What to Expect When You’re Expecting (to Adopt a Child) in Arizona
Are you considering adoption? Adoption can be a very complicated and daunting process when you first start doing the research. To help, we compiled a list of the various types of adoption, who is qualified to adopt a child and other practical and legal considerations. A guide for what to expect when you’re expecting (to adopt a child) in Arizona.
Parents adopt a child for a wide variety of reasons. Are you struggling with infertility? IVF can be a physically, emotionally, and financially stressful endeavor with no guaranteed pregnancy and delivery. Or perhaps you have a health condition that makes carrying a child dangerous for you? Maybe you have no desire to go through pregnancy and delivery or have done it before and would rather not again? Are you a single adult who is ready to start a family? Or perhaps you are a same-sex couple who wants to raise a child together? Maybe you have a genetic disorder or disease you do not want to pass on to your offspring but still would love to raise a child? You may even know someone personally who is pregnant and not in a position to give that child the type of home environment they need. Many people feel an ethical, moral, and/or religious calling to adopt a child and give them a better life. Others may wish to incorporate multiple races, ethnicities, and cultures into their household. Whatever your reason or reasons, adopting a child helps change the world for the better!
There are hundreds of thousands of children in the United States living without a permanent home. Each year approximately 140,000 children are adopted by American families. Adoption provides wonderful parents the opportunity to raise children who frequently would not otherwise. It also provides a loving stable home to children who need them. Whatever your reason or reasons for considering adoption, there is the right type of adoption out there for you.
Children who can be adopted
Generally, children anywhere from birth to age 18 are eligible for adoption when their biological parents have either voluntarily consented to relinquish their parental rights or a Court has found that they are unfit and terminated their parental rights. There are several ways children end up available for adoption.
First, there are children who are in foster care through no fault of their own. These children range from newborns to teenagers. Many people want to adopt a baby, but there are children of all ages in foster care who need a loving home. They end up in foster care because their biological parents are not able to safely care for them. There is a preference in Arizona for reunification with biological parents once it is safe to do so. However, when a Court continually finds the home environment with biological parents is unsafe, these children become available for adoption.
Another way you can find kids for adoption is if you personally know someone who wishes to give up their child or unborn child for adoption. You can adopt the child of a friend or family member. Additionally, if a friend or family member has children that end up in foster care because they are deemed unfit parents, you can apply to adopt that child as well. Especially in the case of a familial relationship, there is a preference for keeping children within their extended family before adopting them outside of their extended family.
The main way parents adopt a newborn baby is through an agency. An adoption agency gets involved when someone is pregnant and they notify an agency that they wish to give up their unborn child as soon as they give birth. These individuals either have no desire to raise a child but do not wish to have an abortion, or recognize they will be unable to provide a child the home they deserve and need. These agencies have a waiting list of approved adoptive parents that they will pair with a baby before the child is born. Often the parent(s) will meet the child within a few days of their birth.
Types of Adoption in Arizona
There are several types of adoption available to prospective parents in Arizona. If you wish to adopt a child in Arizona, you need to start thinking about what is the right type of adoption for you. We created this list with descriptions of each type so you can educate yourself and weigh the pros and cons of each to decide which type of adoption in Arizona is right for you. Private, public, open, semi-open, closed, identified, or unknown children adoption, fostering a child and fostering a child to adopt. Arizona adoption laws vary depending on the type of adoption you wish to pursue.
Private vs Public Adoption
Private adoption is when a birth parent places a child for adoption with a family of their choice through an adoption agency or is paired through an adoption agency. Prospective parents may prefer this adoption avenue because it is typically a 6 to 12-month process to be matched with a birth mother through an adoption agency in Arizona, which tends to be faster than public adoption. Private adoption, however, tends to be significantly more expensive because adoptive parents often pay for legal services, the expenses the birth mother incurs during her pregnancy, and the birth, among other fees and services. While the birth mother could change her mind up to a certain point, private adoption tends to come with more certainty, as a parent is voluntarily relinquishing their parental rights.
Public adoption is when the Department of Social Services takes custody of a child and the birth parent has no choice regarding where the child is placed in the foster care system or who the child is ultimately adopted to. Depending on whether you foster or foster to adopt, you may be placed with a child immediately. However, the time it takes to formally adopt a child can be significantly longer than with private adoption. Because of the preference for family reunification, the risk of uncertainty with public adoption is much higher because biological parents are provided multiple opportunities to correct the issues that caused their child to be forcibly removed from them originally. Public adoption allows for biological parents to complete Arizona state requirements to regain custody so adoptive parents may find themselves in a situation where the biological parent(s) is/are attempting to regain their rights after a Court has terminated them. Other than a potential legal battle, there are no costs upfront associated with the pregnancy and delivery of a child-like with a private adoption so it tends to be less expensive long term.
Closed, Semi-Open, and Open Adoptions
Closed adoption is when very little to no identifying information is exchanged between the birth family and adoptive family. Historically closed adoptions used to be the preference as it protected the new family unit, however, the trend has been to move to at least a semi-open adoption in Arizona. In fact, when adopting a child in Arizona, currently 90% are open to some extent. The desire to move away from completely closed adoption is that adoptive parents are left with a very little family medical history and no identifying information should the child wish to contact their biological family later in life.
A semi-open adoption is a step between a fully closed adoption and open adoption. In Arizona, semi-open adoption allows a birth mother to receive updates about her child without having a relationship with the child. It allows both the adoptive parents and birth parents to have separate lives and a level of privacy. What degree of openness is permitted in this semi-open adoption is mediated through the adoption agency. Adoptive parents and the birth parents may exchange letters and photos but everything is done through the adoption agency to keep the semi-open adoption agreement intact.
