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.
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.