Adoptions in North Carolina
Adoption is a legal process whereby the adoptive parents assume the legal responsibility of an adoptee, usually a child, from the adoptee’s biological parents. Legal adoptions permanently transfer all rights and responsibilities, from the biological parents or parents with legal custody to the adoptive parents. A new relationship is created between the person being adopted and the adoptive parent. The relationship between the person being adopted and his biological parents are severed and terminated once the adoption decree is entered by the court. There are many situations in which adoptions may occur in North Carolina, including foster care adoptions, agency adoptions, private adoptions, relative adoptions, step-parent adoptions, surrogacy adoptions, and foreign adoptions.
The legal processes for adoption are complex, whether you want to become a parent through adoption or you are a birth parent considering placing your baby for adoption. We can help you understand your legal options and guide you through the adoption process to ensure that all applicable laws are complied with so that the adoption is legally secure and not subject to challenge.
1.) Who may place a child for adoption and who may accept a child for adoption?
A parent with legal and physical custody of a child may place the child for adoption. The child is placed with either a licensed child-placing agency, a county health and human resources agency (or department of social services), or even directly with the adoptive parents.
An agency or the adoptive parent may accept a child for adoption. Both biological parents of the child must consent to the adoption. In the case of an agency adoption, the parents must sign a relinquishment of their parental rights to the agency, and the agency then places the child and executes its consent so the adoptive parents can adopt. If the child is placed directly with the adoptive parents in an independent adoption, the parent signs a consent to the adoption to the adoptive parents.
2.) Who may adopt?
Any adult may petition the court to adopt a child. If the adoptive parent is married, the spouse must join in the petition and request the adoption as well. This requirement may be waived by the clerk of court under certain circumstances. If the adoptive parent is not married, no one else may join in the petition and request to adopt the child.
3.) Can a minor parent release a child for adoption without the appointment of a guardian for the minor parent? Must the parents of the minor parent agree?
For purposes of adoption, a biological parent who is under the age of 18 is treated as an adult and does not need his or her parents’ consent for the adoption nor is a guardian appointed.
4.) Does citizenship or immigration status of the birth parent or adoptive parents matter?
The fact that a birth parent and/or adoptive parents are not citizens or even in this country legally will not automatically bar from adopting a child in North Carolina. However, citizenship and immigration status is considered when determining whether the adoption would be in the child’s best interest. So for example, if the adoptive parents were at risk of deportation and wanted to adopt an unrelated child who was a U.S. citizen, the clerk of court would consider those facts in determining if that adoption was in the child’s best interest.
5.) When can birth parents consent to the adoption of their child?
A father can sign a consent to adoption or relinquishment of their parental rights either before or after the child is born. A mother may sign a consent to adoption or relinquishment of their parental rights any time after the child is born, but not before the child’s birth.
6.) Can the consent to adoption or relinquishment of their parental rights be revoked?
Yes, the consent to adoption or relinquishment of their parental rights may be revoked. Once the relinquishment or their parental rights or consent to adoption is signed, the parent has seven (7) days to revoke his or her relinquishment or consent. However, if a second identical relinquishment of parental rights or consent to adoption is signed to the agency or the same adoptive parents, the relinquishment and consent becomes irrevocable. The seven days start on the day following the execution of the relinquishment or consent. The revocation must be in writing and must be given by personal delivery, overnight delivery service, or registered or certified mail to the person and address specified in the signed relinquishment or consent. If overnight delivery or certified/registered mail is used, the revocation is considered complete upon deposit with the delivery service or in the mail. Thus, the birth parent can mail her revocation by certified/registered mail on the 7th day, and it will be valid, even though received by the adoptive parents after the seven days have passed.
A valid revocation entitles the parent who previously had legal and physical custody of the child to the child’s return. There are some specific instances in which a longer revocation period is available to the birth parents, and these will be discussed in the sections on relinquishments and consents below.
7.) What is the role of the hospital if the adoptive parents will be taking the child home from the hospital?
The hospital where the baby is born may allow the baby to leave with prospective adoptive parents if the parent with legal custody signs an authorization for the transfer of physical custody for the purpose of adoption to the adoptive parents. This authorization must be signed in the presence of a hospital employee at the hospital.
