Thinking About Your Match

Domestic or International?

Special Needs

Open Adoption
Agency or Independent?

Independent Adoption


In-Family Adoption

Stepparent Adoption

Relative Adoption

Adult Adoption

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Thinking About the Right Match for You

  • Adoption Planning and Matching: Triad as Extended Family
    If you're just getting started, you first need to think about what sort of match is right for you. As discussed on our Emotional Adjustments page, your adoption's "triad" (birth parents + adoptees + adoptive parents) is best thought of as an extended family. Family "planning" doesn't always go where you intend to go, but start by thinking about what sort of extended family you would like to see forming for your adoption triad. Remember that adoption means blending factors in Three Major Categories. Your plan for any one of them affects your plans for the other two, and you should understand how all three categories are going to mesh for you before you take any action. So consider all of the issues below that are relevant to your situation, not just the ones that are discussed higher on the page.

  • The "Cost" of Finding a "Priceless" Match
    Adoption's issues are bigger than any price you can put on parenthood. If the lowest possible cost is your top priority, you may not be putting the child's best interests first. On the other hand, expenses DO have to be addressed, so a link frequently appears below that will take you to our Discussion of Legal Fees. Of course, if you're looking at adopting through an agency, most agency's fees will dwarf the legal fees at our office. But when it comes to Legal Fees, if the absolute lowest fee is still all you really care about, you may want to look for an office with less expertise than ours.

  • Adoptive Families Magazine
    For what it's worth, here is a Big Picture Planning Page provided by Adoptive Families Magazine. Some of its components may be way off track for Georgia, but it can at least help with organizing the big picture.

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Third-Party Adoption: Domestic or International?

  • Helping Birth Parents and Children
    Do you want to help birth parents and children who live near you? Or in another state? Or in another country?

    • Adoption Isn't Just Helping Yourself, It's Helping Others, Too
      (Note that these questions ask you to think about helping birth parents and children, not specifically about "your" adoption. Some pre-adoptive parents are, understandably, tired and frustrated. They just want a clean, simple way to add children to their families --- no worries, no complications. Understandable, yes, but it doesn't usually happen that way. Adoption usually involves intensely emotional and painful problems for at least one family, and often for two families. Adoption can be a solution to those problems, but the emotions and the pain cannot be ignored. Sooner or later, most adoptive parents have to face these issues, sometimes in unexpected ways. Our Emotional Adjustments page explores these issues more.)

  • Helping Around the World
    If international adoption interests you, do you want an international adoption that connects to the "home country" of your ancestors? Or to a country where the need for adoption is great? Or to a country you already feel connected to for other reasons?

  • Helping Orphans
    Some pre-adoptive parents will want to reach out to a child who is truly an orphan. (True orphans are more common in less developed countries than in the United States.) For some, part of this motivation may be avoiding any possible friction with a birth family. Even so, you should prepare yourself to address the emotional problems the child may develop from having been orphaned. Most adopted children have "lost" one or both parents in some sense, and that hurts, even if they have no personal recollections about it.

  • Reaching Over National and Racial Boundaries
    Another issue you will want to consider (for both domestic and international adoption) is whether you would be comfortable having a child of a different nationality than you. Or a different race? Will you be comfortable being stared at every time you go shopping with the child? Not everyone has --- or needs to have --- the special sort of patience this requires, but it can be a great chance to model how tough love can and should transcend all boundaries, even racial ones. And would you be comfortable helping the child deal with being a different nationality or race than the rest of your family? Or the other kids in the classroom? (This doesn't mean getting angry on your child's behalf. Some people enjoy being righteously indignant, at presumed racial prejudice, for example. That reaction may be understandable, but in the end, it teaches the child that anger is just fine if a good ideological excuse is handy. People will naturally be confused and curious about how children of a different race fit into a family, and getting angry at them isn't going to solve anything.)

