Adoption Law in Virginia
The experienced adoption lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. represent clients in Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William, Manassas, Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania and all across Northern Virginia.
Cases involving adoption and termination of parental rights can be emotional and stressful for all parties involved. Your case is too important not to have an experienced Virginia adoption attorney on your side.
Adoption is the process whereby children who have been permanently and legally separated from their birth parents are placed with new parents. The adoptive parents are given the same rights and obligations as biological parents, while the rights and obligations of the biological parents are terminated.
Virginia law permits only two types of placements for adoption: those made by duly authorized agencies (public social services departments and private licensed child placing agencies) and those made by birth parents or legal guardians.
Agency Placement Adoptions. Agency placements occur when the child is in the custody of a local department of social services or licensed child-placing agency. In this situation, all parental rights are terminated, custody with authority to place for adoption is granted to the agency, and the agency consents to the child’s adoption.
Non-Agency Adoptions. A non-agency placement occurs when the child is not in the custody of an agency. In a non-agency placement, the birth parents or legal guardian(s) consent to the adoption, and parental rights are terminated by entry of the final order of adoption.
Except for licensed or duly authorized child-placing agencies, only birth parents and legal guardians are allowed to place a child for adoption in Virginia. Although anyone may provide assistance to birth parents in locating a prospective adoptive family and to adoptive parents in locating a child, only birth parents and legal guardians may actually place the child for adoption.
There are three different types of non-agency adoptions:
Stepparent Adoptions. A stepparent adoption takes place when the spouse of a birth or adoptive parent is adopting the child. In this situation, consent has been obtained or is not required. An investigation will only take place if the court determines it is necessary before the adoption is finalized. If the court does consider an investigation necessary, the agency becomes involved when the adoption petition is filed and the Circuit Court enters the order of reference.
Parental Placement Adoptions. In a parental placement adoption, the approved child placing agency completes a home study report and a petition is filed in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for execution of consent and awarding of custody to the prospective adoptive parents. The Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court reviews the home study report and collateral material to determine whether the requirements of law have been met, accepts parental consent, and transfers custody to the adoptive parents. An adoption petition may then be filed in Circuit Court.The overall steps in a parental placement adoption are as follows:(i) the agency receives a request for a home study; (ii) a home study is completed; (iii) a report of the home study is submitted to the juvenile and domestic relations district court; (iv) adoptive parents file a petition for execution of consent in juvenile and domestic relations district court; (v) that court accepts consent and awards custody to the prospective adoptive parents; (vi) a petition for adoption is filed in the Circuit Court; (vii) the Circuit Court enters an interlocutory order of adoption if everything has been done in compliance with law; and (viii) after a six-month supervisory period, the Circuit Court enters a final order of adoption.
Virginia law provides birth parents with a small window in which they may revoke their previously-given consent to a parental placement adoption. See The Adoption Revocation Period in Virginia for more information.
Adult Adoptions. An adult adoption is the adoption of any person who is 18 years of age or older at the time that the adoption petition is filed. In an adult adoption, the agency first becomes involved when the adoption petition is filed in Circuit Court.
Remarrying and starting a new family is an exciting time in most people’s lives. Many families have adopted the terms “bonus children” or “bonus parent” to highlight the happiness that comes from an expanding family. Stepparents can and often do take on an important and involved role in children’s lives. Sometimes the stepparent is more involved and a better influence than one of the biological parents. In these situations, many parents want to learn about the possibility and likelihood of the stepparent adopting the child.
Stepparent adoption is the most common type of adoption. The process involves multiple steps which can be executed with relative ease depending on the willingness of the biological parent.
The first step in any stepparent adoption is to address the rights of the biological parent. If the parent has been absent from the child’s life for an extended period of time, at least six months, then the parent may be willing to consent to the adoption. If that is the case then paperwork can be prepared in which the biological parent relinquishes his or her parental rights in favor of the stepparent adoption. If the biological parent’s whereabouts are unknown or the biological parent refuses to consent, then measures must be taken before the court can grant the adoption. If the biological parent’s whereabouts are unknown, then notice of the adoption hearing must be given through “publication” in a newspaper.
Our adoption attorneys can quickly and easily process the paperwork necessary to address the rights of the biological parent or for notice by publication.
A biological parent does not have to consent to the adoption, and the objection of the biological parent does not necessarily mean that the adoption cannot be granted. A court can order the adoption without consent of the biological parent if the court finds that (a) the biological parent’s consent is unavailable (because he or she did not appear) or (b) the biological parent is withholding consent against the best interests of the child and a continued relationship between the biological parent and child would be detrimental to the child.
If the biological parent objects to the adoption, a hearing is necessary. Typically, the court will require an investigation or home study of the parents, the adoptive parent, and the home in which the child resides. The investigation is completed by the Department of Social Services or a private organization approved by the Court. The information obtained in the investigation is used at the hearing to assist the court in determining the best interests of the child.
If a hearing is necessary, the court will consider a number of factors in determining whether to terminate one biological parent’s parental rights and allow the child to be adopted by a stepparent. These factors include (1) the efforts of the biological parent to obtain or maintain legal and physical custody of the child, (2) whether the biological parent is currently ready and able to assume custody of the child, (3) whether the biological parent’s efforts to assert parental rights were thwarted by other people, (4) the biological parent’s ability to care for the child, (5) the age of the child, (6) the quality of any previous relationship between the biological parent and the child, (7) the quality of any relationship between the biological parent and any other children, (8) the duration and suitability of the child’s present custodial environment, and (9) the effect of a change of custody on the child.
An adoption trial can be legally complicated and emotionally draining. Having the assistance of an attorney who can review the circumstances of your case, inform you of what facts best highlight your case, and then present those facts in a concise manner to the court, is of paramount importance.
With limited exceptions, a home study is required for almost any adoption in Virginia. A home study is a review of any person wanting to adopt. An accredited organization or business investigates and reviews the potential adoptive parent(s) and anyone else living in the home. The areas of review include, but are not limited to: the current family dynamic, the potential family dynamic after the addition of a new family member, the reasons behind wanting to adopt, the educational background of the potential adoptive parent(s), family histories of the potential adoptive parent(s), work histories, the financial well-being of the potential adoptive parent(s), and criminal background checks for all persons living within the home.
The home study is regulated by state requirements and generally takes five to nine weeks. Adoptive parents who are eager to move forward should begin the home study as soon as possible.
Upon first learning of the home study requirement, many potential adoptive parents struggle with how or where to begin. Having an attorney who can fully explain the home study process, and one who has existing relationships with agencies who can complete the home study, can make a stressful process much easier. The adoption lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. regularly meet and foster relationships with the right people and organizations, so that we may provide information and assistance to clients going through the home study and adoption process.
For information on adopting a child from another country, see: Overview of the International Adoption Process.
Our Adoption Lawyers
Livesay & Myers, P.C. has a team of experienced adoption lawyers across five office locations: in Fairfax, Arlington, Ashburn, Manassas and Fredericksburg-Stafford. Be sure to read our client reviews, then examine the profiles of each of our attorneys to find the one who is the best fit for you.