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Adoption

Online Resources for Adoption Leads

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Adoption can be a promising time, full of hope about a future addition to a family. However, for many families who wish to adopt, especially those who chose to take the private adoption route, simply finding the child who will hopefully join their family may be more difficult than expected. For this reason, many prospective adoptive families are turning to the internet for help.

According to Denise Bierly, President of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys,

“The Internet has changed everything about adoption. We will never go back to what it used to be.”

What Bierly means by her statement is that over the past years, the number of prospective adoptive parents who turn to the internet to help them in their search for a child to adopt has seen a substantial increase. Although it is unknown exactly how many of the 677,000 children placed for adoption through private domestic adoptions are places as a result of online resources such as social networking or online adoption resources, a small study conducted in 2012 by Families for Private Adoption suggests that 40% of private adoptions were successfully matched online.

The increase in the number of families turning to the web for adoption resources is likely the result of the increased pervasiveness of social networking as well as the increased competition among hopeful parents due to the growing number of families seeking to adopt and the ever increasing limitations being imposed on international adoptions.

For prospective parents who are investigating the idea of adoption, and for those prospective parents who are currently searching for the special child to join their family, there are several online resources available such as: ParentProfiles.com, Adoptomism.com, Adoptimist.com, and It’s My Time Now Georgia. Additionally, many private adoption agencies and adoption consultants are advising clients to take advantage of Facebook, Twitter and Craigslist to advertise their search. One word of caution regarding employing online resources in an adoption campaign: Beware of online scams. Never send money directly when solicited, and never agree to participate in prohibited activity.

Adoption is a very complex process that varies from state, and not every state allows for the advertisement of adoption campaigns. Specifically, in Georgia the use of social media to advertise an adoption campaign may be unlawful under certain circumstances. O.C.G.A. § 19-8-24. According to Georgia law:

“(a) It shall be unlawful for any person, organization, corporation, hospital, or association of any kind whatsoever which has not been established as a child-placing agency by the department to:

(1) Advertise, whether in a periodical, by television, by radio, or by any other public medium or by any private means, including letters, circulars, handbills, and oral statements, that the person, organization, corporation, hospital, or association will adopt children or will arrange for or cause children to be adopted or placed for adoption; or

(2) Directly or indirectly hold out inducements to parents to part with their children.

As used in this subsection, “inducements” shall include any financial assistance, either direct or indirect, from whatever source, except payment or reimbursement of the medical expenses directly related to the mother’s pregnancy and hospitalization for the birth of the child and medical care for the child.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person to sell, offer to sell, or conspire with another to sell or offer to sell a child for money or anything of value, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.

(c) Any person who violates subsection (a) or (b) of this Code section shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $10,000.00 or imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both, in the discretion of the court.
(d)(1) Paragraph (1) of subsection (a) of this Code section shall not apply to communication by private means, including only written letters or oral statements, by an individual seeking to:

(A) Adopt a child or children; or

(B) Place that individual’s child or children for adoption, whether the communication occurs before or after the birth of such child or children.

(2) Paragraph (1) of subsection (a) of this Code section shall not apply to any communication described in paragraph (1) of this subsection which contains any attorney’s name, address, telephone number, or any combination of such information and which requests any attorney named in such communication to be contacted to facilitate the carrying out of the purpose, as described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) of this subsection, of the individual making such personal communication.”

Id.

Thus, it is imperative to engage the services of a caring Georgia adoption attorney to aid you in your journey to add a new member to your family to ensure all necessary law and regulation are complied with.

 

 

 

Georgia Adoption Facts: Part II

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

As a follow-up to our first segment, below are several more facts regarding the adoption process in Georgia. Hopefully these facts will arm you with the knowledge necessary to begin an effective adoption campaign that will ultimately result in a wonderful new addition to your family.

A home investigation will likely be necessary

Prospective adoptive parents in Georgia will likely have to undergo a home investigation or home study if the planned adoption is an agency adoption (the child is being placed with the family via an adoption agency) or a third party adoption (the prospective adoptive parents are not related to the child, and the prospective adoptive parent is not the step parent of the child).

Generally, home studies are conducted by the Division of Family and Children Services or a private adoption agency before the agency places a child with a prospective adoptive family. Home studies involve someone from the public or private agency visiting the prospective adoptive parent’s home to ensure everything attested to in the adoption petition was accurate and that home is suitable for children. Additionally, criminal background checks are performed on the prospective parents.  Basically, the purpose of the home study is to ensure that the environment the child will be brought into is healthy and conducive to the proper development of a child.

