DIFFICULTY: Legal assistance is recommended, lawyer required to file adoption petition
Initial Filing Fee: $0
Georgia recognizes the importance of adoption for the health and safety of children. There are two basic steps as with most states, termination of the legal parental rights of the birth parents is first. The second step is qualifying as an adoptive parent which requires you prove your ability to care for a child, your psychological stability and then formalize the entire process. Unlike in other states, Georgia has a solid “10 day rule” for voluntary birth parents to change their minds. After that, there is no going back and reclaiming the child.
There are three types of adoption in Georgia: public agencies, private agencies and private adoption. Private adoption typically means by relative caregivers such as stepparents or grandparents, sometimes older siblings. This option requires a petition be filed with the probate court. Private adoptions through private agencies require the same type of petition. Public adoptions walk you through the state system which is described as “IMPACT” in Georgia. The letters stand for Initial Interest, Mutual Selection, Pre-service Training, Assessment, Continuing Development and Teamwork. The goal is to make the transition easy on the child and the parents. It reduces the rate in which children are returned and it helps to provide a more stable environment.
While you can attempt to handle the process without consulting an attorney in the public adoptions, it is still advisable to seek counsel. The last step of the process, filing the adoption petition, does require a lawyer to file no matter what type of adoption it is. Private adoptions require the use of an attorney in order to ensure the proper filings with the court.
Step 1: Determining Your Eligibility in Georgia
Georgia has fairly lenient rules when it comes to adopting a child, but there are certain minimum criteria that must be met on the surface.
• You must be a legal resident of Georgia for at least six months
• You must be at least 25 years of age
• You must be more than ten years older than the child you are adopting
• If you are married you can be as young as 18 and adopt
• Both spouses must adopt if you are married (unless it is a stepparent and the child is that of the other spouse.)
• You must not have a serious criminal conviction specifically related to the health and safety of minors
Step 2: Determining the Type of Adoption You Wish to Proceed With
Through public and private agencies, when you begin the process the child’s biological parental rights will have already been terminated. If you are going for a private adoption, that is the first step. The biological parents must file with the court to terminate parental rights of the child. This can be an arduous process if the parents are unwilling, but it still can be done for the safety and welfare of the child.
In Georgia it is illegal for parents to take out ads or post adoptions anywhere. You must seek out an adoption through an agency. The rights to the child can be given up as soon as they are born, but not before.
Step 3: Termination of Biological Parents’ Rights and Obligations
In Georgia it is important to note the father has legal rights to the child. This means you need both parties to sign off on the termination of rights. That being said, if the father is unavailable or unknown, the rights can still be given by the mother. In many other states only the mother is guaranteed rights to the child often making the termination process easier. Georgia has a number of ways to properly sever the rights of the father.
Step 4: Fill Out the Adoption Application and Attend Orientation
If you are using a private adoption agency, the orientation usually just means meeting with the company. If you are going through the public system you will go through a formal orientation. You will see all the children available in Georgia and you will be asked to take time before you make your final decision to move forward.
Step 5: IMPACT
You will begin with a series of classes that go over the impact of adoption on your family as well as behavior management techniques. It will also cover the agency’s role in the adoption process. This is not a required step for private adoptions.
The rest of the IMPACT process is the same for private adoptions. You will go through family evaluation. There will be multiple visits to your home, gathering off all financial information, checking your credit, checking your background and personal psychological discussions about your theory on adoption.
Step 6: Written Report
After the home study a detailed written report is provided to the state. There are strict guidelines about the completion of this report whether you are going through a private agency or working publically. It will note your willingness and completion of training workshops as well as additional materials.
Step 7: Pre-Placement/Placement
Prior to the court making final determination the child can be placed with the adoptive family. This is based on the completion of the courses and the home study. In Georgia it is important that these steps be completed as well as a mutual agreement between the adoptee and the new parents. In the public system this is often considered part of the “foster care” program and in private circumstances it is pre-placement until the paperwork is done. A series of visits will take place prior to the placement in your home. This step can only be taken in Georgia once the parental rights have been fully severed, unlike states like California where you can begin the process prior to the cessation of parental rights.
The case manager will visit you during this time regularly. Other states have a specific time frame listed when it comes to how long the child must live with you before you can file the paperwork for adoption; Georgia does not. It leaves the time frame up to the case manager, the parents and the child.
Step 8: Finalization
Filing the adoption petition lets the court know your intentions. A hearing will be held by the Superior Court Judge in your county and is usually just a formality after all the previous steps have been taken. If you are adopting a child with special needs, there are a number of financial assistance options available to you as well as certain special entitlements in order to help these children find homes.