adoption law

Who may adopt a child in New Jersey?

New Jersey law permits adoption by any person who has attained the age of 18 and is at least 10 years older than the child to be adopted. A married person may petition the court to adopt a child only with the written consent of his or her spouse, jointly with the spouse in the same action, or if living separate and apart from his or her spouse. Prospective parents who do not reside in New Jersey may adopt in the State if the child is born in New Jersey or if they received the child through a New Jersey licensed adoption agency with an office in the State. All persons who wish to adopt a child in New Jersey must be meet certain requirements under New Jersey law to demonstrate that they are fit and suitable parents for a child.

What is an adoption home study?

An adoption home study is an approved agency’s formal assessment of the capacity and readiness of prospective adoptive parents to adopt a child, including the agency’s written report and recommendations. The purpose of the home study is to ensure that the prospective adoptive parents can provide a safe, healthy and nurturing environment for a child. The homestudy includes interviews with the prospective parents and others residing in the adoptive home, health assessments of the parents, the agency’s review of references for the prospective parents (including employers and personal references), and verification of income, employment, and other personal data concerning each prospective parent.

In an agency placement, a comprehensive home study assessment is completed before a placement occurs. A pre-placement home study assessment must also be done for all interstate private adoptions. For intrastate private adoptions (i.e. a New Jersey resident’s adoption of a child born to a New Jersey birth mother) the court will appoint an agency to complete an evaluation after the child is born and residing in the prospective adoptive parents’ home. Families seeking to adopt children in state custody must complete a more comprehensive home study/education process. In addition, families pursuing embryo adoption may need to obtain an approved home study. All adoptive families finalizing their adoption in the New Jersey courts must also complete criminal background checks through the FBI and through their state of residence, as well as child abuse registry checks through their state of current residence and any state in which they have resided within the past five years.

New Jersey families seeking to adopt a child domestically in a private placement or private agency adoption are advised to retain a New Jersey approved agency to conduct a home study at the start of the adoption process. A list of agencies approved by the New Jersey Department of Children and Families can be found at: http://www.nj.gov/dcf/documents/divisions/licensing/AdoptionAgency.pdf

When can a birth parent sign a consent or surrender and can the birth parent later change his or her mind?

Many states have a waiting period before a birth parent can sign a consent or surrender. In addition, many state laws provide for a revocation period, or a certain period of time after signing, in which a birth parent can change his or her mind.

Under New Jersey law, a birth parent placing a child in a private or independent adoption can sign surrender documents any time after the child is born, but the surrender is revocable until the court terminates his or her parental rights or until the birth parent appears in court and judicially surrenders his or her parental rights. In an agency adoption, a birth parent is not permitted to sign a surrender until 72 hours have passed from the birth of the baby. The surrender is irrevocable upon signing.

What is the court procedure in New Jersey after a child is placed in an adoptive home?

The adoptive parents will file a petition for adoption, called a “complaint for adoption” in their county of residence or the county in which the adoption agency holding legal custody of the child is located, or if the child is less than three months of age, the county in which the child was born. The timing of the filing of the complaint for adoption depends on whether the child was placed independently or through an agency, and whether there are issues to resolve (such are termination of parental rights) prior to finalization.

In an independent adoption, the complaint for adoption must be filed within 45 days of the adoptive parents’ receipt of the child. A preliminary hearing is held by the court two to three months later, at which time the parental rights of the birth parents are terminated. The adoptive parents appear at the hearing with their attorney and provide testimony to the court. At the preliminary hearing, the court will also fix a date for the final hearing approximately six months thereafter to allow time for supervisory visits (also known as post-placement visits), to be completed by the approved agency. At the final hearing, a judgment of adoption is entered by the court and the adoptive parents become the child’s legal parents. The judgment also changes the name of the child from the name that appears on the original birth certificate to the name given by the adoptive parents.

In an agency or identified agency adoption, the complaint for adoption cannot be filed until the child has resided in the adoptive home for at least six months. However, in the discretion of the approved agency, the complaint may be filed sooner to resolve any issues (such as termination of the parental rights of a birth father who has not consented to the adoption) except finalization. Upon the filing of the complaint, the court will fix a date for the final hearing between 10 and 30 days thereafter, or if the complaint is filed early, the court will fix a date for a preliminary hearing. In cases where two hearings are held, most counties in New Jersey require that the adoptive parents personally appear at the preliminary hearing, but do not require them to return for the final hearing. At the final hearing, the court enters the judgment of adoption.

Is the child to be adopted required to attend the court hearing?

Although children under the age of 10 are not legally required to attend the hearing, most judges love to see the children in court! They also love to pose for pictures with the child and family.

Is it necessary for the adoptive parents to go to court?

Yes. In New Jersey, the adoptive parents will file a Complaint for Adoption in their county of residence, the county in which the adoption agency holding legal custody of the child is located, or if the child is less than three months of age, the county in which the child was born. The petition will culminate in a court appearance by the lawyer and the adoptive parents along with the child.

Following the final hearing, what kind of documentation is provided to the adoptive parents?

In addition to receiving a certified copy of the final judgment of adoption, a new, amended birth certificate will be issued by the state where the child was born. The amended certificate will list the adoptive parents as the child’s parents and the name of the child as stated in the final judgment of adoption. It generally takes between one to three months to obtain the amended birth certificate following the adoption, but it can take as long as 12 months, depending on the state of its issuance. Birth certificates issued by New Jersey take approximately two to four months. The adoptive parents’ attorney will ensure that the amended certificate is requested from the appropriate state registrar and will handle all of the details.

