An adoption can be one of the few types of legal cases that is joyous for the parties involved. Many clients have asked me: What is involved in an adoption? This post will give a brief overview of the legal steps a parent must take to adopt a child in Oklahoma.
The following persons may adopt a child:
A married couple, if both spouses are over 21;
A stepparent of the child to be adopted;
An unmarried person over 21; or
A married person over 21, who is legally separated from his or her spouse.
In general, in order to adopt a child, you need the consent of either:
Both parents of the child, or
A licensed child-placing agency, if both parents of the child have permanently relinquished the child to the child placing agency,
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS), if the child is in the custody of DHS, and the rights of the parents have been terminated.
If the child has not been relinquished to a licensed child-placing agency, and the child is not in DHS custody, you generally need the consent of both parents to adopt the child. However, there are exceptions. You do not need the consent of a parent if:
The parent is dead;
The parent’s rights have been legally terminated;
The parent is entitled to custody of the minor, and has abandoned the minor;
The parent has willfully failed, refused, or neglected to contribute to the support of the minor, for a period of twelve consecutive months out of the last fourteen months;
The parent fails to establish and/or maintain a substantial and positive relationship with a minor for a period of twelve consecutive months out of the last fourteen months;
The parent has been convicted of permitting a minor to participate in child pornography;
The parent has been convicted of rape;
The parent has been convicted of lewd or indecent proposals or acts to a child under 16;
The parent has physically or sexually abused the minor, or a sibling of the minor, or failed to protect the minor or a sibling of the minor from physical or sexual abuse;
The parent has been convicted of a criminal action of having caused the death of a sibling of the minor as a result of the physical or sexual abuse or chronic neglect of such sibling;
The parent has been sentenced to a prison term of over 10 years, and the continuation of parental rights would result in harm to the minor;
The parent has a mental illness or mental deficiency, which renders the parent incapable of adequately and appropriately exercising parental rights, duties and responsibilities;
You do not need the consent of a father, if:
The father fails to prove he is the father of the child;
The child is placed for adoption within 90 days of birth, and the father fails to show he has exercised parental rights or duties towards the minor, including, but not limited to, failure to contribute to the support of the mother of the child to the extent of his financial ability during her term of pregnancy;
The child is placed for adoption within fourteen months of birth, and the father fails to show that he has exercised parental rights or duties towards the minor, including, but not limited to, failure to contribute to the support of the minor to the extent of his financial ability, which may include consideration of his failure to contribute to the support of the mother of the child to the extent of his financial ability during her term of pregnancy.
To adopt a child without the consent of a parent, you must ask the court to hold a hearing, and serve the parent with notice of the hearing. If the parent is served with notice of the hearing and does not appear, or if the parent waives his/her right to notice of the hearing, you do not need the parent’s consent.
Before you complete an adoption, you (or DHS or a child-placing agency) must complete a medical and social history report. This report, which can run to about 40 pages in length, details the medial and social background of the child, and the families of both biological parents.
Also, if you adopt the child, you generally must have a home study completed by DHS, a licensed child-placing agency, or a qualified professional. Usually, this home study must be completed “pre-placement”; that is, before the child can be placed with you. You do not need a pre-placement home study if:
A relative of the child places the child directly with you for the purposes of adoption; or
You are the child’s stepparent, and the child has been living with you for more than a year before the adoption petition was filed.
However, even if you don’t have to complete a pre-placement home study, you still probably need to complete a post-placement home study. The only circumstances, where you do not need a post-placement home study are:
A judge finds that waiving the home study is in the best interests of the child, AND
You are the child’s stepparent, and have been married to the child’s biological parent for over a year; AND
You have never been convicted of a felony, or child abuse or neglect or domestic violence, and you have never had a protective order issued against you.
You will also need to complete a criminal background check. You may not be approved for adoption if you have been convicted of:
Physical assault, domestic abuse, battery or a drug-related offense (within the five years before the petition is filed);
Child abuse or neglect;
A crime against a child (including child pornography);
A crime involving violence, including rape, sexual assault, or homicide.
In addition, the law says that “under no circumstances” may a child be placed in the custody of someone subject to the Oklahoma Sex Offenders Registration Act, or married to, or living with a person subject to the Oklahoma Sex Offenders Registration Act.
There is a great deal of paperwork involved in completing an adoption. You will probably need a lawyer to assist you with all the paperwork. An adoption is very difficult without a lawyer.
The full process of adoption will likely take several months (maybe a year or more) from start to finish.
If your adoption is successful, then, the judge will sign a “Final Decree of Adoption.” Once the judge has signed this decree, you will be the legal parents of the child, and will have all of the same rights as a biological parent. You may then be listed as the parents on the child’s birth certificate. The biological parents will no longer have any rights over the child (though, in certain cases the biological grandparents may have visitation rights.) If the biological parents have contested the adoption, the biological parents may be able to appeal the case to the state supreme court. However, three months after the judge signs the adoption decree, the adoption will be irrevocable.