  • Cost Differences Between Domestic and International Adoption
    In general, the cost-to-you for domestic adoptions covers a wider range than the cost of international adoptions. On average, international adoptions do cost more; and by the time the Hague Convention took effect in the U.S. in 2008, those adoptions began costing even more. But there are private and government benefits available to reduce the costs of all types of adoption, so don't rule out anything based on cost alone. Domestic adoptions start from as little as: FREE! (The child may even be eligible for a monthly benefit check until age 18.) But domestic agency adoptions can balloon up to over $35,000, too. International adoptions can get that high too, of course, but with some effort on your part, the available grants, subsidies and tax credits can reduce the total cost of international adoption to more manageable levels. See our Financial Help section for more on these issues.

  • International Adoption: Ethics and Costs
    One reason international adoption costs can run up is black market practices in foreign countries, with scams ranging from health issues to out-and-out baby-selling. Our observation has also been that the country that is least expensive today will probably be the next one to come under investigation for some kind of wrongdoing. ( Discussion of Legal Fees )

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Special Needs

  • Why Is This Listed So High in This Discussion?
    Include kids with special needs in your adoption planning for two reasons. First, adoption is . . . "special" already. If you are already responding to the needs that adoption addresses, why not consider all the needs that are out there? Second, if funds are tight, keep in mind that a willingness to take on a child with greater needs usually reduces the cost of the adoption.

  • What Are "Special Needs"?
    For adoption purposes, "special needs" includes any category of kids who are less likely to be adopted. That means not just kids with physical, mental, and emotional issues, but also minorities, older kids, and sibling groups.

  • Georgia's DFCS definition of "special needs":
    "A child with special needs is ( 1 ) any child eight years of age or older; ( 2 ) any child of black heritage who is one year of age or older; ( 3 ) members of a sibling group of three or more to be placed together; ( 4 ) members of a sibling group of two or more where one is over the age of eight or has another special need; and ( 5 ) any child with documented physical, emotional or mental problems or limitations."

  • Again, Don't Just Help Yourself, Help Others
    So the question to ask yourself here is more like: Are you able to help a special child who may not get a home otherwise? Or is it enough of a calling and challenge to adopt a healthy, domestic infant of the same ethnicity? Special needs adoption is not for everyone, but a greater challenge yields a greater reward --- ask any parent who has loved such a child.

  • Quicker, Less Expensive
    It can be quicker and less expensive than other adoptions, and in many cases, it is FREE. For example, the Lutheran Services of Georgia Heritage Adoption Program waives ALL agency fees. In addition, a great deal of assistance is available for families adopting children with Down syndrome domestically via the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati's Adoption Awareness Program, and internationally via Reece's Rainbow. That site also has a special program to help families adopting older children with Down syndrome from abroad: Older Child Prayer List and Grant Fund. Adopting a child through Georgia's DFCS (Department of Family and Children Services) system is also usually covered by federal adoption assistance.

    For more information on these options, see the Agencies: Public section of our Forms & Resource Guide page, and the Financial Help section there, too. But again, there's no "right" answer, only the answer that's right for you. ( Discussion of Legal Fees )

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Open Adoption

  • Another Thing to Face Early
    Even the term "open adoption" scares some people. To make an adoption plan, you need to be honest, with yourself and those around you, about your feelings on openness in adoption. And we repeat again, there's no "right" answer, only the answer that's right for you. Everything in your plan will affect everything else --- nothing will operate in a vacuum --- but if everything else allows it, openness in adoption is better than secrecy. So let's look at this issue.

  • How "Open" is "Open"?
    How much distance do you want between the birth and adoptive families? How comfortable are you with the idea of a relationship with the other members of the triad? Some people just can't cope with it at all, and forcing it on them can be unwise or even dangerous. Others are willing to try, but only after the child gets past a certain age. For some, regular pictures and written updates are enough, and yet for many these days, total openness seems as natural as breathing --- starting with having the adoptive parents in the delivery room for the birth.

  • An Excellent Primer on Open Adoption
    Aside from what we have here, the Child Welfare Information Gateway page on open adoption is also excellent. Not only does it give a good introduction to the general concepts involved in open adoption, it also has links to great tables summarizing the Pros and Cons of open adoption for all involved. The info page itself has a link allowing you to download a PDF of both the info page and the Pro and Con tables with it. [One caveat: The "Pro's" table lists the following as a birth parent "Pro" for "closed" adoption: "Provides real choice for birth parents when compared to open adoption." Some birth parents may indeed view it that way; but we've worked with several who felt that open adoption gave them a more "real" choice.]

