There are several ways to legally adopt a child in Iowa一private agency adoption, foster care adoption, independent adoption, and international adoption. In every case, the assistance of an experienced Iowa adoption lawyer will be necessary.
Private Agency Adoption
In a private agency adoption, you typically adopt an infant who has not yet been born at the commencement of the adoption process. Following is a step-by-step process for a private agency adoption:
Step 1: Select an Experienced Adoption Attorney and a Reputable Adoption Agency
Your attorney should have a good local reputation and possess extensive experience in conducting private agency adoptions.
Iowa is home to more than a dozen major adoption agencies. Before you select one, you should ask them about important issues affecting your adoption一average wait times, costs, indirect costs, and hidden fees—and the support that they offer to adoptive families.
Step 2: Complete Pre-Adoption Procedures
You will need to complete the following procedures before the adoption agency will match you with birth parents:
- Complete the home study process. Home studies involve three stages—providing documentation, separate interviews with each household member, and a pre-placement home inspection.
- Complete an Adoption Planning Application. This application will help identify pregnant women who might be a good match for you.
- Complete an Adoption Family Profile. This document provides pregnant mothers with information about you and what kind of parents you might turn out to be.
Take special care in appropriately completing all the foregoing documentation. Consult with your lawyer about how to prepare for the home study.
Step 3: Get to Know the Prospective Birth Parents
The adoption agency will show your profile to various prospective birth mothers until one of them selects you as a prospective adoptive parent. You will have the opportunity to get to know the birth mother personally. You can choose to become familiar with each either through phone calls, emails, in-person visits, or other means of communication.
Step 4: A Judge Will Terminate the Parental Rights of the Biological Parents
Typically, the birth parents sign a voluntary release of their parental rights after a state-mandated waiting period. Moreover, the birth parents can still change their mind about the adoption during a second state-mandated waiting period. After the waiting periods pass, you can bring a motion to formally terminate parental rights before a judge, and a judge will issue a court order terminating parental rights.
Step 5: Take the Child Home
This is the fun part.
Step 6: Complete a Post-Placement Home Study
Iowa requires you to cooperate with a second, post-placement home study. The second home study will examine how the child actually functions within your home environment. Again, your lawyer can help you prepare for this.
Step 7: Finalize the Adoption
You are going to need to attend a hearing in front of a judge before you can finalize the adoption. The judge will be looking to confirm that you have completed all the legal steps necessary for an Iowa adoption, and for confirmation that the adoption is in the best interests of the child. If the judge approves the adoption, they will issue a final decree of adoption.
Step 8: Obtain Your Child’s Social Security Card
The Social Security Administration should mail the card to you within the first few weeks after the judge issues the final decree of adoption.
Independent adoptions are similar to agency adoptions, minus the participation of an adoption agency. You will need to secure the assistance of the following parties:
- Adoption attorney: Without an adoption agency in the picture, the participation of an adoption lawyer is more critical than ever. Your legal practitioner’s two main legal tasks will be the termination of parental rights and the finalization of the adoption.
- Home study provider: You need to secure the participation of a qualified home study provider to conduct pre- and post-placement home studies.
- Counselor: The birth mother may need a counselor for emotional support, and the prospective adoptive parents may have to pay this expense.
- Media specialist: You may need a media specialist to market yourself to birth mothers.
Agency adoptions are far more common than independent adoptions.
Foster Care Adoptions
A foster home is a temporary home for a child with caretakers who are not birth parents. In a foster care adoption, you adopt a child who is in foster care at the time of your adoption. Iowa initially places children in foster care in the hope that they can eventually reunite with their birth parents. In some cases, however, this is not possible. When it becomes obvious that reunification is not possible, adoption becomes an option.
Although the procedure for adopting a foster child is similar to the procedure for an agency adoption, there are certain differences:
- The child is typically older than an infant一sometimes even a teenager.
- You don’t need to convince both parents to relinquish parental rights, because this has typically already happened. In many cases the relinquishment of parental rights is involuntary.
- You don’t necessarily need to get to know the birth parents, as they might be hostile to the adoption.
“Foster-to-adopt” arrangements are frequently mentioned but rarely occur, because there is an inherent conflict of interest. The goal of foster parenting is to reunite the child with their birth parents, while the goal of foster-to-adopt is to permanently place the child with the foster parent.
To adopt a stepchild in Iowa, the stepparent must have resided in Iowa for six months or more. Both biological parents must give consent; however, Iowa may waive the consent requirement and terminate the rights of the biological parent if that parent:
- has abandoned the child;
- has failed to support the child after being ordered to pay child support; or
- will be in prison for the next five or more years.
If the stepchild is 14 year of age or older, they must give informed consent to their adoption. You must file a petition with the court and attend an adoption hearing.
Strictly speaking, international adoption is not a separate type of adoption. Typically, adoption agencies handle international as well as domestic adoptions. Many unique legal issues arise in international adoption, however. Some of the most important issues include:
- Differences in adoption laws and adoption costs from country to country;
- The need to seek legal assistance from a foreign jurisdiction;
- The need to work with a Hague-accredited domestic adoption agency;
- The red tape required to secure your child’s US visa and, eventually, US citizenship;
- The need for both adoption (in the child’s home country) and re-adoption (finalization of the adoption under US law).
For obvious reasons, international adoption is the most complex type of adoption.
Let’s Make It Happen Together
The Iowa family legal matters attorneys at 303 Legal, P.C., have seen just about every complication and obstacle there is to see when it comes to adopting a step-child in Iowa. Feel free to fill out our online contact form or call our office at 319-423-3031. Our main office address is in Cedar Rapids, IA. The earlier in the adoption process you contact us, the better your chances will be.