Adoptive parents often have a great deal of steps they need to take before legally calling a child their own. Many of these steps involve family court, so they need the assistance of an attorney who specializes in adoption.
Carly Boyd, partner at KJK in Cleveland, and Silas Pisani, attorney at Slater & Zurz LLP in Cleveland, discussed how attorneys help adoptive parents navigate the legal process of adoption.
“The parents should hire an attorney who specializes in adoption or family law because adoption is state-by-state; it’s different within the county and so you need to have an attorney who does this regularly and who can understand the process,” Boyd advised.
Because adoption entails a lot of paperwork, having an attorney who works with that regularly is wise, she noted.
When meeting with an attorney, adoptive parents should ask about the timeline, costs and legal requirements, especially in a stepparent adoption.
“The (step) parent and their spouse have to be married and they have to be married for a year,” she said.
Many people think their new spouse is going to adopt their child, but they don’t meet certain requirements and then get disappointed, Boyd noted.
“So I think, having that knowledge and asking those questions, they can plan accordingly for their adoption,” she said. “An attorney may not be able to tell them the exact timeline or the exact cost, but they can give you a range and an idea on what that process is.”
These costs can be for legal fees, the home study and any additional costs that may come with the adoption process, she added.
Adoptive parents can expect a lot of requirements throughout the process, she said.
“You’re working with the state, you’re working with courts, so it can be slow, which I think can be difficult for parents who have wanted to be parents,”
Despite this, everything is manageable with the help of an experienced adoption attorney who can facilitate the process and make sure everything is done correctly and thoroughly, Boyd said.
“You should get an attorney to do an adoption,” Pisani said. “The law actually requires that an attorney organize an adoption.”
The process is very paperwork-intensive, he explained. Each person in the home over 18 must undergo a background check. Once these are completed, a social worker will visit the home and do a home check. They will walk through the house and speak with the parents to make sure the child who is going to be adopted has bonded with everyone in the home. They may also talk to neighbors and employers.
“Basically, do a complete investigation to make sure this is (in) the best interest of the child,” he said.
There are two parts to an adoption, Pisani pointed out. The first is consent. He gave the example of a step-parent adoption in which a new spouse is adopting a former partner’s child. If a child is over 14, they, too, need to consent to the adoption.
“Normally, if the other parent is still alive, just not in the picture, they have to consent to the adoption,” he said. “If they don’t consent, there’s only two other ways that an adoption can happen in Ohio. It’s lack of what’s called de minimis contact for a period of at least a year prior to the filing.”
De minimis contact means minimal contact, he explained, giving examples of a parent sending their child a postcard or a gift.
“If there hasn’t been any of that contact in a year, then the court doesn’t need consent unless there’s a just cause like the parent was preventing the communication or something along those lines,” he said.
The other way in which an adoption can take place without consent is through de minimis support for a period of a year leading up to the filing of the adoption, he said.
The second part of an adoption is determining whether the adoption is going to be in the best interest of the child.
“You have to get past the consent part first to get to the best interest,” Pisano explained. “If the court finds consent is required and the other parent’s not giving consent, then the whole thing’s going to get dismissed.”
When searching for an attorney to assist in the adoption process, he advised that parents seek someone who is familiar with the probate court and specializes in adoptions.
“You probably want to find someone (through) a Google search, saying that they outright do adoptions,” he suggested.
Because the paperwork can be extensive, it can be overwhelming for attorneys who have never done an adoption before, he noted. Additionally, the process is very specific and attorneys who are experienced in the field of adoption are able to navigate their way through certain obstacles when it comes to consent.
When an adoption is finalized, extended family members often gather at the final hearing to celebrate their new addition.
“Once you get through all the legal stuff, the final hearing is essentially a big celebration,” Pisani said. “Family members can attend, friends of the child, whoever they want in there. (It’s a) pretty special moment.”