  • Curiosity Is Natural, Not Rebellious
    If the adopted child does not know birth family members early in life, there's a good chance curiosity will develop about them later. Many adoptees decide they want to meet birth family members. If the triad has a good, open relationship from the start, this will be a non-issue, or at least much easier to deal with. But adoptive parents who thought they wanted a completely closed adoption may find that their preference will drive a wedge between them and their adopted child --- their curiosity about their birth parents is natural, not rebellious. So hopeful adoptive parents may want to try extending their willingness to form a triad relationship. But once again, your answers need only be right for you.

  • Familiarity Breeds . . . Comfort, Actually
    The worry with open adoption is that the other triad members will be meddlesome, troublesome, or unpleasant to deal with. But consider these analogous relationships:

    • Irritating In-Laws
      Getting along with in-laws doesn't mean being best friends. We just start by focusing on the love we share for someone who is close to our hearts, and everyone works toward a comfort level. Once we get to know them and develop a relationship with them, we learn what works (and doesn't work) in our relationship with them. (By the same token, if anyone involved fails to recognize anyone else's reasonable boundaries, the relationship cannot continue. Similarly, if birth or adoptive parents fail to recognize the reasonable boundaries of others in the adoption, it can no longer be an open adoption.)

    • Annoying Neighbors
      Here again, the fear of "the unknown" is the dragon that must be slain to keep it from enslaving us. Fearing neighbors we don't know is almost always worse than dealing with neighbors we do know. When we don't know our neighbors, we can grow to fear them by imagining bad things about them that aren't even true. But when we get to know them, our fear of the unknown fades away into the practical task of working together.

  • You Already Know How to Do This
    In other words, triads are similar to relationships we already have. Relationships require work, but it is usually worth it for the rewards they offer.

  • Adoption Cannot "Solve" Other Problems
    Hopeful adoptive parents who are still hurting after a trauma like infertility should examine their feelings carefully on these matters: If they are resistant to even the possibility of openness (regardless of what the birth family may eventually want), it could mean that they are hoping adoption will give them the child their bodies would not give them. Facing these feelings will certainly be painful, but better that than entering into an adoption for the wrong reasons and multiplying the problems.

  • All Parenting Is Work, But Unpredictable Too
    And remember also that ALL parents face sticky questions. Children raise issues parents would rather not face. There's only one way to face these problems: Head on, but with flexibility --- with understanding, but within a firm framework of priorities and self-knowledge. No matter how you feel about openness going into adoption, the other people involved may take you some place you didn't expect to go --- maybe even some place they didn't expect to go!

  • More Information
    There is more about this on our Emotional Adjustments page.

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Agency or Independent?

  • Some Terminology
    Just to be sure these terms aren't confusing, "independent" adoption refers to adopting without an agency being involved. "Public" and "private" adoptions are both "agency" adoptions. A "public" adoption means adopting through the Department of Family and Children Services, or its equivalent --- different states have different names. Children in the DFCS system have usually been taken from unfit parents. They desperately need homes, but obviously, not every pre-adoptive parent is a good match for this kind of adoption. And a "private" adoption is one arranged by a private agency. (Some private agencies these days partner with DFCS, and defining exactly what type of adoption those are can get very technical.)

  • Cost Can Be Decisive
    The most dramatic difference between biological and adoptive parenthood is the "startup" cost. Adoptive parents generally bear all of adoption's expenses, so this is a big part of their search for a match. Many pre-adoptive parents struggle with how much assistance they can afford in finding a match: an adoption agency, a networker, a facilitator, or looking for an independent adoption (which means doing everything themselves).

  • International Adoption: Use a Good Agency
    If international adoption is your choice, working with a good international agency is STRONGLY recommended. (International adoption is occasionally done independently, but it requires good, knowledgeable, and trustworthy personal contacts in the foreign country.)

