DIFFICULTY: Legal assistance is recommended
Initial Filing Fee: $0
North Carolina probably has one of the easiest adoption processes to walk through while still providing adequate protection for the children. Two steps must be taken, just as in other states. First, the termination of the parental rights of the birth parents is required. Next comes the qualifying process for adoptive parents, in which you have to prove your ability to care for the child both physically and psychologically. This leads to the finalization process.
The process for terminating biological parents’ rights can be either voluntary or forced. Fathers must be given written notice with a 15-day response time, in which they either have to express a desire to take custody of the child or surrender parental rights. This is a longer time frame than other states like Georgia, but shorter than the 30-day period in California. Once the state has legally removed the rights of the biological parents, the child is eligible for adoption.
As with most other states, there are three types of adoptions in North Carolina: through public agencies, private agencies, and private adoption. Only licensed agencies can file with the state in North Carolina, which means that private adoptions must be filed by the private or public agency facilitating the adoption. This is meant to ensure the adoptive parents go through all the right steps to learn about caring for the child and their responsibilities. Private adoptions are usually adoptions between relatives, like grandparents or siblings.
You can go through this entire process without seeking legal council, as the agencies have laid out all the details of the adoption process. You may find you have questions, and at that time it is advisable to have a lawyer look things over, but it is in no way required. Unlike other states, North Carolina has the agency file directly with the court.
Step 1: Determining Your Eligibility to Adopt in North Carolina
North Carolina has some of the most lenient rules when it comes to adoption. The definition of an “adult” is someone who is 18 years or older, and anyone can adopt according to the law. You can even adopt other adults, so long as you are not married to them. The only restriction is based on residency: both you and the child must have lived in the state for at least six consecutive months. Because of this wide net, the pre-adoption assessment is the best way for the state to help ensure that only prepared couples complete the adoption process. Unlike other states, North Carolina does not have rules about the age of the adoptive parents or make rules regarding spousal obligations. You can even adopt if you are an emancipated minor. In other sates this is only allowed in cases of family.
Step 2: Choose the Type of Adoption
You can decide to go through the public agency, which handles children in state custody, or you can also go through a private agency, which works on a more personal basis. In North Carolina, private agencies and adoption facilitators can help families find the right home for their children. While the agency must handle the adoption itself, it is not illegal in the state to post additional advertisements or seek out specialized adoptive parents for a child.
Step 3: Termination of Biological Parents’ Rights and Obligations
The parents can file to terminate parental rights while the baby is in-utero as long as the mother is at least six months pregnant. They can also file after the child is born. It is imperative that the mother notify the father of her intention to put the child up for adoption either after carrying the baby for six months, or upon the birth of the baby. The father has 15 days to claim rights to the child, and also must approve the adoption.
For cases of neglect and abuse, the state can initiate formal proceedings to terminate parental rights against the parents’ will. This process is a bit longer, but must be complete before any adoption can take place.
Step 4: Submit an Application
This is the application with the agency stating your interest in adopting. It can be either a private or public entity, but both require an application be submitted. It begins the background check and starts the process of the Pre-Placement Assessment.
Step 5: Complete the Pre-Placement Assessment
You will be thoroughly screened to ensure that you are ready and capable of being a parent. The assessment will include a study of your relationships, your personality, your spiritual beliefs, your mental health, financial status, home, support system, cultural awareness, and references. It is a long process that digs deep into your background, and can sometimes be quite stressful. You have a right to see the final report that is filed on you in the state of North Carolina.
Step 6: Find a Child within the System
After you have been approved, you can start looking for a child in the system. This can be through a public or private entity. In North Carolina, there is one central database, so you may find a child you are interested in who is registered with a different agency. You may have to change adoption agencies if this happens.
Step 7: Submit Your Pre-Placement Assessment with the Child’s Agency
Once you have found a child you think is a good fit for your family, submit your approved Pre-Placement Assessment with the child’s specific agency. After approval you will be allowed to meet the child. If the parents have yet to sign over the rights to the child, they can be involved in the vetting process and are allowed to see portions of your pre-placement assessment. This is only the case in private agency situations; public agencies will not advertise children whose birthparents still retain rights.
Step 8: Visit with Your Child
Your first visit with the child will be closely monitored. There is usually a visitation schedule spread over a period of time to determine if you and the child are a match. North Carolina is one of the states in which the child has to approve the match as well. Most states are moving toward child approval in order to increase adoption success.
Step 9: Bring the Child Home/Supervisory Period
In North Carolina, the child must live with you for six months before you can officially file for adoption. In other states this period lasts for as little as a month, but North Carolina has extended the time frame. For certain private adoption circumstances the time frame can be shortened, but it is rare.
Step 10: Legalize Adoption
Finally, the Petition for Adoption is filed with the court. This can only be filed by the agency and includes the affidavit of parentage, legal clearance documents, and your Pre-Placement Assessment. The agency also files a report on the proposed adoption, going over the family history, background of the child, and a concise account of the supervisory period. It includes a recommendation regarding the finalization of the adoption. Unlike other states, an adoption in North Carolina can still get approval from the courts even if the agency recommends against it. You will then get the decree of adoption and the birth certificate.