Adoption FAQ

Who is involved in the adoption process?

Adoption is a life-changing experience for everyone involved. In every adoption, there are three different parties involved: 1) the birth parent(s) of the child, 2) the adoptive parents of the child, and 3) the child who will be adopted, or the "adoptee."

What are the different types of adoption?

There are two different types of adoptions: agency adoption and independent adoption.

Agency adoption: An agency adoption can involve either a private agency or a public agency. A private agency adoption is where a birth parent surrenders his or her parental rights to a licensed private child placement agency that adopts the child to a new family. Private agencies are licensed by the state of Maryland.

A public agency adoption is typically where a child is removed from the home of the birth parents due to neglect or abuse, or the birth parents surrender the child because they are unable, or unwilling, to care for the child. The agency then acts as the child's guardian, and reserves the right to consent to the adoption of the child.

Independent adoption: An independent adoption, also known as a private adoption, is an adoption where the birth parents place the adoptee directly with the adoptive parents without the involvement of any public or private agency. In an independent adoption, the parties may be strangers before the adoption process, or may know each other, such as family or friends. One common type of independent adoption in the United States is a stepparent, or second-parent adoption.

What is a Stepparent adoption?

A stepparent adoption is when a stepparent adopts the child of his or her spouse. A stepparent adoption most often occurs when two people have divorced, the custodial parent of the child has remarried, and the custodial parent's spouse wishes to adopt his or her stepchild.

Stepparent adoptions can be contested or uncontested. If the noncustodial parent agrees to the termination of his or her parental rights, and consents to the adoption by the custodial parent's spouse, the adoption can proceed fairly quickly. However, if the noncustodial parent refuses to consent, the adoption can still be granted by the court, but it is a more difficult and complex process. In the case of a refusal to consent, success of the adoption proceeding depends upon the specific facts and circumstances of each individual case.

What is a second-parent adoption?

A second-parent adoption, also known as a "co-parent adoption," is a legal proceeding that allows two unmarried people to be legally recognized as the parents of a child. Often, second-parent adoptions are initiated by same-sex couples who wish to share the legal rights of parenthood, but unmarried heterosexual couples may also initiate a second-parent adoption.

Second-parent adoptions can be helpful when two parents are both raising a child, but only one parent is legally entitled to do so. The parent who is not legally entitled to raise the child cannot make basic medical decisions without an authorization form, may not be able to offer the child health insurance through his or her employer, and cannot even pick the child up from day care without a signed authorization form. In the event that the custodial parent became incapacitated or died, the parent who is not legally entitled to raise the child would have no legal right to make decisions on behalf of the child. In the event that the relationship between the parents ended, the parent who is not legally entitled to make decisions about the child risks losing all contact and interaction with the child.

While some of these issues can be resolved with a volume of legal documents, a second-parent adoption gives both parties equal legal rights in regard to the child. Perhaps more importantly, it gives the child a sense of stability, knowing that he or she has two parents no matter what happens in life.

Who can be adopted in Maryland?

Any child or adult is eligible to be adopted in the state of Maryland. If a child is over the age of 10, the child must consent to the adoption. In the adoption of both children and adults, a court must find that it is in the adoptee's best interest to be adopted.

Does every adoption involve the termination of parental rights?

Yes. In order to adopt a child, both the legally recognized parents must consent to the adoption and the termination of their parental rights, or their parental rights must be terminated involuntarily. Terminating parental rights involuntarily is challenging, and a successful outcome is based on the unique facts and circumstances of each case.

Is there a difference between adoption and legal guardianship?

Yes. Adoption is permanent, severing the legal connection between the biological parent and the child. After an adoption, a biological parent has no duty to raise or support his or her child in any way, and the child does not have a right to inherit benefits or collect Social Security from the biological parent.

A guardianship, on the other hand, is established for people who are too young, or unable, to care for themselves. With children, typically a guardianship awards custody and decision-making power to a legal guardian (someone other than the biological parent), but does not sever the legal relationship between the biological parent and the child. In fact, at any time, under the circumstances, the Court can terminate a guardianship and place the child back into the care and custody of the biological parent(s). In a guardianship, the biological parents may still have limited access to the child, and the child can still inherit and receive benefits from their parents. Further, the biological parents are not relieved of their obligation to financial support their child.

What are the rights and obligations of the biological parents after the adoption is complete?

After completion of an adoption, the parents whose rights have been terminated are relieved of all parental obligations in relation to the child, including the duty to raise and financially support the child. The parents whose rights have been terminated will be relieved of any future child support payments; although it is important to note that any child support obligations that were incurred prior to the adoption will remain in effect.

Following the adoption, a new birth certificate will also be issued, listing the adoptive parent's name. In Maryland, the Division of Vital Records will issue the certificate upon a showing that the court has granted an adoption. If the child was born outside the state of Maryland, your attorney will work with the birth state to have a new birth certificate issued.

What expenses and fees, if any, may be paid by the adoptive parents?

In agency adoptions, the agency may charge for the cost of services incurred in connection with the adoption; however, the agency is prohibited from receiving compensation for the actual placement of the child.

In independent adoptions, the adoptive parents are permitted to pay for medical and legal expenses incurred by the birth parents. However, other charges such as living expenses, maternity clothes, or lost wages during pregnancy are not permitted. There are strict rules relating to the expenses that can be paid, and it is important for all prospective adoptive parents to be aware of these allowable expenses. Before the adoption can be completed, an accounting of all expenses paid by the adoptive parents must be submitted to the court for review.

What is the federal adoption tax credit?

The federal adoption tax credit provides a tax credit for expenses incurred in the adoption of any eligible child who is not the child of the taxpayer's spouse. The expenses that the credit covers are reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, traveling expenses, and other expenses directly related to the adoption of an eligible child. This credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in your overall tax liability, and can be carried over for up to five (5) years. Further, it is available for each child adopted.

Are there organizations that offer financial assistance for adoptions?

Yes. There are a number of organizations that offer grants and loans to help make adoption more affordable. Your attorney can be of assistance in providing this information to you.

For more information on adoptions, please contact our office at 301-220-2288 for a consultation.