  • Sources of Financial Help
    The tax benefits may make an agency adoption more affordable than you think. (Dollar-for-dollar tax credit for over $12,000 in expenses. Instructions on claiming the credit are here. See our Financial Help section, also.) And if your heart goes out to children who are harder to place due to past abuse or other special needs, you may be able to get federal assistance to cover all the expenses of the adoption itself, or the cost of the child's ongoing special needs, or both. Many employers offer financial assistance for adoption, and there are lots of other sources of financial help too. Family and friends have helped round up adoption expenses, and people have even been known to hold fund raisers like bake sales and car washes! There are great resources for financial assistance and tax benefits in the Financial Help portion of our Forms & Resource Guide page's Guide to Other Resources section.

  • In Georgia, Only Agencies Can Give Money to Birth Parents
    Georgia birth parents who need financial help will probably want to work with an agency, because in Georgia, agencies can help with all of these expenses, but it is illegal for Georgia pre-adoptive parents to give birth parents anything other than the mother's maternity-related medical expenses. (This is another place where you want competent legal help before you break the law without even knowing you've done it.) Then again, if birth parents need financial help, Medicaid will usually be paying the maternity-related medical expenses anyway. So in these cases, adoptive parents will not be able to "compete" with agencies' ability to offer financial assistance to birth parents. ( Discussion of Legal Fees )

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Independent Adoption

  • "Do-It-Yourself" Matching --- More Control
    Finding a match in Georgia without an agency is harder, but it may be worth a try, even for pre-adoptive parents who can afford an agency. Remember, you're trying to find the match that is right for you, and the more specific your goals are, the more difficult it may be to deal with domestic agencies. (Pre-adoptive parents over 40, for example, may find that domestic agencies are hesitant to work with them. International adoption may be more of an option for them, but so is searching on their own.)

  • Triads Need to Be Fully Balanced
    In recent years agencies have given birth mothers more control in selecting adoptive parents for their children. This is understandable and commendable as far as it goes, but it has reduced the role adoptive parents play in choosing the triad they are comfortable with. The best adoptive match is one that fits and works for all sides of the triad, not just one. Finding a match on your own allows you to be more involved in the process, to have more control, and usually gives you a better chance to get a "feel" about a potential match before agreeing to it. The triad has a better chance of working well together if everyone chooses each other freely in the first place.

  • Bargain Basement Adoption
    If you do find your own match within Georgia, you may not need anything other than Legal Help. Such an adoption can take as little as two months to complete, and the only expenses would be attorney fees, court costs, and a home study.

  • Other Parts of the Puzzle
    Finding a match also means clearing some legal hurdles, and each state's laws are different. In some states, birth mothers can virtually auction their children off to the highest bidder. Georgia's laws prohibit this in several ways, but this complicates how matches can be made. Georgia's laws on payment of birth parent expenses are tricky. Maternity-related medical expenses can be paid directly, but rent, utilities, food, and maternity items MUST go through a lawyer's trust account. And all such payments must be reported to the court under oath. Pre-adoptive parents should NOT risk even small financial aids to birth parents without a lawyer familiar with the process. Because if it is done wrong, it is a felony. Georgians who have a valid home study can also advertise, but here again, do it wrong, and it's a felony. (A cynic will say this is all a big racket to benefit lawyers, but don't forget that the over-arching purpose is to prevent auctioning children off to the highest bidder. At the same time, there ARE birth parents who genuinely need financial help, and that's a valid concern too. To separate cases of true need from scams, someone knowledgeable has to oversee things. Before September 1, 2018, that was only agencies, which tended to mean higher costs for adoptive parents. The hope was that adding the "lawyer route" would reduce the cost of helping birth parents in true need, but as noted, you want a lawyer familiar with the process to be sure no one commits a felony.)

  • So What CAN You Do?
    All of this gives pre-adoptive parents in Georgia a bit of a maze in finding an adoptable child without an agency. But independent adoptions are perfectly legal, they are not that uncommon, and there are several things you can do. As of September 1, 2018, Georgia homes with valid home studies can advertise their willingness to adopt. And you can certainly "spread the word" --- at church, via your friends, your doctors and nurses, your lawyer --- via any chain of personal contacts. And there are other strategies available if you are patient enough to learn how to use them. For independent matches entirely within Georgia, we can usually handle all of the necessary legal steps. For interstate adoptions, an additional lawyer in the other state is usually necessary, and the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children ("ICPC") must be complied with.