8.) Does a birth parent have a choice in the selection of adoptive parents when adoption agencies are involved?
The answer is, sometimes. Adoption agencies in North Carolina may serve as an intermediary between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. Every agency must provide information regarding their fees, policies, and information regarding the role of the birth parents in the selection process. The adoption agency will also gather health and other background information from the birth parents for the adoptive parents so that they are fully informed. There are many options available to the birth parents, from completely anonymous adoptions to a fully identified adoption. The agency may inform the birth parent when the child is placed with the adoptive family and when the adoption decree has been signed by the court.
There are two types of relinquishments a birth parent may sign to an agency. A general relinquishment or a designated relinquishment. A general relinquishment gives the agency authority to decide where to place the child. A designated relinquishment gives the agency authority to place the child only with the placement designated in the relinquishment by the birth parent. The birth mother will review the non-identifying home studies of prospective adoptive parents and decides which family to place the child in. The birth mother and adoptive parents can decide to meet through the agency in a non-identifying way to learn more about each other or can agree to an identified agency adoption. In either case, any agency placement must have a favorable preplacement assessment or home study. Either type of relinquishment vests legal and physical custody of the child in the agency and allows the agency to place the child for adoption, subject to the revocation period.
The parent remains with his or her parental rights intact. That is until the court enters the final decree of adoption. While the parent’s parental rights are still intact, he or she is still liable for the payment of child support. Most often, however, child support is not being pursued.
If the birth parent chooses a designated relinquishment, the birth parent can also choose whether to be notified if that adoption cannot be completed for any reason. If the birth parent chooses to be notified that the planned adoption will not take place, the parent has an additional ten (10) day period in which to revoke after that notification. If the placing parent revokes, the child must be returned to the birth parent upon request.
If the non-placing parent revokes, the adoption cannot proceed until the rights of that parent, usually, the father, are terminated, but he does not have a right to return of physical custody. If the parent does not revoke within the ten-day period, the relinquishment becomes a general one, and the agency can make another placement choice. If the parent chooses not to be notified, and the original adoption cannot take place, the relinquishment becomes a general relinquishment and authorizes the agency to make another placement choice for the child.
9.) Must the birth parent use an adoption agency?
No, independent adoptions will allow the birth parents to choose the adoptive parents. In this type of adoption, the birth parent must know who the adoptive parents are before they can sign a consent to the adoption. Here, the birth parents provide health and other background information directly to the adoptive parent and must be given a copy of the adoptive parents’ approved preplacement assessment so the placing parent has adequate information on which to base her placement decision.
A preplacement assessment is conducted by the county’s health and human services agency or it can be completed by a private company licensed to do so. It is a home study that is required by law that is intended to protect the child by ensuring that the child will not be placed in an injurious environment.
Sometimes a birth mother meets with the adoptive parents and chooses to place her child with them before their preplacement assessment has been prepared or completed. In that event, the placing parent has more than the normal seven days to revoke their consent to the adoption. The placing parent will have up to and including five business days after receiving the preplacement assessment from the adoptive parents to revoke their consent, even if she does not receive that assessment for several months after the consent is signed. The approved assessment must be delivered to her, but if her whereabouts are unknown to the adoptive parents when the preplacement assessment is ready, it may be sent by mail, return receipt requested, to the address the placing parent gave in her consent. In that event, the five business days begin to run the day after the date of the last attempted delivery. A consent vests legal and physical custody of the child in the adoptive parents and authorizes them to file an adoption petition for the child. The parent is still liable for support until the final adoption decree, and all parental rights are not terminated until the adoption is finalized.
10.) Can the adoptive parents pay for the birth parent’s expenses in North Carolina?
The adoptive parents may pay the “reasonable and actual fees and expenses” for the following:
- services of an adoption agency;
- medical, hospital, and similar expenses in connection with the pregnancy, birth of the child, and any illness of the adoptee;
- counseling services for the parent or adoptee directly related to the adoption;
- ordinary living expenses of a mother during her pregnancy and for no more than 6 weeks after birth;
- expenses incurred in obtaining background information about the adoptee and his biological family;
- legal services for a birth parent; and,
- preparation of a preplacement assessment and post-placement report to the court.
