1. Who can adopt?
Adoption is an option for many people. Tennessee law allows most people to adopt assuming they meet some minimum requirements. The adoptive parent can be of any race or religious background and can be single of either sex, married or divorced. They must be at least eighteen years of age or older. There is no minimum income requirement except that the adoptive parent must be able to meet the financial needs of a child. There can even be other children in the home, depending on the type of adoption or agency you choose. The unifying factor in adopting is that the adoptive parent, except in related person cases, must be approved to adopt through a procedure called the home study.
2. What are my adoption options?
There are all different types of adoptions, including domestic, international and related person adoption. In terms of domestic adoption, there are agency adoptions or private adoptions. They can be in-state or out-of-state. The children that are available for adoption can be newborns through teenagers, of any race or medical background. Some of these adoptions are called special needs or trans-racial. In terms of international adoption, the children come from many countries, such as Korea, China, India and Ethiopia. They can also be of various ages and come from varying medical backgrounds. An updated list of available countries can be found at www.adoption.state.gov.
3. How long does the process take?
It depends on the route you choose. It could take a few weeks to a few years. One of the first steps in the process is getting the home study done. This is accomplished through a licensed child-placing agency or a licensed clinical social worker authorized to perform home studies.
4. What are the costs?
The cost of adoption can range from $0 to $50,000 (and upwards, although arguably anything higher would be unreasonable), depending on the circumstances. There are certain classifications of expenses an adoptive parent can encounter in the adoption process. These can include home study fees, placement fees, legal fees, counseling expenses, medical costs, birth mother living expenses, or expenses incurred in a foreign country, including travel. Not all these types of expenses are incurred in every adoption. To help offset the cost of adoption, there is some financial assistance available to adoptive parents. This could include federal or state adoption assistance in special needs adoptions, the federal tax credit, employer adoption assistance or adoption loans.
5. What is the legal process?
No matter what kind of adoption, there are two legal steps in any adoption. The first is terminating parental rights in the birth parents; the second step is establishing parental rights in the adoptive parents. The second step is accomplished by filing an adoption petition where the adoptive parents live. In Tennessee, non-relative domestic adoptions can be finalized six (6) months after the placement of the child in the home. International adoptions are treated differently depending on the child’s immigration status and whether the adoption was finalized in the foreign country.
6. What information will I have on the child and birth parents?
In domestic adoptions, Tennessee law requires certain medical, social and educational material be provided on the birth families for up to three generations. Adoptive parents either receive the background history in full or in summary form. The information includes medical information from the ob/gyn, the pediatrician and the hospital. In international adoptions, adoptive parents receive as much information as is available on the child. This may or may not include information on the biological family or birth and hospital records, depending on whether the child was abandoned or if the parents were available for questioning.
7. What are open adoptions?
Open adoption is a term used to describe the kinds of information exchanged in an adoption. Its meaning is on a continuum and does not have one definition. Closed adoption is an adoption where no information is exchanged between the parties. Openness in an adoption can be classified as either pre-birth openness or post-birth openness. Pre-birth openness can include the exchange of first names, meeting once, visiting regularly, exchanging full identifying information on the birth and adoptive family or even being in the delivery room. Post-birth openness can include the exchange of pictures or letters, direct contact or visits. What it does not mean, however, is co-parenting. Some sort of openness is the standard in modern adoption, but what it entails is tailored to the individuals involved.
By Lisa L. Collins, Esq.