  • Agencies CAN Help
    But while finding your own match may give you more control with less expense, the many services included in agency fees are valuable benefits that shouldn't be overlooked either. One easily overlooked agency service is help dealing with adoption's emotional adjustments --- for both birth and adoptive parents. Counseling is frequently necessary to help a birth mother be more comfortable with, and follow through with, an adoption plan, and to help the adoptive family with bonding. Most adoption agencies know how to deal with these subjects, and they should not be taken lightly. And as mentioned above, one of Georgia's primary methods of fighting "baby-selling" is to let agencies deal with birth mothers who are too interested in money prior to an adoption. Agencies are better able to deal with this issue than pre-adoptive parents who might easily lose a lot of money after another couple "outbids" them. Pre-adoptive parents in Georgia who are working without an agency need to be ready to deal with out-of-state birth mothers who are too money-conscious. This can cause some serious legal problems. ( Discussion of Legal Fees )

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  • More Flexibility: Finding Your Match, Not Just Your Agency
    A variation on private agency adoption that many prefer is using an adoption "networker". For an extra fee, a networker helps pre-adoptive parents find a match that fits their preferences. Everyone we know of who has used a networker has said it was worth it. They help "market" pre-adoptive parents, to both agencies and birth parents, and they have connections in the national (and even international) adoption community to help pre-adoptive couples and birth parents find each other based on the preferences and priorities of all parties. (Some can even find independent matches --- avoiding agency fees, though this obviously sacrifices the benefits agencies can offer.) The key is that their work isn't limited to just one agency; they work towards matching a particular couple with a particular child who needs a home. It's a bit like an independent insurance agent or real estate's Multiple Listing Service: Instead of being "wedded" to a particular agency --- "putting all your eggs" into one agency --- you deal mainly with the networker until a specific match is made, and if that is acceptable to all, the pre-adoptive couple works with that particular agency and birth mother. That agency's fee still must be paid (though the networker might be able to get a discount), but it's a much more flexible arrangement.

  • If It Seems Too Good to Be True . . .
    A CAVEAT TO PRE-ADOPTIVE COUPLES: The seemingly ideal balance that networkers offer is great for the short run issue of dealing with agencies. But in the long run, the adoptive match you're trying to make is really with birth parents and adoptees, not with an agency. A GOOD MATCH WITH AN AGENCY WILL PRETTY MUCH BE OVER ONCE THE ADOPTION IS FINAL; A GOOD MATCH WITH BIRTH PARENTS CAN BENEFIT BOTH FAMILIES FOR A LIFETIME. So stay tuned to this issue, no matter who you deal with.

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  • Independent Adoption, With Help
    "Do-it-yourselfers" don't have to do it all alone. They can get help from one or more "facilitators." "Facilitation" really just amounts to 'helping you do-it-yourself' --- "self service" instead of "full service." Not a bad thing --- but you need to know almost as much about the process as if you were doing it yourself. Facilitators are not usually governmentally regulated, there's no guarantee you'll get your money's worth from them, and in the past, many have been disreputable. In addition, even good, honest facilitators may use practices that are common in their states, but illegal in states like Georgia. For example, facilitators cannot advertise in Georgia, so Georgians working with facilitators will probably be involved in interstate adoptions. But remember, if pre-adoptive parents want to finalize their adoption in Georgia, it is a crime for them to pay a birth mother's living expenses, even if it happens in another state. And yet where this practice is legal and common, facilitators may already have made or promised such payments to their birth mothers, perhaps disqualifying them for pre-adoptive Georgians. Knowledgeable legal advice in both states is vital. Nevertheless, as the Internet plays an ever larger role in adoption, facilitators are involved in more and more Georgia adoptions. [For more on facilitators, see the Note under Facilitation Services in the Guide to Other Resources section of our Forms & Resource Guide page.]

