Adoption is the legal method by which a parent-child relationship is created. Rather than by genetics or birth, the relationship is formed by way of Court order. When the parent-child relationship is created between the adoptive parents and the adoptive child, the parent-child relationship between the natural parents is terminated. In Maryland, it is not necessary that a person seeking to adopt a child be married, but if a person is married, his or her spouse must join the petition for adoption.
There are several different types of adoptions under Maryland law. These include private agency adoptions, public agency adoptions, and independent adoptions. When a family decides to adopt a child, a first step might be to determine which type of adoption is right for them. The procedure for all three types of adoptions is similar: the person(s) seeking to adopt file a petition in the Court, the natural parents of the prospective adoptee are afforded the opportunity to object or consent to the adoption, investigations are conducted, and a hearing is conducted before the Court, after which the petition for adoption will either be granted or denied.
Public agency adoptions in Maryland are handled by the Maryland Department of Human Services. Typically, children are initially placed with foster families. If reunification with the child’s parents or relatives is not possible, the foster family may be permitted to adopt the child. Once the parental rights of the child’s birth parents have been terminated, and with the consent of the public agency, the foster family can proceed with adopting the child.
With private agency adoptions, the prospective parent works with a licensed child placement agency that performs a home study of the parent’s home, provides information about the adoption process, and locates and places a child with the parent. Private agencies charge a fee for their services.
An independent adoption occurs when the natural parents and adoptive parents locate each other, whether through word of mouth, advertisements, or preexisting contacts/relationships, and arrange for the adoption to occur, typically with the assistance of attorneys. An example of a situation where an independent adoption may occur is a step-parent adoption, where a parent’s current spouse seeks to adopt his or her spouse’s child from a prior relationship.
With all three types of adoption, the consent of the child’s natural parents is required, unless their parental rights were previously terminated. Absent consent, the adoption may still proceed if the natural parents were provided notice of the impending adoption and they fail to object to the same. When the prospective adoptee is ten years old or older, the child must also provide consent before the adoption can proceed. The court will appoint an attorney to represent the child.
The decision to grow one’s family through adoption is an exciting one. An attorney can assist families with determining which method of adoption is right for them and can guide them through the process.