Payments or gifts to biological parents are prohibited

It is against the law for prospective adoptive parents to pay the pay the biological parents for the adoption. This prohibition not only includes monetary payment, but also prohibits adoptive parents from giving biological parents valuable gifts in exchange for the adoption.

It may be necessary for the adoptive parents to go to court

Generally the Georgia adoption process culminates in a final hearing where the adoptive parents, along with their attorney and the child to be adopted appear before the presiding judge. The biological parents need not appear in most cases. During this hearing, the court may wish to hear testimony from the adoptive parents and the child concerning the adoption. Once the hearing is complete and the court is satisfied the adoption is in the best interest of the child, the court will issue and order granting the adoption.

Adoptions many be denied

As with any other family law matter, the judge makes the ultimate decision whether to grant or deny the petition for adoption. A court may deny an adoption for one of the following reasons:

a) The adoption would not be in the child’s best interests;

b) The legal parents have not voluntarily agreed to give up their rights; or

c) There is not a good reason involuntarily terminate the biological parent’s parental rights.

Adoption records are private

Adoption records are generally closed to the public. However, an individual who wishes to find out about his or her birth family, adopted siblings, or a child he or she placed for adoption may be able to view adoption the records in certain situations. Those wishing to obtain such information should contact the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry.

 

 

Georgia Adoption Facts: Part 1

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

The adoption process in Georgia is complex and may seem overwhelming and intimidating at first impression. However, armed with the right information and with the help of a skilled Georgia family law attorney, the road to adding a new member to your family will be less daunting. Below is part one of our two part series addressing adoption in Georgia. Listed below are several facts regarding the adoption process in Georgia and how you can begin the process of growing your family. For more adoption facts, see our second segment which is soon to come or see our article entitled “Adoptions,” found on our Atlanta Divorce Team site.

Definition of adoption

Adoption is a legal process that results in a court order declaring one person (generally a minor) to be the legal child of the adoptive parent or parents. When an adoption is finalized, the birth parents have no legal rights to the child, are no longer responsible for the child and no longer have an obligation to support the child. In essence, the child becomes a legal stranger to his or her biological family. O.C.G.A. § 19-8-1 Et. Seq.

Length of adoption process

Like any other Georgia domestic relations matter, such as divorce or child custody proceedings, the length of the adoption process varies depending on the specific circumstances of each case. However, Georgia law mandates that in cases where the adoption proceeding is uncontested, uncontested adoption petitions must be heard by a court within 120 day after the petition is filed. O.C.G.A. § 19-8-14. There are some circumstances that may delay the hearing of an uncontested adoption, such as errors in certain documents presented by the petitioner. This is why it is imperative to engage the services of a Georgia family law attorney to prepare and file the adoption petition, to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.

Six Types of Adoption

In Georgia, there are six types of adoption:

(1) Public or private agency adoptions: These adoptions occur when a private adoption agency or the State, via the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, places the child with the adoptive parents.

(2) Adoptions by third parties: These adoptions occur when a third party, meaning someone other than a relative or step parent, adopts the child.

(3) Stepparent adoptions: When a stepparent adopts the child.

(4) Relative adoptions: These adoptions occur when a grandparent, great-grandparent, aunt, uncle, great aunt, great uncle or a sibling of the child adopts the child.

(5) Adult adoptions: When the person to be is adopted is over 18.

(6) Adoptions by foreign decree: These adoptions occur when the child has already been adopted in another country via a decree of adoption in that country. In order for the adoptive parents to return with the child to the U.S., the child must have a valid visa.

Who do I contact to adopt a child?

Those interested in foster care or public agency adoption should contact the Division of Family and Children Services. For those interested in private agency adoption, visiting the Facility Location and Information Guide provided by the Georgia Department of Human Services or the Georgia Association of Licensed Adoption Agencies (GALAA) websites are likely the best ways to find licensed private adoption agencies in Georgia. Finally, those seeking to begin the process for a third party, relative, step parent or adult adoption should seek the assistance of an Atlanta adoption attorney.

Conditions that must be met to adopt

To adopt a child, the prospective adoptive parents must meet the following conditions:

(1) Must have lived in Georgia for at least 6 months before filing the petition;

(2) Must be at least 10 years older than the child;

(3) Must be at least 25 years old unless married and living with spouse;

(4) If married, must adopt with spouse (unless the prospective adoptive parent is the child’s stepparent); and

(5) Must have the financial resources, health and mental ability to take care of the child.

