ADOPTION - HOW CAN I GO ABOUT IT?
What Is Adoption?
Adoption is the legal procedure by which a child becomes, through the operation of the court, a member of a family other than that of his or her natural parents.
The decision to adopt is a serious step for everybody concerned. It determines the entire future of the child since it severs the child's ties with his or her natural parents and relatives permanently and transplants him or her into a new family where he or she will remain until he or she is full grown. In that new family, he or she will receive the care and treatment which will determine the kind of adult he or she will become.
To the natural parents, adoption usually means relinquishing the child forever - without the privilege of seeing him or her again, or even knowing his or her whereabouts. To the adoptive parents, it means undertaking the care of a child who will become a permanent member of their family and to whom they will have the same obligations as to a child born to them.
Adoption laws and procedures in Rhode Island reflect the balancing of the interests of the state and the community in protecting the child, the natural parents, and the adoptive parents in adoption proceedings.
Who May Petition To Adopt A Child?
Any Rhode Island resident may petition the Family Court to adopt as his or her child any minor (a person under 18 years of age), younger than himself or herself. Any non-resident may petition the Family Court to adopt a minor younger than himself or herself if the minor, at the time of the filing of the petition, is in the care and custody of a governmental or licensed Rhode Island child placement agency. If an adoptive parent is married, his or her spouse ordinarily must join in the petition.
An adult may also be adopted. Petitions for adoption of adults are heard by the Probate Court in the city or town in which the petitioner lives.
How May A Child Be Obtained For Adoption?
The Rhode Island adoption law provides that a child may be placed for adoption only by its natural parents, a child placement agency duly licensed for child placement in the State of Rhode Island, or through the Rhode Island Department for Children and their Families. When natural parents privately place their child for adoption, the adoptive parents must notify the Department for Children and their Families within 15 days of the placement. Any one who brings an unrelated child into the state for purposes of adoption must also report to the Rhode Island Department for Children and their Families within 15 days.
As far as practicable, a child will be placed with adoptive parents who have such religious faith as the natural parents may specify.
In some instances, state funds are available through the Department for children and their Families for special reimbursement to parents who adopt handicapped or hard-to-place children.
Who Must Give Consent To An Adoption?
The natural parents of the child must consent in writing to the adoption. A minor parent may not consent without the consent of his or her own parent or guardian. If neither natural parent is living, the guardian of the child, or, if there is no guardian, the next of kin may consent. If the child has no living relatives, the court may appoint a responsible person to act in the proceedings as the child's representative for the purpose of giving or withholding consent. If the child is 14 years of age or older, however, the court will require his or her consent to the adoption.
If the natural parent or parents of a minor request, the child placement agency may petition the court for termination of the rights of the parents to consent to an adoption, and, if granted, the agency will become the child's guardian.
What Is The Procedure For Adoption?
Before the court will grant any petition for adoption, the rights of the natural parents must be terminated. After notice to the parents has been properly given, the court will hold a hearing. If the court finds that the rights of the natural parents should be terminated, the court will appoint a suitable person to give or withhold consent in the subsequent adoption proceedings. If the petition was filed by a licensed child placement agency, the court will appoint the agency to be the sole party to give or withhold consent to the adoption of the child and will give the agency all rights of guardianship over the child.
Prior to the hearing on the petition, the child generally must have lived for a period of six months in the proposed home. When a person files a petition for adoption, the court notifies the Department for Children and their Families. The Department for children and their families will then have the duty to verify the allegations of the petition and to determine whether the proposed adoptive home is a suitable place for the child. The Department has sixty days to submit a full report in writing to the court with recommendations as to the granting of the petition. If the petition for adoption concerns a child who has been placed by a licensed child placement agency, the court may accept the case summary of the agency instead of requiring an investigation by the Department for Children and their Families. No investigation and report is required in the case of a petition for the adoption of a child where the child is the natural child of one of the parents petitioning for the adoption and the child resides with the petitioning parties.
The given name and/or surname of the minor child may be changed if the petition for adoption so requests and the court decrees the change of name. But, the law does not require that the child's name be changed to that of the adoptive parents.
In filing an adoption petition, the adoptive parent or parents should retain the services of an attorney to advise them and take care of all of the legal aspects of the adoption.
What About The Court Hearings?
The hearing is held at the time and place set by the office of the court clerk.
If after the hearing the judge's review of the required report and recommendation of the Department for Children and their Families, the judge is satisfied that the necessary consents or recommendations have been filed, and that the adoption is in the best interests of the child, he or she will render a decree granting the adoption. The decree, if the petition so requested, may change the name of the child to that requested by the adoptive parent or parents.
Only the persons concerned with the proposed adoption are permitted to attend the hearings, and the records pertaining to the adoption are sealed.
What Is The Legal Effect Of Adoption?
After the decree of adoption is entered, the relation of parent and child and all the rights, duties and other legal consequences of the natural relation of the child and parent thereafter exists between the child and the adoptive parents. The relationship of parent and child between the child and his or her natural parents is completely altered, and all the rights, duties and other legal consequences of the relationship cease to exist, unless the natural parent is the spouse of the adoptive parent. A child properly adopted will inherit from his adoptive parents to the same extent as if he had been born to them. The granting of the petition for adoption, however, does not deprive a child of the right to inherit from and through his natural parents also in the same manner as all the natural children.
After the decree of adoption has been entered in the court, the clerk of the court will mail a copy of the order of adoption to the division of vital statistics, and a new birth certificate of the minor adopted may be obtained listing the names of the adoptive parents as the natural parents of the child.
This piece is produced as a public service by the Rhode Island Bar
Association and intended to provide background information. This is not a
substitute for legal advice and representation by a licensed attorney of the
Rhode Island Bar.