  • Open Adoption and Doing Things Yourself
    The more willing you are to have an open adoption, the more you may want to find your own match, or make limited use of a facilitator. These days, however, many adoption agencies are adept with open adoption, and some even make a specific point of catering to them (for example, there's ... well, the one that went out of business, actually, ... so never mind). They may be able to build some bridges to openness that you would have a hard time doing by yourself. See our Agencies section for more on this. ( Discussion of Legal Fees )

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Adoption Within the Family

For some, finding a match happens within their own family. If everyone agrees to work together for the child's best interests, this is a great way to strengthen your family. Relative adoptions, stepparent adoptions, and even adult adoptions, not only strengthen extended families that already exist, they are usually less complex and less expensive than third-party adoptions between unrelated families. Care must be taken, however, not to cause needless family rifts with overzealous efforts to terminate rights to children. If a child is close with an adult that other family members seek to terminate, both the child and the terminated adult will resent even an otherwise successful adoption. See more about this in the Note about contested adoptions on our Legal Steps page.

  • Time and Cost of Adoption Within the Family
    Uncontested adoption of a stepchild, relative, or adult child can usually be completed in about two months, and court and attorney fees will probably be your only expenses. For adoption within the family, your next step is learning about the emotional adjustments, then taking the necessary legal steps. ( Discussion of Legal Fees )

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Stepparent Adoption

  • Strengthen Your New Family
    Stepparent adoptions are very common these days --- usually a stepfather adopting a stepchild. It is a great way to show commitment, both to the marriage and to the child. Children, and their mothers, often wish they could legally use the last name of a man they already think of as "Daddy." If you are having school registration issues, we can address those with your child's school and assure them that the adoption proceeding is underway.

  • Why Stepparent Adoption Costs More Than You Might Think
    The legal cost of stepparent adoption is often higher than people expect. The "step-family" is usually already functioning as a family, they have a low opinion of the absent "parent," and they feel that the law ought to recognize these facts --- for minimal cost, if not for free. It IS commendable that stepparents are willing to function as parents --- to be the parents, as Brad Paisley sings, that they don't have to be. But the laws on step-family adoption have to address factors that can be bigger than they may seem.

  • The value of LEGAL Parenthood
    Unless and until the stepparent adopts the child, if something were to happen to the biological parent, the absent "parent" would be the only remaining person with real, legal rights to the child. Absent parents in those situations might NOT cause any problems, . . . but they could. If you wait (and hope) that they won't, it could turn out to be VERY expensive --- and painful --- later. Another issue to which few give as much thought as they should: inheritance issues. Adoption affects inheritance rights too, and the law does not take that issue lightly either.

  • Judges Are VERY Cautious About Granting Adoptions
    Above all, judges are very hesitant to rule that anyone is no longer the legal parent of a child (even if that person is "out of the picture"). And it takes some fairly involved legal steps to satisfy them that such a ruling should be made. And that means legal fees. (Mr. Bull's answer to a question on this other online forum shows how legally involved this situation can get; and that does not even get into inheritance issues.)

  • Add all these things up, and that's why a stepparent adoption may cost more than you thought it would.

  • What If a Non-Custodial Adult Opposes the Adoption?
    As with any adoption (i.e., not just stepparent adoptions), if an adult with rights to the child opposes it, the adoption may not be allowed to go forward (unless that adult can be proven in court to be "unfit" --- more on that in a moment). Care should be taken not to cause needless friction within the family by trying (arguably) to "take" a child "away" from an adult. Regardless of how you view that adult, if an unwelcome adoption is even attempted (whether it "succeeds" or not), that may draw uneasy "battle lines" that the "absent" parent will resent. And even the child may come to resent the whole episode. (On this, and the following bullet points, see more in the Note about contested adoptions on our Legal Steps page.)

  • Judges Sometimes Just Simply Favor Existing Parents
    You may "know" that an existing parent is unfit, but the judge has a lot of leeway in how to view the evidence, and some judges are just afraid to terminate biological parents. Descriptions of crazy judicial rulings we have seen used to appear here, but simply stated, the voiced objection of an existing parent MAY block an adoption even when it "should not." Why? Well first of all, to be fair, we must remember that "parenthood" is a more profound thing than the law. And, not knowing what else to do, many judges seem to think, "God made this person a parent ... I'm not going to change that unless the law really, really demands it." And so, some judges will bend over backwards to favor existing parents, ... giving them rights and second chances they would not dream of giving to any other people in their court. (A judge did once act that way to TERMINATE a biological parent. But that mother had angered him in prior court proceedings.) (It's tempting to wonder if some judges aren't divorced themselves, and are still sore about how that came out, so they are biased for "underdog" parents.)