O.C.G.A. §19-8-3.

Children who may be adopted

A child may be adopted if one of the following conditions are met:

(a) the living parents or guardians voluntarily surrender all legal rights to the child to a licensed adoption agency or directly to the prospective adoptive parents in writing; (b) the child has been abandoned or has no living parents; or (c) the rights of the biological parents have been involuntarily terminated through a court proceeding.

Child’s consent to adoption may be necessary

A child’s consent to the adoption is only necessary if the child is 14 years of age or older. The child’s consent must be in writing, and the petitioner must prove to the court the child consents to the adoption. Generally, this proof of consent involves the child telling the court, upon being questioned, that he or she consents to the adoption. See O.C.G.A. § 19-8-4.

Parental consent to adoption is not always necessary 

In cases where the biological parent’s parental rights have been terminated in order to foster the best interests of the child, parental consent to the adoption is not necessary.

Where to file a Petition for Adoption

Petitions for Adoption may be filed in the Superior Court in the county where the petitioning party (the party seeking the adoption) lives. Additionally, under certain circumstances the petition may also be filed in the county where the child lives or where the adoption agency is located.

 

Putative Fathers Sue Utah Over Adoption Laws

Monday, April 28th, 2014

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According to Fox News, twelve men are suing the state of Utah over their claim that the state’s adoption laws are unconstitutional, under both Utah’s state constitution and the national constitution. The adoption laws allow mothers to place their newborn babies up for adoption without consent of the biological fathers. In some instances, the biological fathers are not even notified regarding the adoption of their children until the adoptions have been finalized.

Utah’s Adoption Act is unique in that birth mothers are not required to reveal the identity of the potential biological father, and thus may place their child up for adoption without notifying the alleged father. See Utah Ann. Code § 78B-6-110. Like many states, Utah has a putative father registry, where men who suspect they may be the biological father of a child may register in order to assert their paternity interest. Utah Ann. Code § 36-2-318. Registering with the putative father registry would entitle a man to notice of adoption proceedings regarding his or her purported child, however in situations where a father has a relationship with the biological mother, many fathers fail to avail themselves of the putative father registry, because they often have no idea that the mother has plan to place the child up for adoption. In situations such as this, if the mother fails to reveal the identity of the potential biological father, she may place the child up for adoption without notifying or seeking the consent of the biological father. The twelve fathers who are attacking Utah’s adoption laws have experiences that virtually mirror the hypothetical situation laid out above.

Fortunately, unlike in Utah, in Georgia putative fathers are granted greater protections. Before an adoption may proceed in Georgia, all identifiable potential birthfathers must be contacted and informed of the planned adoption and given an opportunity to contest it. If the identity of the biological father is unknown, notice must be provided to the unknown father via publication in addition to a search of the putative father registry. Not only must Georgia’s putative father’s registry be consulted before the adoption may proceed, but, even if the name of the potential father is unknown or not revealed by the birth mother, the child placing agency may conduct an investigation to determine the identity of the potential father. See O.C.G.A. § 19-8-12. 

I’m a Step Parent, Can I Win Custody of My Step Child?

Monday, December 30th, 2013

The short answer to this question is: maybe, depending on your relationship with your step child. If you have legally adopted your step child, under the law, you are considered as the child’s legal parent. See O.C.G.A. §19-8-6(a)(2) and O.C.G.A. §19-8-6(a)(1). As a legal parent of your step child, (via step parent adoption) you have the same rights to child custody as the child’s other legal parent (your current or soon to be ex-spouse). This is so, because upon adoption of a child, the legal relationship between the child and the biological parent who consents to the adoption is terminated. Thus, the child is no longer viewed as the legal child of the consenting parent, but as the legal child of the adopting parent. Please note, that as with any other child custody contest between parents, the judge presiding over the matter will determine the child’s custodial arrangement with the best interests of the child in mind, and will only make a custody award that suites the  child’s best interests.

However, if you are a step parent who has not yet legally adopted your step child via the process of step parent adoption, you are not viewed, legally, as the legal parent of your step-child. Thus, under normal circumstances, a court will likely not award custody to you as opposed to the child’s legal and biological parent. If you are considering step parent adoption, there are two ways in which a child may be adopted by his or her step parent. If the child’s other biological parent is no longer living, the child may be adopted by the spouse of his or her living parent only if that parent consents in writing to the adoption. O.C.G.A. §19-8-6(a)(2). On the other hand, if both the child’s biological parents are still living, a child may be adopted by his or her step parent only if the other parent voluntarily surrenders his or her parental rights in writing and the other parent consents in writing to the adoption. O.C.G.A. §19-8-6(a)(1).

