When Children Are Adopted

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Kinship Care Project

Atlanta Legal Aid Society

When Children Are Adopted

This document tells you the following:

  • What is the adoption process?
  • When do parents surrender the rights to their children?
  • What rights do natural parents have?
  • Who can adopt a child?
  • Where do people who want to adopt a child go?
  • Who Can Be Adopted?
  • What happens to the adoption records?

The Adoption Process

An adoption is a legal process in which one or both parents (the adoptive parents) are legally substituted for the biological parents. When a child is adopted, the rights and duties of the biological parents end. There are no visitation rights for biological parents unless the adoptive parents allow visitation by the biological parents. A situation in which the biological parents may visit the child is known as an open adoption. An adopted child will not inherit from the biological mother and father unless he or she is named in a will. Children can be placed for adoption by either the state Department of Human Resources or a licensed child-placing agency. Biological parents consent to adoptions by completing a form titled "Surrender of Parental Rights: Final Release for Adoption."

After the parents sign the surrender forms, they have 4 days to withdraw their decision to surrender their rights. This grace period gives parents time to think through such a serious decision more thoroughly.

Parents also surrender their rights to children if they abandon them. Abandonment means deserting a child-that is, physically moving apart from the child-with the intent of ending the parental relationship. In adoption proceedings, the father sometimes cannot be located. Such abandonment may result in the forfeiture of his natural 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.

After a petition for adoption is filed, the Department of Human Resources investigates this case to attempt to verify the information in the petition. The legal procedure for an adoption takes at least three months.

Rights of Natural Parents

In general, courts favor natural parents in deciding cases involving adoption laws.

A father has the opportunity to establish legal parental rights whether or not he is married to the mother. A biological father must be given the opportunity to care for and know his child. Georgia adoption laws specify how the father of a child born out of wedlock is to preserve his right to object to the adoption of the child and seek custody. In adoption cases, fathers must be given personal written notice of the adoption proceedings, if possible. Otherwise, an attempt must be made to notify him through a notice in a newspaper.

The natural father 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 to develop a relationship with the child. Fathers have the opportunity to explain their reasons for not doing either before an adoption can be allowed over his objections.

Who Can Adopt?

The ability to adopt is different based upon whether the person seeking an adoption is a relative or whether they are not a relative

An adult who meets the following criteria may adopt:

  1. 25 years old or is married and living with the spouse
  2. The adult is the relative of the child AND is 21 years old
  3. The adult is at least 10 years older than the child OR the child is being adopted by a stepparent or other relative.
  4. The adult was a resident of Georgia when the petition was filed

If the person seeking the adoption is married, then their spouse must file as well. However, this rule does not apply to adoptions requested by stepparents.

Adoptions may be completed through adoption agencies, attorneys, or they may be completed through the Department of Family and Children Services for those seeking to adopt a child in foster care.

Who Can Be Adopted?

Who must consent to the adoption?

Many stepparents adopt stepchildren. If the natural parent or parents of the child are living and have not abandoned the child, their consent must be obtained. Children older than 14 years must also give their consent. A person can be adopted at any age. At 21, a person can be adopted with his or her own consent alone. If parents have had their parental rights terminated by the court or they are dead, their children may be adopted. In this case, whoever had custody of the child would have to give consent.

Adoption Records

According to law, the records of an adoption proceeding must be sealed, or closed. Some adopted children want to look into these records to find out who their biological parents are. Sometimes biological parents wonder what happens to their children. Courts have only reluctantly allowed records to be seen. Georgia law provides a procedure for obtaining these records. A parent or child may list his or her name with the state registry. This listing makes it easier for either party to find the other if they choose to.

Recently, more adoptions have become open, meaning that the biological and the adoptive parents know who each other are. Depending on the degree of openness of the adoption, the biological parents may communicate with or even visit with the child. Or the adoptive parents may send pictures of the child to the biological parents. Even in an open adoption, though, the biological parents have no legal rights to visitation. Neither may they ask the court to enforce visitation.

Last reviewed and updated: October 24, 2018

Last Review and Update: Apr 12, 2005