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The first adoption laws were passed in Massachusetts in 1851. At this time, it was determined that child safety and welfare was a social concern, and adoption was not a procedure to be done in the best interests of adults. This strong tradition is carried on today. An average of 135,000 children were adopted in 2007 and 2008 and today, those numbers are closer to 64,000.
Adoption can be one of the most joyful times in the lives of both a parent and a child. With at least 424,000 children living in the foster care system today, adopting a child can make a huge impact on both of your lives. Helping you advocate for your child is a primary task of your adoption lawyer. Whether you’re interested in adopting a relative or you are seeking the help of an adoption agency, the right adoption lawyer can help you work through the process smoothly with careful attention to detail.
When you adopt a child, you become their legal parent. That means you are required to provide them with a supportive and safe home environment. You will accept the responsibility for their medical care decisions, school placement decisions, and social decisions. In other words, you assume all the rights and responsibilities a biological parent retains at birth the moment you become an adoptive parent.
For a child to undergo an adoption, they must be considered “legally free.” In Arizona, this means that either the child’s parents are both deceased, a judge has terminated parental rights for the child, or the parents have consented to the adoption itself. This is true whether the adoption is a private adoption through an agency, an adoption through the Department of Child Services, a relative is adopting the child, or a stepparent is adopting the child.
Any legally free child under the age of 18 may be adopted in Arizona. Adults over the age of 18, may also be adopted depending on the relationship between the adopter and adoptee. In many cases, you must also become certified to adopt a child. This will require an application and attendance at an Arizona adoption orientation.
You will then be subjected to a background check and an investigation of your relationships with others, your ability to provide for a child, your mental and physical health, as well as other critical aspects of your parenting ability. If you happen to be adopting a relative, the entirety of the process may not be a requirement, but you will still undergo an investigation to make sure you are fit to care for the relative you’re adopting.
Termination of parental rights is an important first step in the adoption process. Parental rights can be terminated either involuntarily or voluntarily. If rights are involuntarily terminated, that means the courts have determined that the biological parent is unfit to care for the child. Rights that are voluntarily terminated are surrendered by the parents themselves.
Voluntary terminations occur when a parent has chosen to surrender their child or their parental rights. This is the most common type of termination of parental rights in Arizona. Often, voluntary terminations precede adoptions by family members, but the child may also be adopted by a stranger.
Involuntary terminations occur when the court has evidence that the termination is necessary to protect the welfare of the child. Typically, there is evidence that the child is physically, emotionally, or mentally endangered. As you might expect, these cases are very difficult and can become extraordinarily complex.
Some situations that may lead to an involuntary termination of parental rights include:
Before beginning the process of involuntary termination of parental rights, all possible options to preserve the relationship between child and parent must be attempted. Even in the case of a single mother who wants to terminate an absent father’s parental rights, the father must be given the opportunity to preserve a relationship with the child. Therefore, the courts cannot terminate his rights involuntarily unless paternity can be disproven, the father is deceased, or the mother is able to prove the father is unfit.
Only the following parties may request a termination of parental rights:
In cases of neglect or abuse, a child will be removed from the home and placed in protective custody. An investigation will take place to determine whether a child can be returned to the home safely. If they cannot, a plan will likely be made for the best interests of the child. If neglect or abuse is proven, a plan to terminate the parental rights may be recommended.
If you are not related to the child, you will be required to become certified to adopt. As mentioned, the certification process can become quite complex. A social worker will likely need to come to your home to meet you and your family. You will also require a licensed adoption agency, or social worker, to appeal to the court to certify you.
Keep in mind that there is no requirement on marital status of the individual adopting. You can be married, single, widowed, or divorced, as eligibility isn’t determined based on marital status. You may rent or own your own home or apartment—you must have a residence, but neither owning or renting is preferred. The main requirement is that you must be at least 18 years of age.
Aside from this, getting the process started can be fairly simple with help from an Arizona adoption lawyer. There is an $800 certification fee that is reimbursed when a legally free child of Arizona is placed in a home for the purposes of adoption. Your attorney can help you pay the correct fees, complete the necessary paperwork, and navigate the requirements stated by family court.
There are several types of adoption recognized in the state of Arizona. These include private adoption, agency adoption, stepparent adoption, relative adoption, Indian child adoption, and adult adoption.
Some people may choose to go the route of a private adoption. This is when a party forgoes an agency, and a child is placed directly in the home of potential adoptive parents. Typically, the birth mother will choose to terminate their parental rights and place a child directly into the home of the potential parents without the involvement of an agency or foster care for placement.
Agency adoptions occur when a party looking to adopt contacts an adoption agency to locate a child for adoption. Agencies will work to find a compatible child for those looking to adopt. Meetings can be set up to see if the child and the potential adoptive parents mesh well together. Whether you decide on a local adoption agency or a national organization, making the choice best for you and your family is of utmost importance, and your attorney can help you decide.
Stepparents may adopt a child after parental rights have been terminated. For a stepparent to be eligible to adopt their stepchild, they must have been married to the child’s parent for at least one year, and the child must have been living with the stepparent for at least six months. Consult with an Arizona adoption attorney to determine whether you qualify for stepparent adoption.
When relatives adopt a child, there are significantly fewer hurdles to navigate. Typically, certification is dependent upon the relationship to the child. Great grandparents, grandparents, aunts or uncles, cousins, or siblings are all considered relatives eligible to adopt a relative.
There are special requirements for adopting Indian children under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in the State of Arizona. Because so many native children were being removed from homes instead of being placed with fit relatives, it was feared that adoption was an effort to disconnect them from their culture and heritage. The ICWA of 1978 was enacted to help protect native children as well as native tribes and families. Some of the requirements under the ICWA include:
In every case, efforts will be made to meet the requirements of preferential placement, including:
The state of Arizona allows adults to adopt other adults when certain conditions or relationships exist. For example, stepparents may wish to adopt their adult stepchildren, or foster parents may wish to adopt foster children formerly in their care. In the event of an adult adoption, the birth parents of the person being adopted do not need to be informed of the adoption proceedings. Speak with your attorney to learn more about adult adoption.
While adoption can be a very happy moment in the lives of both children and parents, the process can be complicated and stressful for those involved. You will likely have a long list of questions to be answered, and seemingly endless paperwork requirements and deadlines to meet. A skilled lawyer can help you ensure you meet any requirements in a timely manner, and help you prepare a strategy to carry you through the process of adoption until it is finalized.
Instead of continuing to feel overwhelmed by navigating adoption on your own, consider the benefits to hiring an adoption attorney:
As you can see, having an experienced team in your corner is your best opportunity for a smooth adoption.
The Arizona adoption process can be difficult to navigate on your own. Hiring the best adoption lawyers in Arizona can help keep you on the right track from the beginning of the process to adoption day and beyond.
You can adopt a child in Arizona if you:
It’s estimated that it can cost up to $20,000 or more, depending on one’s specific case. Some costs that aspiring parents must consider include:
To be eligible for state-funded adoption assistance a child must meet the same special needs criteria.
Arizona is an adoption-friendly state, welcoming aspiring parents who are single, in a same-sex marriage, etc. A consent for adoption in Arizona can be signed as soon as 72 hours after the birth of a child.
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