After the amended birth certificates are received, a social security number should be obtained for the child. While the social security office can assign an adopted child a social security number before the adoption is complete, it is advisable to wait. Then, the adoptive parents can apply for the number using the child’s new name, with their names as parents. The adoptive parents must apply in person at the social security office. Details about how to apply for a social security number for an adopted child as well as necessary forms can be found at the social security administration website at:http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10023.html.

Adoptive parents who wish to claim their child as a dependent for tax purposes before the adoption is finalized should contact the Internal Revenue Service for Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions.  

What kind of contact do birth parents and adoptive parents have after the adoption?

The type and frequency of post adoption contact between birth and adoptive parents vary depending on the wishes and desires of all parties. Most adoptive parents provide letters and pictures of the child to the birth parents for a period of time after the adoption. Some families choose to maintain a relationship with the birth parents that includes visitation. Whether such post-adoption contact agreements are legally enforceable varies by state law. Under the current law in New Jersey, any post- adoption agreements between birth and adoptive parents to maintain contact, whether that includes an exchange of letters and pictures or visitation, will not be enforced in a court of law.

What happens to the adoption records?

In New Jersey, after an adoption is finalized, the adoption record is sealed. The original birth certificate is also sealed. The only way the record can be accessed is by court order, or in cases of adoption through the state system, by following the procedures of the New Jersey adoption reunion registry.

In New Jersey, the vital records laws were recently amended to allow adult adoptees, adoptive parents, and other persons specified under the law to obtain an uncertified copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate. The law takes effect in January 2017. This new law also provides birth parents the opportunity to submit a document of contact preference with the State Registrar regarding contact with the adopted person, as well as place his or her health information with the Registrar.  Both the contact preference form and health history form are placed in the sealed file.

How much does it cost to adopt a child?

Adoption expenses vary widely from case to case. In domestic adoptions, the adopting parents are responsible to pay all costs associated with the adoption, including those incurred by the birth mother. The adopting parents must pay the fees and costs charged by their attorney and their agency (for their home study and post placement services, as well as placement and match services in an agency adoption). They may also incur travel and hotel expenses. The costs of preparing their family profile, adoption advertising and other methods of searching for a child independently must also be factored in.

The birth mother’s costs will depend on her situation, as well as the laws of the state she resides in. Adopting parents are responsible for the birth mother’s attorney fees, counseling fees, and uncovered hospital and medical expenses in connection with the pregnancy and birth of the child. When allowed by state law, the adopting parents may also pay the birth mother’s reasonable pregnancy-related living expenses. New Jersey law permits the adopting parents to pay a birth mother’s reasonable living expenses, which include reasonable food, clothing and shelter, during the period of the pregnancy and for four weeks after the birth of the child.

If you are adopting internationally, the costs will also vary, and depend upon both the state you reside in and the country you are adopting from. Agencies that specialize in international adoption can provide information about expected costs.

Whether you decide to adopt domestically or internationally, the total costs are roughly the same, ranging from approximately $25,000.00 to $50,000.00 for non-relative adoptions. Public agency adoptions (foster care adoptions) are the exception. There is little or no cost to adopt a child in foster care.

Don’t let the potential costs of adopting prevent you from fulfilling your dream of raising and loving a child. There is help available, from adoption grants and loans, to employer-provided adoption benefits. One of the most useful benefits is the adoption tax credit, which, if you are eligible to receive the credit, will reimburse you for money spent on qualifying adoption expenses, including reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees and traveling expenses. The dollar amount of the credit available for each effort to adopt an eligible child varies from year to year. For tax year 2015, the maximum credit is $13,400.00.

How long does it take to adopt a child?

This is a fair question, but a difficult one to answer. If you are adopting domestically, the length of time it takes to locate your child depends on many factors, including whether and to what extent you apply to different agencies and/or actively search for your child through advertising and networking, how open you are regarding the characteristics of the child you are hoping to adopt (i.e., race, age, sex, medical history, etc.), how open you are to continuing contact with birth parents after the adoption, and how willing you are to accept other practical, legal, emotional and financial risks. Your personal situation is a factor also, such as whether you are married or single, how old you are, how many children you have, etc. How you present yourself to a birth mother is extremely important. For example, if your profile is the birth mother’s first introduction to you, as it often is, whether she finds it appealing can be the difference between considering you as potential parents, or not. It is worth the time and effort to make a good first impression!

Many prospective adoptive parents who actively search for their child using a variety of methods are able to locate a child to adopt within one to two years. Be wary, however, of any adoption professional who tells you that you can adopt within a definite time. No professional can know this.

For international adopters, please consult with your adoption agency regarding time frames.

What is an adoption facilitator?

A facilitator is any person or entity, other than a licensed, non-profit adoption agency, that matches birth parents with adoptive parents. Paying a facilitator to match you with a birth parent is illegal under New Jersey law. If you have any questions about whether a person or entity that you are considering hiring is an adoption facilitator, please consult with an adoption attorney.

Why should I choose an attorney with expertise in New Jersey adoptions laws?

Many family law attorneys or attorneys with a general practice handle only a small number of adoptions each year. Attorneys who do not devote their practice to adoption do not always have comprehensive knowledge of adoption laws in the jurisdictions in which they practice, a thorough understanding of interstate adoption legal requirements, or extensive familiarity with judges and practice procedures in local courts. Attorneys who devote their practice to adoption are also well connected to other professionals in the field. Remember that you are making one of the most important decisions of your life. Make sure that your adoption is handled by an attorney with an expertise in the field. Our commitment is to treat all parties involved in your adoption in a caring manner.

Our law office is located in Manalapan. Contact us by contact form or call (732) 972-1600 to schedule a convenient appointment. Evening and weekend appointments are available. We take cases throughout New Jersey, to include Monmouth, Middlesex, Ocean, Somerset, Burlington, Mercer, Morris, Bergen, Essex and Hudson Counties.

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