  • A Judge May Also See Termination As a "Nuclear Option"
    Adoption is not thought of in the judicial system as a remedy for "unfit" parents. Contempt actions (for separated parents), or custody actions (for non-parents), are usually best for that. The big difference in those, of course, is that the "bad" parent does not stand to lose ALL parental rights. It's true that parental rights CAN be so abused that a judge will terminate them against the will of that parent and grant adoption by someone else. But 1) that is pretty rare, and 2) even where it seems like a slam dunk, it is still a judgment call for the judge. And many judges are more tolerant on this than you might hope. It's one thing to punish a parent for not paying child support; it is far more drastic to declare that the person is no longer a parent at all.

  • Parental "Activity" and Adoption
    Another wild card factor here is the illusions that can arise from furious legal activity. While we tend to assume that the "best interests of the child" are paramount when a judge examines a person's "fitness" as a parent, in adoption, where the only available "remedy" is total loss of parental rights, judges tend to trust that if a parent is merely ACTIVE in the child's life, the parent will look out for the child's interests better than any judge could. So while a judge does have jurisdiction over existing parents in adoption, that power is actually often yielded back to them. And here's how that works: In imaging how the case could go, you might think it would be enough for people who know the child to testify to a parent's negative impacts on a child (assuming they are even allowed to give their non-expert opinions, which is a no-no; if you really want to get this kind of evidence into the judge's head, hire a licensed doctor or therapist). But no matter who testifies, first and foremost, what a judge sees is what happens in the legal process itself. So a father who is virtually absent in the child's life can suddenly seem like "Super-Dad" (or even "Super-Underdog-Dad") if the judge sees him in a frenzy trying to oppose the adoption process. The judge may assume that such a parent is similarly active in the child's day-to-day life, even if many who know the child actually testify otherwise. (Or the judge may just have sympathy for the parent for some other, unknown reason ... a desire to be "fair," ... bias from the judge's own prior divorce, etc.)

  • Filing an Appeal Is Not Worth It
    Also, judges get to decide what the evidence really "shows," and they may "fudge" that merely to avoid terminating a horribly unfit biological parent against that person's will. "Get that reversed on appeal!" you say? Well, not only is an appeal very expensive --- and traumatizing to all involved (not least the child), but an adoption decision is virtually unreversible on appeal because it depends so heavily on facts, and appellate courts rarely reverse a trial judge's decisions on facts.

  • Litigation Usually Isn't in Children's Best Interests
    Unfortunately, where there is ACTIVE disagreement over the child's best interests, adoption is not likely to be the "solution" you are looking for. No matter how unfit the existing parent may be, the judge may not go for the "nuclear option" of termination. In the stepparent adoption scenario, where there is bad blood between the existing parents, the custodial parent is often tempted to view adoption by the current spouse as a sort of "final solution" to the war with the "absent" parent. This temptation is dangerous. It can be so strong, and so seductive, that parents can fall into it without even knowing they're doing it: "That guy is SO evil, the adoption MUST be granted for my child's sake!" a mother may think to herself. Well, even if that is arguably true, again, termination may seem too drastic to the judge, and it could easily come down to whether the other parent consents or not. And if not, the adoption will fail. Not because the "absent" parent is a "good parent" (or "not that bad a parent"), but simply because that person objects. Again, perhaps the best perspective here is to remember that adoption is not intended to be a "remedy" for bad parenting or to resolve disputes among adults. And if the judge sees the dispute entering these realms, the adoption will probably be denied, and most likely, everyone involved will not like the end result.

  • "Unfit" Parent?
    Now, if your case DOES involve an adult who can easily be shown to be unfit (e.g., multiple child molestation convictions), then it would be in the child's best interests to proceed. Few cases are that clear, though. (Has the person murdered anyone, for example? If not, the case may not be clear enough.) Here again, the legal standards used to be discussed at length here, but actually, if an adult with rights actively contests the adoption, other factors can come into play, and these can make the official "rules" almost irrelevant. Because once that adult objects, the judge may be already starting to resist the idea of termination as the only "remedy" for that adult's "bad" behavior. The judge might even get angry (at you, or Mr. Bull, or both) for 1) trying to trample on this poor person's efforts to work through the restrictions that exist (even if they are reasonable restrictions), or 2) if it seems like the adoption is actually an effort to "win" an adult dispute (e.g., a custody battle), despite your certainty that the result will be CRITICAL for the child.

