What should I know about adopting a child?
Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
Adopting a child in Georgia
What should I know? +
- What is adoption?
- What are my rights if I want to adopt a child?
- What are the rights of parents when someone wants to adopt their child?
Adoption is the legal process where one or two people become the parent(s) of a child and take the child to be their own. Adoption is necessary to become a parent if you are not a child’s birth parent. A person can be adopted at any age, even into adulthood. In the case of a child, Superior Court judges decide whether an adoption can be completed, based on whether the adoption is in the best interests of the child.
Once the adoption is approved, the adopted child has all the same rights as if the child had been born to the adoptive parents. The adoptive parents have all the rights and responsibilities of the biological parents. The rights and duties of the biological parents end. There are no visitation rights for biological parents unless the adoptive parents allow it.
In general, an adopted child will not inherit from the biological parents unless the child is named in a will. However this is not true if a child is adopted by a stepmother or stepfather. In this case, the adopted child can still inherit from the biological parent who is married to the adoptive parent.
There are six types of adoption in Georgia:
Public or private agency adoptions: The State or a private agency places the child with the adoptive parents.
Adoptions by third parties: Someone who is not a stepparent or a relative adopts the child. These adoptions do not involve an agency.
Stepparent adoptions: A stepparent adopts the child.
Adoptions by relatives: The child may be related to the person adopting the child either by blood or by marriage. (Ex. grandparent, great grandparent, aunt, uncle, great aunt, great uncle, sister, or brother)
Adoptions by foreign decree: The child has already been adopted in another country. The child must have a valid visa.
Adult adoptions: The person being adopted is over 18.
To adopt a child, you must meet the following conditions:
You must be a resident of Georgia when you file the petition.
You must be at least 10 years older than the child, unless you are a stepparent adopting your stepchild.
You must be at least 25 years old, unless you are married and living with your spouse. Or, you must be a relative of the child and be at least 21 years old.
If you are married, you must adopt with your spouse, unless you are the child's stepparent.
You must have the money, health, and mental ability to take care of the child.
Do I have to give the biological parents anything in exchange for the adoption?
No. It is illegal for the people adopting the child to pay the biological parents for the adoption. This includes payment with money or anything else valuable. Adoption agencies may help the biological parents, but there are strict rules.
In third party adoptions, the person who wants to adopt must file a report with the court. The report must list anything valuable that they have given to anyone in connection with the adoption.
When the mother has given up her parental rights, she must also fill out a mother's affidavit. On this form, the mother must state if anyone has given or promised her anything valuable in connection with the adoption.
Do children have rights in an adoption?
The child must agree to the adoption if he or she is 14 years old or older. The child must agree in writing. At the final hearing, you must show the judge that the child agreed. Usually, the child has to give his or her consent in front of the judge. At 21, a person can be adopted with his or her own consent alone.
If parents are dead or have had their parental rights terminated by the court, their children can be adopted. In this case, whoever had custody of the child would have to give consent.
If the biological parents of the child are living and they have not abandoned the child, their consent must be obtained. Biological parents consent by completing a form titled "Surrender of Parental Rights: Final Release for Adoption". After the parents sign the form, they have a grace period of 4 days to change their mind. This gives parents time to think through such a serious decision.
But in some cases, the judge can take away the parents' rights if it is in the best interest of the child. Some common examples of when this may occur include:
When the child has been abandoned
When the parent has been declared mentally unfit
When the parent has failed to support the child in a meaningful way
Do fathers of children born out of wedlock have rights in an adoption?
If the father has established parental rights to the child, then he has the same rights as the biological mother. A father can establish legal parental rights whether he is married to the mother or not.
If a biological father has not established parental rights, he still has some rights in an adoption. The father must be told that his parental rights will be taken away if he does not file a petition to legitimate the child. The lawyer working on the adoption must give this information to the father.
Georgia adoption laws specify how the biological father has a right to object to the adoption. He has a right to ask the court for custody of the child if:
He has made any efforts to support the child in the past, or
He has developed a relationship with the child
If he has not done either, the father can explain his reasons why before the adoption can happen. A biological father must have the opportunity to care for and know his child.
If the father has abandoned his child, he might lose his parental rights. Legal abandonment occurs when a parent fails to pay child support, communicate with the child, or visit with the child for over a year.
Do the biological parents have rights to their child after the adoption?
Once the adoption is approved, the rights and duties of the biological parents end. Recently, more adoptions have become open. This means that the biological and the adoptive parents know who each other are. Depending on the degree of openness, the biological parents may communicate with or even visit with the child. But even in an open adoption, the biological parents have no legal rights to visitation. They also cannot ask the court to enforce visitation.
When stepparents adopt a child, the biological parent married to the stepparent keeps full parental rights to their child after the adoption. The other biological parent will have had their rights terminated in the stepparent adoption.
What can I do? +
- How long does the adoption process take?
- Can the court deny an adoption?
- Are there any other laws that might apply to adoptions?
- What can I do if I want to adopt a child or place my child for adoption?
- Will someone come to look at my home if I adopt a child?
- Do I get any special financial benefits for adopted children?
