Congratulations, you are ready to start the process of adopting a child placed in your home through NC’s child welfare system. Below is information about what to expect during that process and how Stephenson & Fleming may be best suited to assist your family during the legal portion of your adoption journey.
The Child Must Be Legally Free
In order to adopt a child in the custody of a County DSS, the child must be legally free for adoption. This means that the parental rights of the birth parents have been terminated through a Termination of Parental Rights proceeding and court order or the birth parents or guardians have signed Relinquishments of Parental Rights documents relinquishing their right to parent the child going forward. These proceedings can be lengthy and emotional experiences for all parties involved, especially birth families, foster families, and the children. Moving forward with an adoption under these circumstances is both a celebration and an acknowledgement of a loss, and should be managed in the most sensitive and efficient manner as possible by both an agency and a legal team.
Once a child is legally free for adoption, the County DSS will formalize the adoptive placement of a child, typically through what is called an “Adoption Committee.” This means that even if the child has been in the home for the purposes of foster care, their placement date for the purposes of adoption will be when the Adoption Committee is held.
Your County’s Clerk of Court
Next, Petitions for Adoption will be filed with the County Clerk of Court’s office in either the county where the adoptive family lives, the county where the child lives, or the county where the Department of Social Services with custody of the child is. The decision of where to file is often one of convenience, efficiency, and preference. It should be discussed with the agency, legal team, and families involved. Filing a Petition for Adoption involves a filing fee of $120 to the Clerk of Court’s Office.
Attached to the petition are a significant number of legal documents that are highly case specific. All of the documents must be consistent and completed in a detailed and organized manner that meets the requirements of NC’s General Statutes. Stephenson & Fleming is equipped to work directly with the agencies and families involved in the adoption to efficiently and consistently compile all of the relevant legal paperwork in order to meet all legal requirements.
Once a Petition for Adoption is filed in an agency adoption, the Clerk of Court will issue an Order for a Report on the Proposed Adoption to either a County DSS or a private child placing agency. Typically, this is the same agency who has custody of the child and/or completed the adoptive family’s Preplacement Assessment. The Report to the Court on the Proposed Adoption is a recommendation by the agency as to whether or not the adoption is in the best interest of the child and should be finalized. Completion requires two face to face visits with the adoptive parents including one with the child and one occurring in the home. The agency has 60 days to complete the Report to the Court on the Proposed adoption and submit it to the Clerk of Court’s office. Any extensions must be requested and negotiated through the Clerk of Court. Stephenson & Fleming staff have relationships with many of the agencies completing the Report to the Court on the Proposed Adoption and will work in partnership with the family and agency to discuss any concerns or extensions.
Following the completion of this report, a thorough review of all documents for completion and accuracy, the Clerk of Court can make a determination as to the finalization of the adoption. If the Clerk agrees the adoption is in the best interest of the child, a Decree of Adoption is issued. The date the Decree of Adoption is issued is the date when the child exits foster care and is considered the full and legal child of the adoptive parents.
Hearing or Celebration
A formal hearing is not typically required for adoptions from the foster care system and the Decree of Adoption can be issued and mailed to the adoptive family. However, many families desire a more formal recognition of the moment. To that end, many Clerk of Courts’ offices will arrange for “signing ceremonies” where the Decree of Adoption is signed and file stamped in the presence of the family with a celebration and opportunities for pictures. Adoption through the child welfare system is often a long process with ups and downs, and should be celebrated and enjoyed by all involved! Stephenson & Fleming can assist with the organization of a signing ceremony.
Funding Available in Some Circumstances
Many children who are legally free for adoption and in the custody of a County Department of Social Services are eligible for adoption assistance and/or nonrecurring costs associated with their adoption. Our fee structure takes into account the financial resources available through nonrecurring costs. We strive not to incur significant additional expenses for foster and adoptive families.
We Provide an Individualized Experience
Stephenson & Fleming’s attorneys and staff have years of experience working in NC’s child welfare system. We recognize the time, effort, emotion, and special needs that are associated with adoptions of children in foster care. We are able to use our unique understanding to provide your family with an efficient and affordable adoption experience that acknowledges and is respectful of your and your child’s experiences within the child welfare system.