Relative adoption is the adoption of a child by their relative as defined by North Carolina law. Relatives are defined as a grandparent, full or half sibling, first cousin, aunt, uncle, great-aunt, great-uncle, or great-grandparent of the minor.

When Is Adoption the Best Fit for a Relative?

Relative adoptions are often a sensitive subject in families. For example, a grandparent may be hesitant to adopt a grandchild they are parenting because they consider themselves the grandparent, not the parent. However, thinking of adoption as a legal status rather than a familial status can sometimes help families to walk through these mental barriers to adoption. The reality is that adoption is not always right for every extended family situation, but there are benefits that should absolutely be considered. When a family member is caring for a child indefinitely they are often concerned about the legal rights of that child. They should ask themselves some specific questions such as:

  • Will I be parenting this child to adulthood?
  • Do I have legal paperwork that gives me the right to parent this child effectively? For example, can I enroll them in school, access their medical records, get them necessary medical care, and represent them as a minor in an official capacity?
  • Can I put this child on my health insurance? Do I wish to?
  • Can this child access benefits they may be eligible to as my adopted child that are otherwise unavailable to them? An example would be social security death benefits.
  • Do I want this child to have a right to inherit from me?
  • Can I complete family planning for this child in the event I am no longer capable of parenting them? Do I want to safeguard this plan as much as legally possible?

Thinking about adoption as a means to accomplish these goals can still mean that the child calls their relative Grandmother or Aunt and Uncle. It can also mean that they continue to have a strong relationship with their biological parents following the finalization of the adoption. Stephenson & Fleming staff have backgrounds in social work and can help any family, including the biological parents walk through these questions in a sensitive and trauma centered manner to determine if adoption is in the family’s best interest.

Financial Assistance for Relative Adoptions

Relatives adopting children who were previously in the custody of a County Department of Social Services may be eligible for financial assistance to help with the finalization of an adoption or even ongoing financial assistance to support the child once the adoption is final. Stephenson & Fleming staff have significant experience and expertise working with County Departments of Social Services in determining Adoption Assistance Eligibility and can help families navigate the determination of eligibility for this funding with the appropriate Department of Social Services.

The Legal Adoption Process

Relative adoptions, like most adoptions vary in complexity based on the details of the case and the circumstances of the adoption. How the biological parents’ parental rights are legally cleared is the main determination in the complexity of the legal process. Stephenson & Fleming staff will work with families to determine the most efficient and cost-effective course for completing the legal adoption process.

Once petitions for adoption are filed with the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the child and/or adopting adults live, a relative adoption can take two courses. While a preplacement assessment (NC’s adoption home study) is not required in a relative adoption, a Report to the Court on the Proposed Adoption is required. However, grandparents adopting their grandchildren may have the option to motion to waive this requirement. Stephenson & Fleming staff will determine if an adoption may be eligible for this waiver and file all necessary paperwork to request it. A Report to the Court on the Proposed Adoption involves a formal recommendation by an agency as to whether the adoption is in the child’s best interest and should be finalized. Should a Report to the Court on the Proposed Adoption be required, the local County DSS or a private child placing agency will contact the family to schedule two face to face visits. One of the visits must be in the home and one must involve the child being adopted. The agency may charge for this service and has 60 days to complete their report and recommendation from the date they are ordered to do so. Stephenson & Fleming will work with the family, the Clerk of Superior Court, and any agency involved in the adoption to make this process as seamless as possible.

Once a recommendation is made and all necessary paperwork has been submitted and reviewed by the Clerk of Court, a determination is made as to whether to finalize the adoption through a Final Decree of Adoption. On the date finalized, the child is now the legal child of the adults adopting the child and able to access all financial, social, and legal benefits available.

For more information on how Stephenson & Fleming can assist with an adoption please visit our website at childandfamilylawyers.com or contact Jamie Bazemore, our Adoption Facilitator at [email protected].

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