Rights of Birth Parents
There are many reasons why people make the difficult decision to give their baby up for adoption. Some of the most common reasons include age, a lack of financial resources, and issues with drug addiction. Regardless of the reasons for putting a child up for adoption, it is important that the birth parents understand how the adoption process works and what their legal rights are during and after the adoption process.
Therefore, it is highly recommended that the birth parents hire an experienced lawyer who can walk them through each step of the process. A lawyer will address all of the birth parents’ questions and concerns, ensure that they are in compliance with all state laws, and advocate for their legal rights.
What are the Different Types of Adoption?
There are two types of domestic adoptions that people may pursue, including the following:
- Independent adoption: In this type of adoption, the birth parent or parents choose the adoptive parents directly rather than going through an adoption agency. Oftentimes, the birth parents and the adoptive parents are connected through friends or relatives. The birth parents then agree to give the adoptive parents legal custody of the child. The process will be managed by the lawyers who are representing the birth parents and the adoptive parents. In some cases, an adoption agency may be used to conduct home studies of the adoptive parents or provide counseling to the birth parents.
- Agency adoption: These adoptions are handled entirely by an adoption agency. The birth parents will first relinquish the child to the agency, and the agency will then give the adoptive parents physical custody of the child. The agency will retain legal custody of the child for several months so that they monitor the adoptive family. If the adoption agency believes that the adoption is in the best interest of the child, they will consent to the adoption. Even if the birth parents are using an adoption agency, they can still choose the adoptive parents, but they will have to choose from a list of prospective parents that are on a waiting list.
When can the Birth Mother Provide Consent to Adoption?
In New Jersey adoption cases, the legal rights of the birth parents are strongly protected, which means that they must legally consent to the adoption before the child can be placed with another family. The adoption process cannot proceed until the birth parents have relinquished their parental rights. In New Jersey, the birth mother can sign the legal consent form 72 hours after the child is born. This timeline applies to the birth father as well. If the birth father denies paternity at any time, this will be considered a surrender of his parental rights.
Can the Birth Mother Change Her Mind?
If the legal consent to adopt has not yet been signed, the birth mother can change her mind at any time. However, if the adoptive parents covered the birth mother’s medical expenses during the pregnancy, the birth mother may be held liable for those expenses if she decides to keep the baby. If the birth mother has signed the consent to adopt form, she no longer has the right to change her mind about the adoption. The state will terminate the birth parents’ rights and remove them from visitation and custody matters.
Once the adoption is final, the adopted parents have the right to allow the birth parents to be involved in the child’s life. The extent of involvement will be entirely up to the adoptive parents. For example, if either parent has a serious drinking problem, uses drugs, or is involved in any other illegal activity, the adoptive parents may decide to terminate all contact with the birth parents if their presence is going to have a negative impact on the child.
One of the few valid reasons that an adoption may be revoked in New Jersey is if the adoption agency engaged in fraudulent activity, caused duress or misrepresented themselves, or if the revocation is in the best interests of the child. If that is the case, the adoption will be considered invalid, and the birth parents will retain their parental rights. During this revocation period, the birth parents maintain custody of the child. If the adoptive parents agree to the revocation and all parties involved are focusing on what is best for the child, the birth parents may retain visitation rights if the adoptive parents are open.
Who is Eligible to Adopt a Child in New Jersey?
In order to be eligible to adopt in New Jersey, a person must be 18 years old and at least 10 years older than the child who is being adopted. A married person must provide the written consent of their spouse when petitioning the court to adopt a child. If a couple does not live in New Jersey but was born in the state, or the couple is using a New Jersey licensed adoption agency, they may adopt in New Jersey, assuming they meet certain requirements and can demonstrate that they will be good parents.
One of the requirements that adoptive parents must meet is an adoption home study, which is the adoption agency’s formal assessment of the prospective parent’s ability and readiness to adopt a child. The home study will include interviews with the parents and any other children or family members that live in the home, health assessments of the parents, a review of all personal and professional references, a verification of employment and income, and other personal information about each parent. The main purpose of the home study is to ensure that the adoptive parents will provide a safe and loving environment for the child.
Can a Child be Placed for Adoption if the Birth Parents Do Not Consent?
If the birth parents’ legal rights have been terminated through a Termination of Parental Rights court proceeding, the child may be placed for adoption without consent. Consent from the birth parents is not required if their rights have already been terminated or if the parents failed to meet the child’s basic needs for six months or more. In addition, if the birth father denied paternity at any point, if the parent’s identity cannot be confirmed, or the known parent refuses to identify the identity of the other parent and the court cannot locate the parent, the parent’s consent to adoption will be waived.
