An In-Depth Look at the Grandparent Adoption Process
Adopting a grandchild is a major decision that involves a significant time commitment. The adoption process can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years depending on the circumstances. This comprehensive guide will walk grandparents through what to expect during the adoption journey.
Why Grandparents May Consider Adopting
There are a few common situations where grandparents decide to legally adopt their grandchild:
- The parents are unable to care for the child – This could be due to substance abuse, mental illness, incarceration, or death of one or both parents. Adoption provides the child stability.
- There is abuse or neglect in the home – If CPS removes a child from their parents, grandparents may be considered as the next placement option before non-relatives.
- The parents voluntarily give up rights – Some parents realize they are unable to appropriately care for their child. They may ask the grandparents to adopt.
- To get custody without adoption – If the parents are still involved but agree to give grandparents full custody, this arrangement doesn’t require adoption.
- For financial reasons – Adoption makes the child eligible for benefits on the grandparent’s health insurance, social security, etc.
Adoption permanently severs the legal ties between parent and child. It is not something grandparents should undertake lightly. However, when the parents are unable to care for the child, adoption may be the best way to provide safety, stability and love.
First Steps in the Adoption Process
Once grandparents decide they want to adopt their grandchild, they should take the following initial steps:
- Consult an attorney – Hire a lawyer experienced in family adoption law. They will advise you throughout the process and represent you in court.
- Learn the specific laws in your state – Adoption regulations can vary significantly by state. An attorney can explain state laws.
- Get approval from the birth parents – The biological parents must provide consent to the adoption. You’ll need their cooperation.
- File for custody first, if needed – If the child is not legally free for adoption yet, get custody rights while the adoption proceeds.
- Complete a home study – A social worker will assess the grandparent’s home environment and ability to care for the child.
Starting the process correctly and understanding what is required in your state is key. An adoption attorney will handle many of these preliminary steps for you.
The Typical Adoption Procedure by State
While each state has its own laws, the adoption process generally follows this overall order of events:
- Initial consultation with attorney – Discuss your situation and options. Attorney explains laws and steps involved.
- Submit adoption petition to court – Your attorney files legal documents starting the adoption proceedings.
- Obtain consent of biological parents – Parents must voluntarily relinquish rights to child or have them terminated involuntarily.
- Complete background checks – You’ll undergo criminal history and child abuse clearances.
- Receive child placement approval – A home study confirms your eligibility and suitability to adopt.
- Work with social worker – Fulfill any required training and home visits by an assigned social worker.
- Establish interim custody – Get temporary custody during the adoption process, if needed.
- Finalize the adoption decree – Attend court hearing for judge to approve adoption.
- Get a new birth certificate – Once legally adopted, the grandchild receives an amended birth certificate.
This basic sequence must happen for a grandparent adoption. However, the time spent in each phase depends on your specific situation.
How Long Does an Uncontested Adoption Take?
If the biological parents fully consent to the adoption without contest, the process is often quicker. An uncontested grandparent adoption can finalize in 6-12 months typically.
Here are factors that influence the timeline:
- Cooperation of the biological parents
- Voluntary relinquishment moves faster than involuntary termination
- State laws and court calendars
- Some states require more steps than others
- How quickly you complete requirements
- Speedy home study and document preparation helps
- Age of the child
- Infant adoptions may receive priority
- Use of interim custody
- Going through foster care lengthens the process
With both parents onboard and grandparents motivated, cases can finalize in the 6-12 month range even in states with more complex adoption laws.
How Long Do Contested Adoptions Take?
When one or both parents do not consent to the grandparent adoption, it slows down the process significantly. Contested adoptions often take 12-24+ months to finalize.
Reasons a parent may challenge the adoption petition:
- They do not want to relinquish parental rights
- They disagree with the grandparent raising the child
- They cannot be located to provide consent
- There are paternity questions
To complete a contested adoption, grandparents must prove:
- Parent is unfit or has abandoned the child
- Parent willfully failed to maintain contact with child
- Parent does not contribute to child’s care
- Adoption is in the child’s best interest
This requires more court hearings and time. Grandparents should utilize additional services like therapists and custody evaluators to build their case.
Gaining permanent custody during contested cases also takes significant time – generally 6-12+ months until final adoption.
Steps That Can Slow Down the Adoption Process
A few common hurdles can delay a grandparent adoption if they occur:
- Appeals by the biological parents – If consent is contested, delays happen through multiple appeals.
