Parenthood comes with a lot of challenges; however, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Which is why some couples choose to adopt if they can’t have kids of their own.
Adoption is not the same thing as guardianship. Unlike guardianship, adoption changes the legal identity of a child’s parents and involves a complete overhaul of the child’s family tree. Once complete, adoption is permanent, and can’t be reversed.
Here’s what you need to know about adoption in California, what the Provinziano team can do to help you with these matters.
What is Adoption?
Adoption is the process of transferring parental rights and legal responsibility to an outside adult, for a child that is not biologically theirs.
In layman’s speak, this essentially just means you’re changing the identity of a child’s legal parent.
Naturally, this is a pretty intense process, and—in some cases—will require the termination of current parental rights. Once finalized, adoption is permanent, and has far-reaching effects. In addition to having a new birth certificate issued, adoption also alters a child’s line of inheritance, completely severing estate rights from biological parents.
Not the Same Thing as Guardianship
While both deal with parental rights, adoption and guardianship are not the same thing. The biggest difference being that adoption is permanent. In contrast, guardianships are always temporary.
In a guardianship, an outside adult is only assuming the role of parent, without actually becoming the child’s parent. (Kind of like stepping into a costume.) This means that their authority can be revoked or transferred by the court at any time, if it’s in the child’s best interest.
On the other hand, adoption formally transfers the legal identity of a child’s parents from biological parents, to adopted ones, and, once finalized, cannot be undone.
Types of Adoption in California
There are several different types of adoption in California; they include:
- Step-parent Adoption—one of the most common adoption scenarios, which occurs when a step-parent wants to adopt their spouse’s biological child.
- Grandparent Adoption—occurs when a child’s biological grandparents petition to adopt a child (usually due to neglect or abuse).
- Adult Adoption—the process of adopting a person who is already over eighteen; usually for inheritance purposes, or to legally solidify a close relationship.
- Private Adoption—when birth parents directly choose their child’s adopted parents, without the help of an outside agency.
- Agency Adoption—an organization that facilitates the placement of a child on behalf of birth parents.
- International Adoption—an organization that works to connect prospective parents to children who need homes in other countries.
- Foster Care Adoption—adoptions that occur after filtering through California’s foster care system.
Your adoption process may vary, slightly, depending on which type of adoption fits your situation.
Who Can Adopt in California?
Adoption is a fairly inclusive process, and is open to anyone in California who is over eighteen, and has never been convicted of a felony, including all forms of domestic and dating violence, violence against children, and sexual crimes.
Furthermore, you do not have to be married (or even in a serious relationship) in order to adopt. Thanks to California’s “Third Parent Law,” it’s also easier than ever before for same sex couples to access adoption, and to establish parental rights over their child.
Despite the accessibility of adoption, there are, however, a few restrictions; the biggest of which is age gap.
Restrictions: Age Gap Considerations
In California, a prospective parent must be at least ten years older than the child, in order to become their legal parent. The only time this rule doesn’t apply is when the adult is related to the child as a:
- Aunt or uncle
- First cousin
Individuals who share one of these relationships with the child are not held to the ten-year rule.
Since child custody decisions are made in consideration of a child’s best interest, it’s possible that other exceptions might also apply.
How to Adopt in California
Adoption is not quick or easy. And, depending on the circumstances, it can be even longer than you might be thinking—especially if a biological parent doesn’t want to relinquish rights.
For individuals interested in embarking on this endeavor, you should expect to take the following steps:
- Hire an attorney. While not required, an attorney will make your adoption process run significantly smoother, and ensure you don’t make any expensive (or irreversible) mistakes.
- Complete forms. There are several different adoption forms you’ll need to fill out, in order to initiate this process. These documents may vary (according to your adoption type), so if you’re unsure it’s best to talk to a family law attorney.
- File documents. Adoption paperwork will need to be filed with your county clerk. At this time, you’ll also be expected to pay a filing fee.
- Execute proper service. Once filed, you’ll need to notify interested parties that you’ve taken legal action. This must be done via proper service.
- Receive consent. Depending on your situation, you may need to receive consent from certain parties. If a living parent refuses to give consent, then you may need to initiate a petition to terminate parental rights.
- Complete home study. This interview is contacted by a social worker. It ensures you are financially and emotionally capable of taking care of a child’s needs, and that the environment is safe and stable.
- Attend hearing. The final step is to attend your adoption hearing. There, your judge will review the evidence you submitted, and hear any objections. After that, they’ll either accept or deny your request.
Generally speaking, the biggest holdups in the adoption process come when an interested party denies consent.
Restrictions: Getting Consent
Some adoption scenarios will require you to get permission from certain individuals, in order to adopt. For example, you may need to receive consent from:
- The child, if over twelve.
- The spouse of the prospective parent, if they’re married.
- The child’s living birth parents.
- The child’s custodial parent (if the other parent has abandoned the child for over a year, or hasn’t responded to adoption notices).
In addition—while their consent is not required—each man who could potentially be a child’s father must be notified, before adoption proceedings can commence. Their objections will be considered by the judge, at your hearing.
Failure to get consent isn’t the end of your adoption journey; it just means things might take longer, and require additional steps.
What Happens if Birth Parents Change Their Minds?
A child’s best interest is served through stability. Because of this, once they’ve signed adoption papers, birth parents will only have a very narrow window of time, if they want to revoke.
For private adoptions, that window is thirty days. In an agency adoption, it narrows to ten. If the parties signed a waiver to revoke consent, however, that timeline shrinks down to the next business day.
Once the adoption is finalized, birth parents have no power to reverse an adoption. In the eyes of the law, it will be as though the child had been born to adoptive parents from the beginning.
Are You Interested in Adoption in California?
Adoption can be a rewarding, life-changing endeavor for both adult and child. However, it can also be an emotional, stressful process, which is why it’s so important to have a family law attorney you trust.
If you have more questions about adoption in California—and how it might work in your situation—we want to hear from you. Call Provinziano & Associates at (310) 920-3500, or get in touch online, and let us help you make your family complete.