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Adoption - Who is a Legal Parent? Part 5

Post by Julie Tolek.  Julie is an Associate at Skylark Law & Mediation, PC and runs her own practice, Think Pink Law.  Julie's practice includes family law & divorce representation, firearms licensing & NFA trusts, estate planning & probate, and adoptions.

Adoption

Adoption is the process by which one person becomes a parent by legally agreeing to care for another person’s biological child and to raise the child as his or her own biological child.  The adoptive parent acquires the legal rights and obligations of parentage including the legal rights to make decision about every aspect of the child's health and happiness.

The Adoption Process in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, private adoption between individuals is not permitted without the involvement of either the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or an adoption agency. DCF is the state agency in charge of protecting children from bad circumstances such as abuse and neglect. A child’s birth parents may voluntarily sign away their parental rights with regards to a child, or DCF may petition the court to terminate the parents’ rights to voluntarily consent to an adoption.

There are two ways the process of adoption usually begins. First, an adoption agency or DCF will approve a potential adoptive family for adoption. DCF will then place the child with the family and do a home study, which means that the agency will keep tabs on how the child is doing in the new home.  The second way an adoption can begin is without the initial intent to adopt.  In these cases a person who is acting as the caretaker for a child, such as a guardian or foster parent, later decides to adopt the child.  In this case the person wishing to adopt can file a petition with the court.

Requirements for Adoption of Minors in Massachusetts:

In order to adopt a child under fourteen years old in Massachusetts, you must meet one of the following requirements:
  • the child was placed with you by DCF or another agency for the purpose of starting the adoption process;
  • DCF or an agency has approved the adoption in writing;
  • you are related to the child by blood;
  • you are a step-parent of the child;
  • you were named in a will as guardian or adoptive parent by the child’s deceased parent(s); or
  • you are part of an unmarried couple, either same-sex or opposite sex, one of whom is already the legal parent of the child through adoption or birth, as the biological parent.
Surrendering Existing Parental Rights:

In most cases, when a child is under the age of twelve, the lawful parents or surviving parents of the child must give consent for the child’s adoptions. The written consent is called a “surrender” and needs to be in a specific form, signed before a notary and two witnesses. In cases of adoption of a newborn baby, there is a four day waiting period before the lawful parents can sign a surrender form (Anyone signing a surrender of parental rights to a child should consult a lawyer to make sure he or she understands the gravity of the meaning of signing the surrender form.)

If for some reason consent is not available, the court may issue a citation. This may lead to the adoption being a contested adoption, which means that the then legal parents do not agree and the court has to decide if their parental rights should be terminated.

The Home Study:

In most adoptions, DCF or the adoption agency will require an investigation into the home life of the child. In some circumstances such as same sex, step parent, or co parent adoption, this home-study may be waived by the court.   DCF is an authorized agency to conduct the home study, or a private agency might also be used, but keep in mind that the fees to do so might vary.

Conclusion:
After the court grants the adoption, the petitioner(s) become the legal parent(s) of the child.  Adoptions are considered the happiest moments to take place in the Probate and Family Courts, bringing families together in a place where so many other families experience conflict.

Click here for more information about adoption.

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