- Failure of home study – If grandparents don’t pass the home study, they’ll undergo counseling and re-evaluation.
- ICPC delays – Interstate adoptions require approval from both states which can take months.
- Changing social workers – Getting reassigned a new social worker restarts the relationship-building.
- Difficulty serving biological fathers – An unknown, absent father slows down termination of paternal rights.
- Wait for needed documents – Delayed submission of medical records, financial documents or background checks.
- COVID court closures – Pandemic slow downs in family court systems are still impacting caseloads.
Grandparents can try to mitigate delays by staying organized, flexible and patient through the challenging parts of the process.
Options for Obtaining Custody More Quickly
If grandparents need custody rapidly for a child’s safety, there are some alternatives to pursue rather than or while completing adoption:
Kinship Foster Care
Grandparents become certified foster parents only for their related child. The child is placed with them while parental rights are terminated. This can happen in as little as a few weeks if urgent.
Power of Attorney
The parents sign over temporary guardianship rights to the grandparent, which can happen quickly in an emergency situation.
Emergency Custody Motion
The grandparents’ lawyer files a motion for temporary emergency custody if the child is in danger with parents.
These options allow grandparents to gain custody within days or weeks. But adoption still needs to follow to make it permanent.
Average Wait Times by State
Below are approximate adoption timelines in different states based on average ranges reported by adoption attorneys:
- California – 6-12 months uncontested, 12-24 months contested
- Florida – 6-12 months uncontested, 18-24 months contested
- New York – 8-16 months uncontested, 15-30 months contested
- Texas – 4-8 months uncontested, 8-18 months contested
- Illinois – 8-14 months uncontested, 16-30 months contested
- Pennsylvania – 6-12 months uncontested, 12-24 months contested
Timelines vary based on factors already discussed. But this comparison shows that state laws definitely impact average wait times across the country.
Hiring an Experienced Attorney is Crucial
Cutting down on delays requires an adoption lawyer who knows the intricacies of local family courts and child welfare systems.
An experienced attorney will:
- Guide clients through state adoption procedures
- Represent grandparents in all court proceedings
- Draft and file proper petitions and motions
- Facilitate negotiations with biological parents
- Advocate for the child’s best interests
Choosing a lawyer experienced specifically in grandparent adoption cases can make the difference in how smoothly the process goes and how long it ultimately takes.
Finalizing the Adoption
The culminating steps to finalize a grandparent adoption include:
- Attend adoption hearing – All parties testify before a judge who makes the final ruling.
- Get adoption decree – Judge signs court order declaring the legal change of parental rights.
- Obtain new birth certificate – An amended certificate lists grandparents as legal parents.
- Apply for benefits – Child can now be added to grandparents’ insurance, social security, etc.
After months or years navigating the adoption process, grandparents will now have permanent legal custody of their grandchild.
Celebrating Your New Family
Once the adoption is complete, take time to celebrate this joyous event!
- Display new family portraits showing your official status as parents
- Let your grandchild take the lead on what to call you now
- Announce the adoption news to friends and family
- Hold an adoption party marking this milestone
The delays, stress and uncertainty of the adoption process will now be behind you. Look ahead to enjoying your new life together as a forever family.
Finding Support Through the Adoption Process
Going through adoption can be emotionally draining for grandparents. Seek out resources so you don’t have to go it alone:
- Adoption advocate groups – Fellow adopters who can relate to your unique journey.
- Adoption-competent therapist – Work through emotions that arise during this transition.
- Online support groups – Connect with other grandparents adopting out of state.
- Family counseling – Adjusting to new roles and dynamics; help grandchild feel secure.
- Faith community – Spiritual and practical support if you belong to a church.
- Self-care routines – Make time for your needs too – physically, mentally and socially.
Leaning on your support system can better equip you to parent again later in life. And help your grandchild thrive after a difficult start.
Consulting an Attorney for Guidance
While this overview gives a general idea of what to expect, every grandparent adoption is unique.
To begin your own adoption journey, the critical next step is consulting an experienced adoption attorney in your state.
An attorney will:
- Explain the laws, timeline and steps involved in your specific case
- Get the legal process started so your grandchild transitions into your care
- Ease the burden through their expertise so you can focus on your new family
Don’t hesitate to contact an attorney to map out the road ahead. This life-changing process for your family deserves the right legal guidance.
The day will come – likely sooner than you think – when the adoption is finalized and your grandchild is officially yours. Withstanding the temporary hardships of this process will be rewarded with the joy of becoming parents again.