  • Don't Hurt the Child
    If your adoption gets to this point, you've got a "lose/lose" situation. You don't want your adoption to look like this. We don't want OUR adoptions to look like this. But too many of them have. If this will likely be your case, it IS a shame, but please don't hurt the child with this kind of attempt. You may think you're just trying to help the child, but it will do more harm than good. Do not do it. Unfortunately, some parents ARE negative influences. This DOES cause damage. But as stated, adoption is not the judicial system's preferred solution for that kind of problem. Contempt actions or custody actions are usually best for that. An adoption can easily "backfire" when combating bad parents is a factor.

  • You Know Better Than We Do What the "Absent" Party May Do
    The relevant factor here is not so much degrees of fitness, or judges' opinions on what constitutes "fitness." It is whether there is an "active" objection. Most "wins" are where the "absent" adult is given a true chance to object, and does not. If there is no objection, the case is "uncontested." But whether an "absent" parent will voice an objection is not a legal question. The custodial parent can guess better than any lawyer how far the other parent will go to "object." Again, for more on this, see the Note about contested adoptions on our Legal Steps page.

  • Best Interests of the Children
    One final observation on stepparent adoptions: Some attorneys have been known to advise people not to adopt stepchildren, on the ground that, if they divorce, they may have to pay child support (for "someone else's" child). Well, that could happen, true, ... but having two legal parents living with the child IS in the child's best interests. And any stepparent with a permanent commitment to the marriage --- and to the child --- should have no hesitation proceeding with the adoption. (Of course, as we say in our Legal Fees discussion, if your top priority is the lowest possible fee, that is also not putting the child's best interests first, and you may want to look for an office that will bill for less expertise than ours. ( Discussion of Legal Fees )

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Relative Adoption

  • Strengthen Your Family --- But What Is a "Relative"?
    Relative adoption is also quite common --- and the motivations of the children and parents involved may be similar to those found in stepparent adoption (especially when grandparents seek to adopt grandchildren). (But the "custody battle" warnings discussed above about stepparent adoption can apply here too. In adoption, you have to show that the "nuclear option" (termination of an opposing parent) is warranted --- very hard to do.) Also, the definition of "relative" may be more narrow than you expect. In Georgia, a "relative" is defined as someone "who is related by blood or marriage to the child as a grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt, uncle, great aunt, great uncle, or sibling." O.C.G.A. 19-8-7(a). Cousins aren't "relatives" under this definition. But most adopted cousins will benefit from having extended families that they would not have in third-party adoptions between unrelated families.

  • Don't Force It
    Here too, families need to be careful not to cause family rifts with overzealous adoption efforts. See the discussion above under Stepparent Adoption, and also the Note about contested adoptions on our Legal Steps page. ( Discussion of Legal Fees )

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Adult Adoption

  • Is There Such a Thing?
    Yes, there is such a thing as Adult adoption. Any time the adoptee is over 18, it is an adult adoption, even if it is a stepchild. As with stepparent adoptions, the motivation is frequently simply making an existing emotional relationship into an official, legal one. But there are other good reasons: It realigns the adoptee's inheritance rights so as to inherit from the new parent(s), and many pursue it in order to make the adoptee a family member for purposes of insurance, pension, or public assistance benefits.

  • Easier, Less Expensive
    Many adult adoptees are stepchildren. But the adult adoption procedure is less complicated. If the adoptee consents in writing, no consent is needed from the existing parents --- they need not even be notified. If a child to be adopted is approaching age 18, it may be worth waiting to qualify as an adult adoption. ( Discussion of Legal Fees )

The Big Picture

After you've thought about these things, remember that planning an adoption is like planning a fishing trip. You can plan the trip down to the last detail, but you can't make the fish bite. And you're fishing for people! It's an adventure, and a leap of loving faith. Keep the faith! It's not as lonely as you might think: All of us parents are in the same boat when it comes to keeping the faith!
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Give a Child the Opportunity of a Lifetime!