Adoption law overview

Adoptions in Georgia come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from adopting newborns to adopting adults, and from adopting your grandchild or your step-child to adopting a child without ever knowing the child’s biological parents. Given the variety of adoptions, it is important to find an attorney who handles adoptions regularly, and can advise you about the ins and outs of this complicated area of the law.

Curtis Kleem learned adoption law during his first year after law school, when he was a law clerk for the Whitfield and Murray County Superior Courts. One of Curtis’ responsibilities that year was to review each and every adoption petition that was filed in those two counties. Curtis made sure that every legal requirement was met for each adoption filed, whether it was a step-parent adoption, a relative adoption, an international adoption, a non-relative adoption or an adoption of a foster child after the parental rights had been terminated.

Each of these adoptions is different and has different requirements. In most adoption cases, there is no opposing party. This means that the Judge and the law clerk, and the rest of the Court staff, carefully review adoption petitions to make sure that they comply with every aspect of Georgia law. Because of this, you want your adoption attorney to know the adoption code inside and out, and to have plenty of experience representing families in adoptions. Further, in 2018, Georgia passed a new adoption law which changed the requirements for adoptions. Curtis has already filed and completed dozens of adoptions under the new law. He stands ready to serve as your lawyer for your adoption case.​

Six Types of Adoptions:

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Step-parent adoptions

Step-parents may adopt their step-children.  There are few things to keep in mind with these types of adoptions.  

First, it is important to note that the step-parent must actually be married to a parent of the child.  I know this seems obvious, but it does come up.  You don’t have to be married for a certain length of time, but you should be able to show a strong bond and connection between the child and the step-parent.  And the spouse who is a parent must consent to the adoption itself.  

Second, the parental rights of the other parent must be dealt with.  This may be done by the other parent signing documents where they surrender all of their parental rights to the child.  That parent would then have a certain amount of time to change their mind before the adoption could proceed further.  The new adoption code shortens this time to 4 days.  However, if the other parent refuses to surrender their rights, you can still proceed to terminate his or her rights in certain circumstances.  This is obviously done in extreme cases only,  but it happens more often than you might think.  This usually leads to a contested  adoption case.  If you are facing a contested adoption, you will want an attorney who is familiar with the inside of a courtroom, not one who rarely tries contested cases.  Curtis has handled many contested adoptions, as well as many other contested cases. Further, the grounds by which you can ask the Court to terminate the other parent’s rights are very specific and detailed.  The Court will hold you and your attorney to very strict standards before determining that you should prevail.  This is no time to have an attorney who is not well-versed in adoption law.

Third, it is important to note that once the step-parent adoption is complete, the adoptive parent is just as much of a parent in the eyes of the law as the original parent.  Georgia law treats an adoptive parent as if they were a biological parent for purposes of divorce, custody, child support, inheritance, and governmental benefits. 

The factors that the Court will consider before terminating a parent’s rights should be discussed with Curtis early in the process, sometimes long before the adoption is even filed.  

Two common circumstances that could lead the Judge to grant an adoption over the other parent’s wishes are when the other parent has not paid child support in over a year or had no meaningful contact with the child for over a year.

Adoptions by Grandparents and other Relatives

A common type of adoption is one where a Grandparent or other relative of the child is adopting. It is usually the case where the relative has had the child living with them for a period of time, either formally under a Court order, or informally with no Court order at all. At some point, it becomes necessary to go from merely having custody of the child to adopting the child.

Unfortunately, the drug epidemic has hit northwest Georgia, and many grandparents find themselves raising their grandchildren because their adult children are abusing drugs. Mental health issues can also lead to relatives stepping in to serve as surrogate parents. Families dealing with drug abuse and mental health problems often have complex family dynamics which can cause stress and uncertainty. Navigating an adoption when these issues are present can be very difficult, but is often necessary in order to provide stability and security for the child.

Georgia law provides a separate code section for relative adoptions. Because of the complicated nature of the Georgia adoption code, it is important to hire an attorney who knows the adoption code inside and out. But it is also important to hire an attorney that appreciates the family dynamics that can cause stress and turmoil during these transitions in your family.

Foster Parent adoptions

The Foster Care system in the State of Georgia is set up to provide safety and security for children who cannot live with their parents for a period of time. The whole goal of the system is to either 1) assist the parents in fixing whatever problems they have so that the children can be returned to the parents, or 2) determine that the children cannot be safety returned to their parents, and then provide other permanency, through adoption if possible. Once it is determined that the children cannot be safety returned to their parents, the ultimate goal for the children is permanency through adoption.

Adopting a child out of the foster care system can be a time-consuming, agonizing and nerve-racking experience. The process can seem convoluted and focused on all the wrong things. Before a child can be free to be adopted through the foster care system, the parents are first given an opportunity to work a case plan designed to get their children back into their custody. If the parents do not make progress quickly enough, then the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) can decide to petition the Juvenile Court to terminate the parental rights of the parents. This decision to seek a termination is often made up to a year after the child has been in foster care. The process of terminating the parental rights in the Juvenile Court can then take months and months. Even if the Juvenile Court decides to terminate the rights of the parents, the case can then be appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, and then even to the Georgia Supreme Court. It often takes a full year for the Court of Appeals to issue a decision on the appeal. All this time, the child is still in foster care awaiting permanency. I have known of children who have been in care for over two years before they became ultimately free for adoption.