Georgia Step Parent Adoption

Friday, January 11th, 2013

In Georgia, blended families are becoming more and more prevalent. As a result, many Georgia couples wonder: “May I adopt my step children? If so, how?” These couples will be glad to know that inGeorgia, one spouse may indeed adopt the child of his or her spouse. This process is commonly referred to as step parent adoption.

There are two different circumstances under which a child may be adopted by his or her step parent, and the process that the adopting parent must undergo differs according to these circumstances.If the child’s other biological parent is no longer living, the child may be adopted by the spouse of his or her living parent only if that parent consents in writing to the adoption. O.C.G.A. §19-8-6(a)(2). For example, if the step father wishes to adopt his step child, and the child’sbiological father is no longer living, the step father may adopt the child if the mother (the step father’s wife) gives consent.

However, in cases where both of the child’s biological parents are still living, the requirements for step parent adoption are different. If both of the child’s biological parents are stillliving, but they are not married to each other, the child may be adopted by his or her step parent only if the other parent voluntarily surrenders his or her parental rights in writing and theother parent consents in writing to the adoption. O.C.G.A. §19-8-6(a)(1). An example of this situationwould be as follows: If a step mother wishes to adopt her step child, and the child’s biological mother is still living, the biological mother must voluntarily surrender her parental rights inwriting, and the child’s father (the step mother’s husband) must give consent. If the biological parent refuses to surrender his or her parental rights, the court presiding over the matter willhold a hearing to determine whether the adoption is in the best interests of the child.

One additional requirement that applies to either situation is that if the child involved is fourteen years old or over, that child must also consent to the adoption in writing. O.C.G.A. §19-8-6(b).

If you are a step parent, and you wish to adopt your step child, it will be necessary for you to file a Petition for Stepparent Adoption in order to begin the process. In order to ensure thatyour petition is effective, and that you are ultimately successful, we advise you to seek the help of an experienced Georgia family law attorney.

By A. Latrese Martin, Associate Attorney, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC

Grandparent visitation denied by Georgia Court of Appeals

Friday, February 25th, 2011

The Georgia Court of Appeals recently denied paternal grandparent visitation where the biological father had given up his parental rights. In Bailey v. Kunz, the mother was married to and had a child with the biological father. Bailey v. Kunz, A10A1809 (2011). After the biological parents divorced, the mother remarried, the biological father surrendered his parental rights, and the mother’s new husband (“adoptive father” and, with the mother, “parents”) adopted the child. Id. A dispute arose between the parents of the child (the mother and the adoptive father)and the parents of the biological father (“biological grandparents”) over visitation with the child. The parents moved to dismiss the biological grandparents’ petition for visitation “arguing that such a petition was not authorized because [they] were the legal parents and lived together with the child.” Id. After the trial court denied the petition, the parents appealed and the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the motion to dismiss.

The statute governing grandparent visitation states: “Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, any grandparent shall have the right to file an original action for visitation rights to a minor child or to intervene in and seek to obtain visitation rights in any action in which any court in this state shall have before it any question concerning the custody of a minor child, . . .or whenever there has been an adoption in which the adopted child has been adopted by the child’s blood relative or by a stepparent, notwithstanding the provisions of Code Section 19-8-19.This subsection shall not authorize an original action where the parents of the minor child are not separated and the child is living with both of the parents.” OCGA §19-7-3(b).

According to the Georgia Court of Appeals, the adoptive father is a “parent” for purposes of the grandparent visitation statute because, in the adoption statute, a “parent” includes the legal father of the child. Id. at 4. It would be inconsistent to treat him as a parent in one statute but not in another. Applying this logic in this case, the parents of the minor child are not separated and the child is living with both parents, making the petition for grandparent visitation unauthorized.

