The majority of our practice involves assisting our clients in building their family through the independent adoption process, also referred to as a private placement or non-agency adoption. It is estimated that some 60%-70% of all domestic newborns placed for adoption nationally are placed through the independent adoption process and not through an adoption agency. This is also true in Washington State.
In independent adoptions, the prospective adoptive family and birth family often find each other directly without the intervention of an adoption agency. Most prospective adoptive families retain an attorney to consult with them about how to find an adoption situation in a tasteful, ethical manner and how to prepare themselves for the adoption process. Birth parents who are considering adoption also often contact an adoption attorney to get more information regarding the adoption process and to assist them in selecting an adoptive family. The two families often learn of each other through family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers and other “networking” avenues. Some adoptive families advertise in newspapers or on the internet to let people know that they want to adopt a child and that they are certified and ready to do so. Attorneys with significant adoption experience can assist adoptive parents and prospective birth parents with their search for a loving home for a child. In a typical independent adoption, the prospective adoptive parents usually take an active role in the process of finding a birth mother and child through their own efforts.
All prospective adoptive families must have a complete background check and be certified to adopt a child by undergoing what is commonly called a “Homestudy” or Pre-Placement Report. This report must be completed before they can legally take a child into their care. These reports are prepared by either a private practice social worker that meets the required background and qualification requirements, or by a licensed child placing agency. The prospective adoptive family provides a personal history, information regarding their health, references from friends and family, financial information and criminal background checks are done. Once this information is gathered and processed, the report is completed and usually makes a recommendation that the adoptive family is able to offer a safe, loving home for a child. It is the system’s way of ensuring that the placement will be a good one and reassures prospective birth families that all potential adoptive families must go through this pre-screening process and that the family they may select is emotionally, financially and legally able to adopt a child.
Once a possible match is made between the prospective adoptive family and the birth parents, an attorney experienced in adoption matters can help formulate a plan for how the needs of each party will be met. The attorney will also prepare legal documents so the adoption can proceed in a safe and efficient manner. The most important legal form in the adoption process that a birth parent signs is commonly called the Consent to Adoption form. The process of when and how such a Consent form can be signed and when it may be revoked is often very different in each state. Washington State is considered one of the most “adoption friendly” states in the country for both birth parents and adoptive parents. It allows the birth parents to sign a Consent to Adoption form prior to the child’s birth. However, a signed Consent form is not valid nor is it effective until it is approved by the Court, and the Court hearing for that approval cannot occur until at least forty-eight (48) hours have elapsed after the child’s birth, or after the Consent form is signed, whichever is later. Also, in Washington State, a birth father must have his parental rights terminated, most commonly by his signing of a Consent form similar to a birth mother’s form. However, if the birth father is known and refuses to agree to the adoption, it is still possible to terminate his parental rights by a process in which he would be served with a notice of a court hearing on a Petition to terminate his parental rights without his Consent. If he fails to respond within a certain number of days after getting notice, his parental rights can be terminated by default. Similarly, if his identity and whereabouts are not known, the notice to him can be published in a legal newspaper in the area where he was last known to reside and if he fails to respond at the court hearing, his parental rights can be terminated by default.
In Washington State, if there has been no change of mind or plans by either party once that 48 hour waiting period noted above has passed, the Court will approve the adoption and accept the birth parent’s Consent and sign a Court Order that permanently terminates the parental rights of the birth parents. That same Court Order authorizes that child’s placement into the direct care and custody of the prospective adoptive parents. At that point in time, the birth parents no longer have the right to revoke their consent and disrupt the adoption – it is final and irrevocable once the termination of parental rights Court Order has been entered – again, as soon as 48 hours after the birth of the child. After the child is placed in the adoptive home, the same social worker or agency that prepared the Homestudy is directed by the Court to go back and meet with adoptive parent(s) and child in the home to see how they are doing. The social worker then prepares a “Post-Placement Report” and makes a recommendation to the Court in that report that the adoption should be completed and finalized. The finalization of an adoption is the last step in the process where the adoptive family is formally and finally deemed the parent or parents of the child for all legal purposes, as if the child were born into that family. A new birth certificate is also processed by the vital records office showing the adoptive parents as the child’s parents.
We help families throughout the state of Washington, including King and Snohomish County. If you are interested in learning more about the private adoption process, please contact us for a consultation.