Independent adoption is the adoption of a child placed directly for the purposes of adoption with the adoptive family by their parent or guardian. The adoptive parents are not relatives to the child as defined by NC law. An agency may be involved but does not have custody of the child.

In an independent adoption, it is extremely helpful to have both legal and agency support. If a birth parent is placing their child for adoption in the home of non-relatives or distant relatives there are a myriad of legal requirements, decisions, and emotions to consider. All adoptions have both an element of celebration and one of loss, and should be managed in the most sensitive and efficient manner as possible by all professionals involved.

Assessment of the Adoptive Family

A preplacement assessment (NC’s adoptive home study) is required in an independent adoption. This means that the adoptive family will be assessed for their appropriateness to adopt the child. A preplacement assessment can be completed before or after placement of the child. However, it is less complicated if it is completed prior to placement.

The preplacement assessment involves a complex and thorough family history, individual history of the parents and children in the home, an assessment of the family’s parenting abilities, criminal backgrounds checks, a home visit, and a myriad of other topics that are used to “paint a picture” of the adoptive family and assess their willingness and ability to adopt. While a preplacement assessment can feel invasive, it is important to fully assess all adoptive parents before the court system approves an adoption. In addition, in an independent adoption, consenting birth parents are provided a copy of the preplacement assessment so that they can make the best possible placement choice for their child.  There is a fee associated with the completion of a preplacement assessment.

Stephenson & Fleming, LLP staff have relationships with County Departments of Social Services and licensed child placing agencies. We can help families connect with an agency that is most appropriate for completion of a preplacement assessment based on the specific circumstances surrounding the adoption.

Consent to Adoption by the Birth Parents

In an independent adoption, it is likely that at least one of, if not both birth parents are signing Consents to Adoption. Once signed, a Consent to Adoption gives the adoptive parents custody of the child until the time when the adoption is finalized. This is important to acknowledge, as in an independent adoption there is no agency that assumes custody of the child. Consents to Adoption are revocable for 7 days following their completion.

The process of signing a Consent to Adoption involves a myriad of emotions for the birth and adoptive parents. Feelings of joy, loss, trauma, shock, happiness, sadness, and even anger can be involved. There is no limit to how families manage the emotions around adoption. Stephenson & Fleming attorneys and staff are not only skilled in the completion of the legal adoption process, but are also social workers familiar with the needs of both birth and adoptive parents. We can help all involved manage the legal process in a trauma centered manner that honors all emotions involved. We can also work to connect families with additional therapeutic resources as needed.

The Legal Process

Petitions for Adoption will be filed with the County Clerk of Court’s office in the county where the adoptive family lives. 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 independent 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 that 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. We will work in partnership with the family and agency to discuss any concerns or extensions.

Following the completion of this report and 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 court 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 is considered the full and legal child of the adoptive parents.

For more information about independent adoptions and how Stephenson & Fleming can support your family, contact Jamie Bazemore, Adoption Coordinator at [email protected]

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