What Happens after a Child is Placed in an Adoptive Home?
The first step that the adoptive parents must do is to file a petition for adoption. This complaint for adoption must be in their county of residence or the county where the adoption agency that has custody of the child is located. If the child is younger than three months of age, the petition must be filed in the county where the child was born.
Depending on the circumstances of the adoption, including whether the child was placed independently or through an agency, the timing of the filing of the company for adoption may differ. For example, in an independent adoption, the complaint must be filed within 45 days of the adoptive parents’ receipt of the child. After two to three months, a preliminary hearing is held by the court, and the birth parent’s rights are terminated. The adoptive parents also appear at the hearing, where they will provide testimony to the court. A final hearing will be scheduled approximately six months later to allow for post-placement visits by the adoption agency. A judgment of adoption will be entered at the final hearing, at which time the adoptive parents become the child’s legal parents.
If the adoption is done through an agency, the child must reside with the adoptive parents for at least six months before the complaint of adoption can be filed. However, the complaint may be filed sooner if doing so would resolve certain issues, such as the termination of a birth father who has not consented to the adoption. Once the complaint has been filed, the court will schedule a date for a preliminary hearing. In cases in which there is a preliminary hearing and a final hearing, New Jersey requires the adoptive parents to appear in person at the preliminary hearing, but they are not required to attend the final hearing where the court enters the judgment of adoption.
What Happens to the Records after the Adoption is Finalized?
In New Jersey, adoption records as well as the original birth certificate are sealed once the adoption has been finalized. In some cases, adoption records can be accessed, but a court order is required. According to New Jersey law, individuals who were born and adopted in New Jersey can obtain information about their birth as well as their biological parents. The following people may secure a copy of their original birth certificate:
- An adult adoptee
- A direct descendant of the adoptee
- A sibling or spouse
- An adoptive parent, legal guardian, or other legal representative
- A New Jersey state of federal government agency for official purposes
In order to obtain a copy of an original birth certificate, the applicant must fill out the Application for an Uncertified Copy of an Adopted Person’s Original Birth Record form and mail it to the Department of Health’s Office of Vital Statistics and Registry. The applicant must also include proof of identity, proof of relationship, proof of name change, and payment.
What is an Adoption Facilitator?
An adoption facilitator is a person or entity that matches birth parents with adoptive parents. They are not associated with a licensed, non-profit adoption agency. In New Jersey, it is illegal for birth parents or adoptive parents to pay adoption facilitators for their services. If the birth parents or adoptive parents are considering using an adoption facilitator to help with the adoption process, they should consult with a lawyer first in order to avoid facing any serious legal repercussions.
How Long Does the Adoption Process Take?
Adopting a child is a complex process, and the amount of time it will take to finalize the adoption will depend on a number of factors, including:
- Whether it is an independent adoption, or the parties involved are using an adoption agency.
- Whether the adoptive parents are open to a range of ethnicities and age ranges.
- How willing the adoptive parents are to allow the birth parents to have contact with the child after the adoption has been finalized.
- Whether the adoptive parents are emotionally and financially willing to accept the legal, financial, and emotional risks associated with the adoption process.
Other factors that can affect the amount of time it takes to finalize the adoption is the adoptive parents’ personal situation, including their age, their marital status, if they have other children, and whether they are financially able to support the child. The birth mother’s first impression of the adoptive parents can also impact the timing of the adoption process. For example, if the birth mother finds the adoptive parents to be warm, engaging, responsible, and kind, she is more likely to consider them as potential parents for the child.
It is important for both the birth parents and the adoptive parents to understand the steps that are involved in the adoption process, including the legal documents that must be processed and signed, the court hearing, and the home visits. The process can take time. For example, it can take several months to learn about the different ways to adopt and to select an adoption agency. Completing the adoption requirements, including the home study and the preparation of a profile for the expectant mother review, can take six to nine months. Finally, it can take anywhere from nine months to two years for the adoption to be finalized. The process can be emotional, but the steps are in place to protect the legal rights of all parties involved and to ensure that the child is placed in a safe and loving home.
New Jersey Adoption Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Protect the Rights of Birth Parents
If you are considering putting your child up for adoption, it is in your best interest to contact the New Jersey adoption lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Our experienced and compassionate legal team will walk you through every phase of the adoption process. To schedule an initial consultation, call us today at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Based in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.