Adoption is the legal process whereby the legal rights and duties of a child toward the child’s natural parents are terminated while rights and duties toward the adoptive parents are created. This procedure is of statutory origin as opposed to common law. In New Jersey, the relevant statute is cited as: N.J.S.A. 9:13-37 et seq. The application of this law has been further carved out by caselaw over the years. Once an adoption is finalized, the adoptive parent(s) now enjoy the same relationship with the child that they would if the child had been born to them. This means that the child may inherit from the adoptive parents.
There are several forms of adoptions. These include:
A private adoption is where a child is placed for adoption by the parent or an intermediary such as an attorney rather than an adoption agency. The connection can be made between family members or friends. Prospective parents may advertise that they are interested in adoption; however, private intermediaries may never be paid for their services if the adoption is completed in New Jersey. Oftentimes there is direct contact between birth and prospective parents. Once a child is living in the home, the adoptive parents must file a complaint for adoption within 45 days. The parties will go through a preliminary hearing and an appointed agency will complete an investigation. Upon completion of the investigation, a final hearing will be held at which the parents will formally adopt the child.
The more common type, an Agency Adoption, is where a child is placed for adoption by an agency. Birth parents may relinquish their rights 72 hours after a child is born to an agency. The only possible way this relinquishment can be set aside is in cases of fraud or duress by the agency. It is essential to be certain that prospective parents are using a licensed agency. This means the agency must be approved by the Department of Human Services and the agency is licensed to prepare home evaluations, place children for adoption and evaluate the home after an adoption is finalized.
Another familiar form of adoption is the Step-Parent Adoption which enables a step-parent to adopt a child without affecting the legal rights and duties of the step-parent’s spouse. The biological parent must relinquish parental rights in order for the step-parent to be able to adopt the child.
Another form of adoption is the International Re-Adoption. It is often recommended to use the services of an adoption agency in order to navigate the laws of the foreign country with respect to adoption. Under this form of adoption, a child’s adoption under the laws of a foreign country is recognized. Whether or not this is a requirement depends upon the visa with which the child enters the country. If an IR-3 visa is used, re-adoption is not necessary. It is necessary for entrance under an IR-4 visa. However, it is prudent to have an international re-adoption so that parents will be able to obtain an American birth certificate for their child. Also, International Re-Adoption provides parents with an Official Judgment of Adoption. Once this is issued in the United States, parents may also obtain copies if the document is lost or destroyed. It is not easy to acquire copies of documents from other countries.
Life Partner Adoption
An emerging form of adoption is the Life Partner Adoption whereby an adult partner is adopted creating legal rights including the right of intestacy.
In choosing whether or not to proceed with an adoption, it is essential to understand the legal rights and obligations thereby affected. One should therefore become acquainted with the laws concerning adoptions in their relevant jurisdiction before making a decision. Please note that open adoptions are not enforceable in New Jersey. This means that even if the adoptive parents agree to allow the birth parent(s) to have contact with the child, they will not be legally bound to this agreement if they change their mind.