If you have walked the halls of a courthouse, you’ve probably noticed people aren’t happy to be there. But, every once in a while, you might notice a smiling couple holding a baby. They stand out among the other frazzled court-goers. When I see these couples, I smile. They are not there to engage in some legal battle, but for a far more important purpose: to adopt a child. 1
For those adopting a child, the legal questions are usually: How long will the adoption take? What is the process? And, is there any chance we might have to give the child back?
The standard adoption is not complicated. The first step is for the birth parents to legally give up their rights to the child. They do this by signing a consent to adoption or a relinquishment of parental rights. Sometimes the birth father cannot be found or is unknown and the father’s rights are terminated through a legal proceeding called a Termination of Parental Rights.
Often, arrangements are made prior to the birth so the child is placed with the adopting parents as soon as he or she is born. Prior to placing a child, a licensed social worker interviews the adopting parents in their home to ensure the child will be safe and properly cared for by the prospective parents. A slightly different (and easier) set of rules applies with step-parent and grandparent adoptions (where at least one of the adopting parents is already related to the child) so it’s important to meet with an attorney if you are thinking about adopting.
In Nevada, like most other states, the child must live with the adopting parents for at least six months before the adoption can be finalized unless one of the parents is the birth parent. The parents file a petition for adoption with the court and once the six months have passed, the adopting parents and the child attend a court hearing to finalize the adoption. In contrast to typical legal proceedings, adoption hearings are pleasant. The judge and court staff are friendly and happy to be there. In fact, judges generally schedule their adoption hearings first thing in the morning in order to start the day with something uplifting.
During the hearing, the couple shares their story and background. Most importantly, they tell the judge about the bond they have established with the child over the last six months. These are emotional experiences with couples often expressing how grateful they are for the opportunity of raising a precious child.
Once the judge signs the Decree of Adoption, the adoption is final and absent fraud or some other extreme circumstance, the adoption will not be undone for any reason. From a legal standpoint, the adopted child has all the same rights as child naturally born to the couple. This includes the legal rights of inheritance and the parents’ duty to support the child.
Clifford Gravett lives in Mesquite and is an attorney with Bingham Snow & Caldwell. He is licensed to practice in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. He can be reached at (702) 346-7300, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 840 Pinnacle Court, Suite 202 in Mesquite.