Stepparent Adoption in Georgia

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

A child may be adopted by the spouse of his/her parent in Georgia regardless of whether the child’s other parent is still living, but there are different requirements for each situation. If thechild has only one legal parent still living, the child may be adopted by the spouse of his/her living parent only if that parent consents in writing to the adoption. O.C.G.A. §19-8-6(a)(2). Ifboth of the child’s legal parents are living, but not married to each other, the child may be adopted by the spouse of either parent only if the other parent voluntarily surrenders his/herparental rights in writing and the other parent consents in writing to the adoption. O.C.G.A. §19-8-6(a)(1). In either situation, a child fourteen years of age or older must consent in writing tohis or her adoption. O.C.G.A. §19-8-6(b).

If the party whose rights the stepparent seeks to terminate refuses to surrender his/her rights, the Court will hold a hearing to determine whether the adoption is in the best interests of thechild. If that parent cannot be found, the stepparent must exercise due diligence to try to locate the parent to provide him/her with sufficient notice under Georgia law. The biological/legalparent must receive adequate notice of the proceedings before the Court will grant the adoption and, in our experience as divorce attorneys in Atlanta, the Courts are very strict on this issue.

Before a stepparent adoption can be finalized, the stepparent must undergo a criminal background check through the Georgia Crime Information Center. The Department of Human Resources, or otherrepresentative appointed by the Court, will also become involved to verify the allegations in the Petition for Stepparent Adoption. This representative routinely interviews the stepparent andparent and may even visit the home where the child is living.

Adult Adoption in Georgia

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

When you think of adoption, you likely think of a couple adopting a newborn baby or young child who has been abandoned by his/her parents, or possibly a stepparent adopting a stepchild. Did youknow adults could be adopted in certain circumstances as well? In Georgia, there is actually a statute that covers the issue of adult adoption. According to OCGA §19-8-21, “[a]dult persons may be adopted on giving written consent to the adoption…After examining eachpetitioner and the adult sought to be adopted, the court, if satisfied that there is no reason why the adoption should not be granted, shall enter a decree of adoption and, if requested, shallchange the name of the adopted adult. Thereafter, the relation between each petitioner and the adopted adult shall be, as to their legal rights and liabilities, the relation of parent and child.”Thus, the end result is no different than adopting a child.

This issue recently came up in a Florida case. According to an article in the Daily News, a Florida man with two biological children filed paperwork to legally adopt his 42 year old girlfriend,which would entitle her to a third of the assets in a trust fund set up for his children. Gross!Man legally adopts 42-yead old girlfriend, by Nina Mandell, NYDailyNews.com, February 1, 2012. Not coincidentally, this man is being sued by the parents of a young man killed in a car crash,and these parents, as well as the judge, believe that he has filed the adoption paperwork to shield his assets from a possible judgment against him.

If this case were in Georgia, the court would look closely at the allegation that the petitioner was merely seeking to shield assets in making its decision to grant the adoption. If proven, this would likely be a reason the adoption should not be granted under the statute, particularly if there was no valid reason for the adoption in the first place.

Grandparent visitation rights in Georgia

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

The Supreme Court of Georgia recently heard an interesting case regarding visitation rights for grandparents whose son’s parental rights had been terminated. Kunz v. Bailey, S11G0867(2012). In that case, the child’s stepfather adopted the child after the biological father’s rights were terminated. Id. After being denied access to the child, the paternal grandparents(parents of the biological father whose rights were terminated), petitioned for visitation rights with the child. Id. Under Georgia law, a petition for grandparent visitation is not authorized where “the parents of the minor child are not separated and the child is living with both of the parents.” OCGA §19-7-3(b). Therefore, the child’s mother and adoptive father(“Parents”) moved to dismiss the action and, after the motion was denied, filed a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia. Id. at 2. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the Parents’ motion to dismiss, determining that the term “parent” in the grandparent visitation statute “was not limited to natural parents, but included adoptive parents as well.” Id.

The grandparents then filed a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court of Georgia to determine whether the language of the grandparent visitation statute cited above includes adoptive parents. Id. at 3. The Supreme Court of Georgia held that the statute did include adoptive parents. Any other interpretation would “allow grandparents, by court action, to intrude upon the ‘constitutionally protected interest of parents to raise their children.’” Id. at 4, quoting Brooks v. Parkerson, 265 Ga. 189, 191 (1995). In addition, there was no limiting language in the statute that distinguished between any class of parents. Kunz, at 4.

The Court also agreed that the trial court’s denial of the original motion to dismiss was error. Since the adoptive father was the father of the child at the time the grandparent visitation was filed and the child was living with both parents, there was no basis for an original action for visitation by the grandparents. Id. at 5. Thus, dismissal of the grandparents’ visitation petition “was the proper outcome.” Id.