Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the legal parenting relationship for another and, in so doing, permanently transfers all rights and responsibilities from the original parent or parents to the adoptive parents.
Adoptive Parents: An adoption begins with the filing of an adoption petition in court. The adopting petitioner must be at least 18 years of age, under no legal disability, and an Illinois resident for at least six months prior to filing the petition. If the petitioner is married, the petitioner’s spouse usually must join in the petition. A married couple living together are both petitioners even if one spouse is the biological parent of the child to be adopted by both. When an adoptive parent is in the U.S. military service, that parent may file a petition in Illinois if the adopting parent has been domiciled in Illinois at least 90 days prior to the filing of the petition.
Adoptee: A child to be adopted is a party to an adoption. A minor child is considered “available” for adoption if the child has been surrendered to an agency and the agency has consented or a person other than the child’s parents has been authorized by a court order to consent to the adoption and the person has consented. The child may also be considered available for adoption when there is no person whose consent is required. In addition, the child may be available for adoption because the child’s biological parents have placed the child in the custody of persons who intend to adopt the child. An adult may be adopted if that adult has resided with the prospective adoptive parents for a continuous period of more than 2 years prior to the filing of the adoption petition. Finally, a child 14 years of age or older must consent to his or her adoption.
Although virtually every child to be adopted has two biological parents, both of the biological parents may not necessarily be parties to an adoption. It will depend on the type of adoption and the facts of a particular case.
In an adult adoption, the adult child’s biological parents are not parties to the adoption proceeding. For children, a biological parent is not a party to an adoption proceeding if his or her parental rights have been previously terminated or previously surrendered to a child welfare agency. If the biological father has not previously waived his rights, consented to an adoption, surrendered his parental rights to an agency, or had his rights terminated by a court order, he is a party to the adoption of the child if he meets one of the standards under Illinois law.
The rights of the biological parents must be terminated before a judgment order for adoption can be entered by a judge. There are exceptions, however, if a parent is deceased then the court can then make the appropriate finding in the judgment order. Another exception exists when one of the adoptive petitioners is a biological parent of the child. In that instance, the parent’s rights are not terminated. The biological parent consents to the adoption of the child by his or her spouse by executing and verifying the petition for adoption.
A biological parent’s parental rights can also be voluntarily terminated by the execution of a final and irrevocable consent to adoption. In Illinois, no consent or surrender can be taken from a biological parent within the 72-hour period immediately following the child’s birth. A consent or surrender must be witnessed by a judge, a representative of an agency, or a person designated by the judge.
Lastly, parental rights of a biological parent can be terminated involuntarily if a court finds the biological parent to be an unfit parent by clear and convincing evidence.
Once a minor not related to the adoptive parents has been placed in the home of the adoptive parents, an investigation of the adoptive home is conducted. The court also has discretion, if it wishes to exercise it, to require an investigation in related cases and in adult adoption cases. An investigation will usually include a criminal background report of the adoptive parents. The report must be less than two years old and must include a fingerprint check by state and federal authorities. Prior to the entry of the judgment order for adoption, a report summarizing the findings of the investigation is submitted to the court.
The judgment order for adoption is the final order in an adoption case that establishes the petitioners as the legal parents of the child. It is through the judgment order for adoption that the child’s name is formally changed to the name chosen by the adoptive parents.
Prior to the entry of the judgment order for adoption, the court reviews the investigative report, the report of the guardian ad litem, and any required affidavits. If all of the necessary parties have consented to the adoption or the court has determined that a party’s consent is not required, the court can enter the judgment order for adoption if satisfied that the adoption is in the best interests of the child. The process may be streamlined in the adoption of a related child, an adult, a child placed by an agency, or a child for whom the court has authorized a person to consent to adoption.
Adoptive parents may apply to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) for an amended birth record for the child after entry of the judgment order for adoption. The amended birth record (also known as a revised birth certificate) will reflect the child’s new name, if any, and list the adoptive parents’ names as the child’s biological parents. In order to obtain a revised birth certificate, adoptive parents must submit a completed certificate of adoption form certified by the clerk of the court. Once the birth record is amended and the new birth certificate obtained, the original birth certificate is sealed and unavailable to most persons without a court order from the court that granted the adoption.
The process is very similar except when dealing with the issue of “consent” for adoption by the child. In an adult adoption, notice to and consent by the biological parents of the adult child is not required and the parental fitness of the adopting parent is usually not a factor either.
A Guardian ad Litem is an attorney who is appointed by the court and who is given the legal authority to represent the interests of a child in an adoption proceeding. The Guardian ad Litem will advocate the interests of the child in the court proceeding.
All of the parties involved in the adoption process have the right to an attorney, whether it be a domestic or international adoption. Most adoption agencies will provide legal counsel through the adoption process; however, one may also retain a private attorney as they go through the process of an adoption.
The cost of an adoption will vary depending on the type of adoption —domestic versus international. Domestic adoptions, for example, one conducted through a foster care agency, will typically have lower costs associated with the adoption process as compared to an international adoption which may require expenses for travel, expenses for the birth mother, immigration services, and the like.