Adoption starts as a simple concept: bring child into a family. However, brining that simple concept to fruition is a complex legal path. This article will attempt to inform individuals wishing to travel that path of what they can expect if they choose to adopt.
To begin, note that adoption proceedings take place in the Superior Court of the county where the adoptee resides. The proceedings are very private matters, and courts conduct the adoption process "in camera," which means person not party to the adoption are disallowed from attending. Also, be aware the Georgia Department of Human Resources is the state agency that oversees adoptions. The Department exercises custody and care for those children in need of adoption and helps guide the court when determine proper placement for the child. In the processes of adoption, the Department and the Superior Court will work hand-and-hand to assure the adoption is in the best interest of the child.
The first step in the adoption processes is making sure the adopter is eligible to adopt the adoptee. While most people would see no reason for this type of assessment because common sense dictates the appropriate qualities of both adopter and adoptee, Georgia decided to remove all doubt from the issue by setting the legal parameters for adoption. For a person to adopt another in Georgia, the law requires the person be at least 25-years-old, at least 10-years-older than the adoptee, a residence of Georgia for six months, and financially, physically, and mentally able to have permanent custody of the adoptee. Further, in the event a married person seeks an adoption, then both spouses must petition for the adoption. The only exception to this rule is the "stepparent adoption rule," which allows a stepparent to adopt his or her spouse's child without severing the relationship between the spouse and child.
The second step involves the surrender or termination of parental rights between the biological parents and the child. The parent-child relationship is sacrosanct in Georgia. Before a third party is allowed to adjust that relationship by adopting the child, both biological parents must surrender their parental rights or have their parental rights terminated. The only exception to this rule is that is in cases where the "stepparent adoption rule" discussed above because the spouse of the stepparent does not have to surrender or terminate his or her rights for the stepparent to adopt the spouse's child.
However, in most cases, the biological parents must have either surrendered their parental rights or a court must have terminated their parental rights. The choice to surrender parental rights is solely within the power of the biological parent. The choice must be freely and voluntarily made. In the event both parents choose to surrender their rights to the child, then Georgia Department of Human Resources enters the picture, and will assume custody of the child pending an adoption.
The other means of severing the relationship between biological parent and child is by termination of parental rights. The termination processes, as it title implies, is not consensual, but occurs in those cases where the court determines the mother and/or father is unfit. A court will terminate the parental rights of a biological parent if the court finds there is misconduct on the part of the parent whose rights are being terminated and the court finds termination is in the best interest of the child. If both a court terminates both parents' rights, then the Department will assume custody of the child pending the adoption.
Once the parental rights of the biological parents are terminated or surrendered, a person may petition the Superior Court for adoption of the child. The petition phase involves three steps: filing a proper petition with the Superior Court, responding to objections to the adoption if any are filed, and an investigation of the petitioner by the Department of Human Resource. Because the petition requires adhering to a great many statutory requirements, the petitioner is encouraged to seek legal counsel in drafting and submitting an adoption petition. Once the petition is on file with the Superior Court, the biological parents and relatives are given an opportunity to object to the adoption. The court must here these objections when determining whether the adoption is in the best interest of the child. If the court finds the objections are without merit, then the process continues. Finally, the Department will conduct an investigation into the petitioner, reviewing his or her background, financial status, family status, and other relative information. The Department provides this investigation to the court to assist it in arriving at its determination.
If the Superior Court grants the adoption, it will issue a Decree of Adoption. The Decree has the effect of forever severing the parental connection between the biological parent or parents and the child. Further, the Decree creates a binding relationship between the adopter and adopter akin to the relationship to a biological parent and child. After the decree, the Court seals all the matters relating to the adoption, and the adopted child is thereafter considered and treated as if it were the biological child of the adopter.
The path between desiring and achieving an adoption is long and circuitous. Any person seeking adoption is encouraged to seek the advice of counsel. However, with the assistance of an skilled attorney, navigation of the adoption processes is not only possible, it is done every day, bringing children into families.