With open adoption, it is a three-party relationship: the adoptive parents, the biological parents, and the child. It is important to note that while the biological parents have a direct relationship with the child, it is not co-parenting as the adoptive parents retain full parental rights. The benefits of open adoption include a full exchange of information about the child’s biological family, medical history, and a direct relationship with both adoptive and biological family members resulting in what many have described as “twice the love.”
As a prospective adoptive parent, you need to ask yourself how much direct communication you are okay with as your child grows up before deciding which type of adoption is right for you. Letters, emails, phone calls, text messages, even in-person visits on special occasions, and holidays may be included in an open adoption agreement. Post-adoption contact agreements (PCAS) between birth and adoptive parents are something that Arizona recognizes to preserve the open adoption agreement and establish clear boundaries for all parties.
Identified or Unknown Child Adoptions
In most adoptions, the biological parents are known so the child is known as an identified child. Identified child adoptions also occur when biological and adoptive parents find each other on their own rather than being paired through an agency. This often happens with friends and extended family members. Even if the parties find each other, having an adoption agency and lawyers handle the logistics safeguards, everyone.
What about biological parents who are completely unknown? Or what about a situation where one biological parent wishes to relinquish their parental rights but the other biological parent cannot be located or is unknown? The unknown child adoption is an uncommon type of adoption but it does happen on occasion. It typically arises when a birth father is not known and/or cannot be located.
If one biological parent has given you consent to adopt their child, you can go to Court and file a lawsuit to involuntarily terminate the missing parent’s rights so you can adopt. The Court then appoints an attorney ad litem (an attorney who is appointed to act in the best interest of the missing parent) to try to locate them to notify them of the lawsuit. If they are unable to locate that parent within a certain time, then their rights will be terminated and the adoption can proceed. If that parent is located they either will consent or they can contest to retain parental rights over the child.
Fostering Children and Fostering to Adopt
Another way to open your home to a child or multiple children is through foster care. Some foster care parents will then foster to adopt. Becoming a foster parent is similar although much shorter process than adoption. To become a foster parent you must be 18 years of age or older, rent or own your home or apartment, pass an FBI and local background criminal records check and be lawfully present in the United States. DCS will then place a child with you for temporary housing. The main goal of the foster care system is to protect the welfare of a child while giving biological parents the opportunity to improve themselves and/or the home environment so the child can be safely reunited with them.
Foster parents may take in a child with the hope of eventually adopting that child. This can prove frustrating because the family will bond with that child over a period of time, sometimes a year or a few years, to then have to return the child once their biological parent(s) have complied with the State’s reunification plan. Biological parents who are unable or unwilling to comply with the reunification plan will not regain custody of their children and these children will become available for adoption. Aspiring parents who wish to help children temporarily should apply to foster knowing that in certain circumstances they may be able to adopt a child but go into it with the knowledge that there may be heartache and disappointment along the way if adoption is their only goal.
Requirements for Adopting a Child in Arizona
What are the requirements for adopting a child in Arizona? According to the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS), anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to adopt a child as long as they meet DCS’s multiple qualifications. These requirements for adopting a child are explored during the home study and background screening parts of the adoption process. Here is some general information about the requirements:
- Health requirements: While someone does not need to be an all-star athlete, they do need to submit a general physician’s report of their health. What DCS is concerned with is whether you can meet the physical demands of raising a child safely and long term for the child’s stability.
- Financial requirements: While someone does not need to be wealthy to adopt, DCS does want to make sure that you can financially afford and support a child. You will be required to submit a financial statement indicating you are financially stable.
- Emotional requirements: Emotional stability is one of the most important considerations in Arizona. Your adoption professional assigned to your adoption case will be assessing you throughout numerous interactions as to your readiness, excitement, and knowledge of the adoption process.
- Home visits: You do not need to own a home to adopt a child, but be prepared to open your home or apartment you are renting for several inspections to make sure it is secure and safe for a child to live.
- Background screening: This includes a criminal records check to make sure the child will be placed in a safe, nonviolent living situation.
- Be lawfully present in the United States. If you wish to adopt a child internationally there are completely different federal requirements that must be met.
Additionally, you do not need to be married in order to adopt a child. Single parent adoption (single, divorced, widowed) can be more difficult especially financially depending on your circumstances, but it can be done. The cost of adoption and proving financial stability to afford a child tend to be the biggest obstacles for prospective adoptive parents to overcome. How much does an adoption cost? According to several adoption agencies, private adoption can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000 depending on the type of adoption you choose, while most public adoptions through foster care are free.
In the United States currently, there are somewhere between 1-2 million couples waiting to adopt a child. Whether you are just getting started in the adoption process or are stuck somewhere in the middle, hiring an experienced family law attorney can help you navigate the complexities of adopting a child in Arizona.
Our team of dedicated trial attorneys at Antol & Sherman, PC, have more than 60 years of combined legal experience and a strong track record of providing successful legal counsel. We have been practicing criminal, family and divorce, drug and DUI, and accident law in Flagstaff, Arizona and surrounding northern Arizona cities including Camp Verde, Sedona, Williams, Holbrook, Winslow, Cottonwood, Mayer, Seligman, Kingman, Page, St. Johns and more for over 30 years. Antol & Sherman, PC, and their staff of lawyers would love to sit down and discuss your legal needs. Please call us at 928-241-6339, stop in today at Antol & Sherman, PC, 150 N Verde St Suite 102, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit us at flagazlaw.com.