A birth parent can later decide not to put her child up for adoption with the prospective adoptive parent. When that happens, the birth parent may have to reimburse the prospective adoptive parents for the expenses they have already paid if it can be shown that benefits were accepted by the birth parent with the fraudulent intent not to complete the adoption from the onset. Otherwise, a birth parent is not liable for the reimbursement of those expenses.
11.) Do birth fathers have any rights?
Whether a birth mother places with an agency or directly with adoptive parents, she must complete an affidavit of parentage form which lists the father’s name and address or states that his name and /or whereabouts are unknown to her. The birth mother must also indicate if there is a legal father in addition to a biological father. A legal father is the person she is married to at the time the child was born, also referred to sometimes as the presumed or putative father.
There are a number of ways to clear fathers who do not consent to the adoption or relinquish their parental rights. An unwed father can sign a denial of paternity. If a court has found the legal father is not the actual father or someone else is the father of the child, the legal father’s consent is not required. If a father is deceased, a certified copy of his death certificate attached to the petition is sufficient. The most common ways to clear a father are to terminate his parental rights in an action brought in district court by an agency or adoptive parents or to give him notice in a private adoption that the adoption petition has been filed and have the clerk find his consent is not necessary because he has not responded or has not taken certain active steps to “grasp the opportunity to be a father.” Simply being the biological father is not enough. To protect his rights, the father must have taken these statutorily mandated steps prior to the filing of the TPR action or the adoption petition. In order to clear a father who has not consented, relinquished, or signed a denial of paternity, he must be given notice of the filing of the termination of parental rights action or the adoption petition. Personal service or service by registered mail is the preferred form of notice. The publication is the least preferred and can only be used when a diligent search has been made to find the father and any notice is published where the father is believed to be if that place is known. Therefore, the mother plays a critical role in providing information about the father so he can be located or served.
12.) What happens when the adoption proceeding crosses state lines?
The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) requires that the state sending the child and the state receiving the child approve an adoptive placement before the child is taken to the receiving state by the adoptive parents. ICPC does not apply in circumstances where the adoption is a step-parent or relative adoption. All other types of adoptions require that the mother signs an ICPC 100A form to initiate the adoption. The ICPC 100A form is sent to the NC Department of Health and Human Services ICPC staff in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it is then forwarded to the ICPC office in the receiving state.
13.) What information can an adoptee access in the future?
North Carolina does not have a mutual consent registry for matching birth parents and adoptees, and adoption records are not automatically open to the adoptee when he becomes an adult. Adoption proceedings are confidential, and after the final decree of adoption is entered, the records are sent to Raleigh where they are permanently filed and sealed, including the adoptee’s original birth certificate. No one can access those records except by filing a motion with the clerk in the county where the adoption was finalized and obtaining an order from the clerk. Recently, NC adoption law has been amended to allow agencies to provide confidential intermediary services to adult adoptees and birth parents, as well as birth family members. The agency will search for birth family or adoptive family, attempt to obtain updated information, and determine if any non-identifying or identifying contact is desired. Information obtained can be shared with the consent of both parties. The parties to an adoption can, however, get non-identifying information from adoption records without a court order or the use of a confidential intermediary, although generally, that information will date back to the time of the adoptive placement. Moreover, if at any time an agency receives medical information important to an adoptee’s health from the birth family, the agency must make a diligent effort to share that information with the adoptee, if an adult, or the adoptive parents, if the adoptee is a minor.
14.) Can a court order post-adoption contact between the parties?
Once the adoption decree is entered by the court, all legal ties with the birth parents are severed. A court cannot order post-adoption contact between the adoptee and birth family in North Carolina. That contact can only happen voluntarily and is only possible with the consent of the adoptive parents. The adoptive parents have full discretion when it comes to the contact an adoptee may or may not have with the birth parents. Any agreement about contact is unenforceable as a matter of law.
The decision you may be facing is a difficult one, whether you may be thinking about placing your child for adoption or adopting a new family member. We are experienced with a wide variety of adoption cases. You should come to meet us. Call us and schedule an appointment to come to our office for an in-depth and confidential case evaluation. In an in-person meeting, we are best able to come to understand your situation and help you evaluate your options. Clients who come to meet with us, tend to be very happy they did. You will not be disappointed. Our beautiful office is conveniently located just half a mile from the Haywood County Justice Center.