the age of 14, they must also agree to be adopted.
In order to give consent, parents of a prospective adoptee must sign a formal paper called a surrender. This can be done in or out of court. If it is outside of court, they have a designated period of time in which they can change their min.
Ultimately, a Family Court Judge or a Judge of the Surrogate's Court will give the final approval and sign an order of adoption to make it final.
4. What Types of Adoptions Are There?
There are multiple types of adoptions ranging from completely closed to completely open. A completely closed adoption means that the child and birth parents will have no contact after the adoption is final. An open adoption provides for contact between the child and birth parents ranging from pictures sent to the birth parents of the child to actual time spent together. Some, but not all New York courts will enforce open adoption agreements on behalf of the birth parents.
5. Where Do Adoptions Take Place?
In New York, adoptions take place through the Family or Surrogate's Court in the County where the adoptive parent or parents live.
6. Can Anyone See Adoption Records?
In New York, adoption records are sealed, meaning that they are not open to anyone, including the adoptive parents, the child, and the birth parents.
Although there are social services aspects to adoptions (issues to think about when selecting which child or children to apply to adopt, the trial period where the child moves into your home pending the adoption being finalized, deciding between an open and closed adoption, etc.) that are complicated, many of the legal rules that guide this life changing process are surprisingly straightforward with easing the path to becoming a family in mind.