- Do I get special tax credits if I adopt a child?
- Can I look at adoption records?
- What is the Putative Father Registry?
After you file for adoption, the Department of Human Resources, or someone appointed by the judge, will investigate to verify the information. The legal procedure for an adoption takes about three months.
Yes, the court always has the power to deny an adoption. This may happen if the court finds at least one of the following:
The adoption would not be in the child's best interests
The legal parents have not agreed to give up their rights
There is not a good reason to take away the rights of the legal parents
If this happens, who keeps the child?
It depends on the type of adoption.
In a public or private agency adoption or a third party adoption, the court may place the child with a public or private agency.
In a stepparent or relative adoption, the child remains in the custody of the person who asked to adopt the child. But the child remains only if that person is able to take care of the child. The court may also place the child in the custody of the Department of Human Services to decide whether the child should be taken away from the stepparent or relative. In this situation, the DHS brings a case in Juvenile Court. This is called a deprivation action.
The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children applies when children go to another state for adoption.
The Indian Child Welfare Act may apply when the child has Native American heritage.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act may apply if a child's biological parents are on active duty with the military at:
The time of the adoption
The time of the court case to end their rights
In general, courts favor natural parents in deciding cases involving adoption laws.
Most adoptions for children are placed for adoption through adoption agencies. They may also happen through the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) if the child is in foster care. Sometimes children are privately placed for adoptions or placed for adoption with relatives. Contact a lawyer. Adoption law is complex. It is best to find a lawyer who can help you.
You must have a home investigation if:
You are adopting a child through an agency;
You are not related to the child you are adopting; or
You are not the step-parent.
The judge will send someone to your home to check to make sure everything you said in the petition for adoption is correct. They will also check to see if you or your spouse have a criminal history.
If you are the child's stepparent or relative, the judge will decide whether to send anyone to your home. Adoptions by foreign decree or adult adoptions do not require home investigations. Also, if a child-placing agency has consented to the adoption, an investigation is not required.
In limited situations, some adopted children will qualify for adoption assistance benefits. These benefits can help pay for the costs of the adoption. They can also help pay a monthly benefit to the child, which comes with Medicaid.
If you are receiving Social Security Disability or Retirement benefits, you may be able to get a child's benefit. Check with the Social Security Administration to find out.
Yes. As of 2017, the maximum tax credit for qualified expenses was $13,570. If you are the child's stepparent you do not get this credit. Most adopting parents may take the credit only for qualifying expenses. Qualifying expenses are:
Other costs of the adoption process
If you adopt a special needs child, you do not have to show that your costs are qualifying expenses. You can take the entire credit.
Adoption records are private. The public cannot look at them. According to law, the records of an adoption proceeding must be sealed or closed. Georgia law provides a procedure for obtaining these records.
In some situations, you may be able to look at the records. Contact the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry if you are looking for information about:
Your birth family
Your biological siblings
Your adopted siblings
Your child who has been adopted
The Putative Father Registry has information about any man who may be the biological father of a child. The Registry has the name, address, and Social Security number for two types of men:
A man who says he is the father of a child in a signed writing
A man who registers to state the possibility that he is the father of the child
A man who believes that he is or may be the biological father of a child can file that information with the Putative Father Registry. If a biological father is on the Registry, a court may use it to require him to pay child support.
How is the Registry used during the adoption process?
If you want to adopt a child, your attorney will search the registry to see if a biological father is registered for the child. After the search, your attorney will give a copy of the results to the court. If a father is registered for the child, he must be told about the adoption through written notice.
- Abandonment: deserting a child with the intent of ending the parental relationship
- Deprivation action: when a child is found by a juvenile court to be deprived the child is placed in the temporary custody of the Department of Family and Children Services, or a family member approved by the court, while the parents work out a plan to reunify the family
- Putative Father Registry: a registry that has information about any man who may be the biological father of a child
- If you cannot afford to pay the court costs to file an appeal you can ask the court to waive payment by filing a pauper's affidavit to request not to pay the court costs.
- View the Intercountry Adoption fact sheet to learn about the many possible paths and basic steps to building a family through adoption.
- Read our Kinship Care Guide for more information about relative caregivers adopting children, including definitions of benefits and adoption.
- Learn about TANF for grandparents who are raising grandchildren and specifically about Monthly Subsidy Payment (MSP) or the Crisis Intervention Services Payment (CRISP).
- View the Pregnant and Thinking of Adoption fact sheet to learn about adoption options for pregnant women.
For more information about the Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry, contact the Registry.
Georgia Adoption Reunion Registry
Families First/Office of Adoptions
2 Peachtree Street, N.W.
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-3142
In the Atlanta area: (404) 657-3555
Outside Atlanta: 1-888-328-0055
For more information about the Putative Father Registry, contact Vital Records.
Registry, Vital Records
2600 Skyland Drive
Atlanta, Georgia 30319-3640
For more information please contact the Atlanta Legal Aid Society or Georgia Legal Services Program office nearest you.
For Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett Counties, call Atlanta Legal Aid Society: 404-524-5811
For all other counties, call Georgia Legal Services Program: 1-800-498-9469 (toll free)