However, the process does often lead to children that are free to be adopted. When this occurs, the process can then move pretty quickly. Once the appeals are completed and the child is safely with an adoptive placement (usually the foster parents are a foster to adopt placement), then DFCS will hold a signing ceremony. The Foster/Adoptive parents and all of the caseworkers will meet at the DFCS offices. I try to be present for these signings if possible. At the signings, the Director of the local DFCS agency will sign the Consent to Adopt form. This is the formal approval for the foster parents to adopt the child. There are also forms signed by the adoptive parents and DFCS regarding any adoption assistance that will be provided to the adoptive family going forward. I will be given a packet that contains many of the documents that must be filed with the adoption petition.

Once the signing occurs, the Adoption Petition can then be prepared and filed with the Superior Court, usually within a day or so. And because of the nature of these adoptions, the hearing in Superior Court finalizing the adoption can normally be scheduled within two weeks (instead of the typical 2 months for other adoptions). The DFCS caseworkers always try to be there to celebrate with the new adoptive family.

I am working closely with the Whitfield and Murray County DFCS agencies to facilitate these adoptions, and to make sure that they go forward smoothly and quickly. Please let me know if I can assist you and your family today.

Non-relative adoptions

Non-relative adoptions come in all shapes and sizes. Many people find children to adopt through adoption agencies. Often times, children are identified through what I call ‘divine appointments’. These are often situations where the only explanation is that God must have arranged for the adoptive parents and the child to end up together. These types of situations are often the result of unwanted pregnancies where the birth Mother decides to put the child up for adoption even before the child is born. This can result in the adoptive parents actually leaving the hospital with the child.

Non-relative adoptions

Sometimes identifying a child is the most difficult part of this type of adoption. There are many ways to go about identifying a child. Unfortunately, there is no tried and true technique that works for every family. I have been blessed to have had a front-row seat to a number of these ‘divine appointments’. Sometimes they come out of nowhere when the adoptive parents are not really looking. But they can also come after a season of prayer and waiting.

Special considerations in Non-relative adoption

Once a child is identified, there are a few things that should be remembered. First, to be blunt about it, Georgia law does not allow for someone to ‘buy’ a child. So, there are reporting requirements about any money that changes hands or support that is provided to the birth family and specifically the birth mother. Potential adoptive parents should consult with Curtis about what is and is not appropriate in this regard.

Second, adoptive parents should understand that with the prevalence of substance abuse, children are born every day with drugs in their system. These children will spend their first few weeks going through withdrawal. Hopefully, these are the only side effects. Unfortunately, some of these children will have long lasting challenges. I do not write this to scare folks away from adoption, but to say please go in with your eyes wide open. These children will require extra love and care during their lives. They will require parents who confront their issues head on, not ones who will ignore the signs that their child has extra challenges.

Third, there are also special deadlines that must be followed and different surrender documents that must be used in non-relative adoptions. These differences are one of the many reasons why you should find an adoption attorney, not just an attorney that does adoptions. There are just too many mistakes that can be made resulting in stressful delays, or worse, an adoption that is ultimately denied.

Adopting newborn children

I have been blessed to be involved in many adoptions of newborns. If an expecting Mother decides to give the child up for adoption, the adopting parents can often get a room in the maternity ward in order to care for the child immediately after delivery. They can then leave the hospital with the child provided that the surrender documents have been signed by the biological mother after the child is born and while she is still in the hospital. Obviously, arranging for this type of adoption takes a lot of planning. If you are in a situation where you will be adopting a newborn child, please contact me as soon as you are aware of the situation so that I can walk you through the process.

International Adoptions

Usually, adoptions of children born overseas are completed in their country of origin. This can be a long and involved process. You must get the permission of the government where the child lives. This can takes months and months, and even years. If you are thinking of adopting overseas, you should consult with an adoption agency that has plenty experience with the country where you wish to adopt.

Once the adoption is complete in the country of origin, upon your return to Georgia, you should file a Petition to Domesticate the adoption in Georgia. Curtis can represent you in that process.

Adult Adoptions

Adult adoptions are near and dear to my heart. My two daughters were adopted as adults. In fact, the very first adult adoption I ever did was my own.

Adult adoptions are often done to formalize a strong parent-child relationship that was never technically a legal one. I have done an adult adoption for a man who had been daddy to his daughter since he married her mother when she was very young. He was a great step-father, and much more. As adults, she wanted to honor him by changing her name to his. Later, he honored her by adopting her. She was in her forties when they did this. It was touching how much they loved and respected each other.

Adult adoptions can be completed very quickly as one of the few real requirements is that both adults consent to the adoption. This can be shown by documents signed by the adult to be adopted. And because there is less paperwork, adult adoptions can usually be done for less in attorney’s fees than other adoptions.

Documents needed:

Types of documents needed to file with your adoption petition:

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First, if you are married, you will need to supply a copy of your marriage license or marriage certificate.

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Second, a copy of the birth certificate of each child to be adopted is needed.

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Third, there are state forms that are required that detail the social, educational and medical history of the biological parents of the child. If you are adopting a foster child, then the Department of Family and Children Services usually completes this form with the biological parents at some point long before the adoption is begun. If not, I will often have my clients fill out the form as much as possible.

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Fourth, there are documents that deal with the parental rights of the biological parents. Sometimes, those parental rights have already been terminated. In that case, the termination order from Juvenile Court will have to be provided. At other times, I may have to prepare surrender documents where the biological parents would surrender their parental rights in the early stages of my representation of my clients.

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Fifth, under the new adoption code, all adoptive parents will have to submit to criminal background checks. I usually coordinate with my clients very early in the process to get this done prior to filing the adoption petition.