Adopting a Child
There are several paths to adoption in Indiana. Families wishing to adopt a child may contract with a licensed child placing agency to be matched with a child. Other families may become foster families for children who are the subject of Child in Need of Services (CHINS) or Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) proceedings where the Department of Child Services (DCS) is involved. Still other families may petition to adopt the children of a friend or family member, without the involvement of a licensed child placing agency or DCS.
In Indiana, legal proceedings for adoption generally begin with a Verified Petition for Adoption. Although there are some important exceptions, unless a parent’s parental rights have been terminated or the parent has waived his or her right to receive notice, a notice of the adoption proceedings must be provided to the child’s biological parents. Notice must also be provided to DCS or other relevant licensed child placing agency, and in some cases, to additional parties such as grandparents.
The child’s parents are almost always required to consent to the adoption proceedings, as is the child if he or she is over the age of fourteen (14). If the child is in the care of DCS, DCS will also be required to consent to the adoption. However, there are several circumstances under which a parent’s consent is not required, including, for instance, in cases where that parent has not been involved in the child’s life for a lengthy period of time.
In addition to a petition and consents, the adoption court will also require a document regarding the child’s biological medical history and a document allowing for the child’s birth certificate to be changed to reflect the adoptive parents as the child’s parents, among other requirements. The court will also require that a home study be performed, which will involve a background check on the prospective adoptive parent(s), as well as a home visit, and interviews with family members. The home study may be waived in certain cases where a child is being adopted by a grandparent or step-parent.
Indiana also maintains a Putative Father Registry, which is essentially a database containing information about people who think they may have fathered a child. When a petition for the adoption of a child is filed, the petitioner must usually arrange for the Putative Father Registry to be searched, to ensure that no unknown person is claiming to be the child’s biological father.
When all of the statutory requirements are met and provided to the court, a final hearing will be set, and the adoption decree will be signed and the adoption finalized. At that point, if the petition for adoption is approved, the parents’ rights will be terminated (if they have not already been terminated), and the adoptive parents will become the child’s legal parents for all purposes.
Prospective parents adopting a child through DCS may be eligible for Non-Recurring Adoption Expense (NRAE) reimbursement. Through this program, the legal fees related to your adoption may be paid by the state. In addition to NRAE, parents may also be eligible to have the child continue on Medicaid and for other adoption subsidies.
Schulz Reagan, LLC represents parties in step-parent, grandparent, second parent, and DCS adoptions.
Contesting an adoption
A child’s biological parents are entitled to notice and must usually consent to the child’s adoption. The child’s parents therefore generally have the opportunity to contest the adoption. If a parent receives notice that his or her child is the subject of a petition for adoption, he or she should seek legal advice right away, as the statutes provide certain time limits for objecting to a petition for adoption and may require immediate action on the part of the parent.
Similarly, more than one set of prospective parents may wish to adopt the same child or children, in which case competing petitions for adoptions are occasionally filed. In these cases, the court must determine not only whether adoption is appropriate at all, but also which petitioner should be permitted to adopt.
If a parent consents to a child’s adoption, and voluntarily relinquishes his or her parental rights, there may be a possibility for that parent to retain some contact with the child, under an agreement for post-adoption contact. Post-adoption contact may range from receiving cards and photos from the adoptive parents, to having face to face contact with the child after the adoption is complete.
Schulz Reagan, LLC represents parents facing the challenge of defending their parental rights against a third party’s petition for adoption, as well as petitioners seeking adoption in contested proceedings.
If a step-parent wishes to become a child’s legal parent, he or she, with the support of the child’s biological parent, may begin proceedings to adopt the child through a step-parent adoption.
The requirements for a step-parent adoption are very similar to the requirements for any other kind of adoption, with a couple of important exceptions. First, the adoption of a child by a step-parent does not terminate the parental rights of the child’s parent (the spouse of the step-parent). It does, however, terminate the rights of the child’s other parent. For example, if a step-mother petitions to adopt her step-child, if she is successful, she and the child’s father will be the child’s legal parents, and the child’s biological mother’s parental rights will be terminated.
Another unique aspect of a step-parent adoption, as with grandparent adoptions, is that a home study may be waived by the court. At the court’s discretion, provided that a comprehensive criminal background is submitted and meets the statutory requirements, the court may not require that a home study be completed. If the home study is waived, the step-parent adoption proceeding becomes much more affordable.
It is important to remember that an adoption is permanent, and that the adoptive parent will remain the child’s legal parent, with all of the attendant rights and responsibilities including parenting time and child support, even if the marriage of the adoptive parent and the child’s biological parent ends.
Similar to a step-parent adoption, Indiana law also provides for second-parent adoptions, in which a biological parent’s partner (or other person, such as a grandparent, in some cases) may petition to become the child’s second parent.
Although it is less common than child adoption, Indiana law also provides for the adoption of an adult. The statutory requirements are somewhat less demanding, although the adult being adopted will be required to be present for the final hearing and to consent on the record to the adoption.
Disclaimer: This summary is not intended to be comprehensive, and should not be construed as legal advice for your particular situation. Nothing in this website is intended to serve as or substitute for legal representation.