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General Guide to Adoption Law in Virginia

Adoption involves placing children who have been permanently and legally separated from their birth parents with a new family. 

Virginia adoption law allows only two types of adoptive placements, agency placements and non-agency placements.

Agency Placement Adoptions

Agency placements are placements through the local Department of Social Services or licensed child placing agencies.  

Agency placements occur when the child is in the custody of local Department of Social Services or a licensed child placing agency. Under this scenario, all parental rights are terminated, custody with authority to place for adoption is granted to the agency, and the agency consents to the child's adoption.

Non-Agency Adoptions

Non-agency adoptions involve children who are not placed in the custody of a local Department of Social Services. Under non-agency adoption, the birth parent(s) or legal guardian(s) consent to the adoption and parental rights are terminated by entry of the final order of adoption. Non-Agency adoptions include parental adoption, stepparent adoption, adult adoption, and close relative adoption.

Parental adoption

Under parental placement adoption the birth parent(s) places the child with the adoptive parent(s). A licensed or otherwise authorized child-placing agency conducts a home study of the prospective adoptive home. The agency must prepare a home study report and include the agency's recommendations regarding the suitability of the adoption placement. A copy the report must be provided to the court.

Stepparent adoption

Under stepparent adoption, the new spouse of the birth parent (or adoptive parent, if applicable) adopts the child. A petition for adoption is filed in the circuit court of the county or city where the birth parent or the adoptive parent and such parent's spouse reside or the county or city where the child resides. The birth or adoptive parent must join the petition for adoption, thereby indicating his or her consent to the adoption.

After the adoption petition is filed, the court has the discretion to either enter the adoption order or order a licensed child placement agency or the local Department of Social Services to do an investigation and submit its report to the court before the court enters the final order of adoption. In some cases, the court has the discretion to enter the final order of adoption without referring the case for investigation, such as, if the birth parent whose rights are going to be terminated (1) is deceased, (2) is the birth father and his identity is completely unknown, (3) is known and willing to consents to the adoption, (4)  denies paternity of the child, or (5) consent to the adoption and the child is the result of surrogacy. The court may also enter the final order of adoption without referring the case for investigation if (6) the parent by adoption joining in the petition was not married at the time the child was adopted, or (7) the child is 14 years old or older and has lived in the home of the spouse of the birth or adoptive parent for at least 5 years. Alternatively, the court may refer the case to a local licensed child placement agency or the local Department of Social Services for an investigation or home study, who is required to prepare a report and submit it to the court.

If the biological parent objects to the adoption, the court will schedule a hearing to decide whether to confirm the adoption. In such cases, the court may also require an investigation or home study of the parents, the adoptive parent, and the home in which the child resides. The investigation is completed by the local Department of Social Services or a private organization approved by the Court. A report of the investigation is filed with the court, which the court may use at the hearing to assist with determination of the best interests of the child.

At the hearing, the court will consider several factors to determine whether to terminate one biological parent's parental rights and allow the child to be adopted by a stepparent. These factors include (1) the efforts of the biological parent to obtain or maintain legal and physical custody of the child, (2) whether the biological parent is currently ready and able to assume custody of the child, (3) whether the biological parent's efforts to assert parental rights were thwarted by other people, (4) the biological parent's ability to care for the child, (5) the age of the child, (6) the quality of any previous relationship between the biological parent and the child, (7) the quality of any relationship between the biological parent and any other children, (8) the duration and suitability of the child's present custodial environment, and (9) the effect of a change of custody on the child.

Close relative adoption

Under close relative adoption, a close relative adopts the child. Under the Code of Virginia “close relative” is defined as the child's grandparent, great-grandparent, adult nephew or niece, adult brother or sister, adult uncle or aunt, adult great uncle or great aunt, stepparent, adult stepbrother or stepsisters, or other adult relatives of the child by marriage or adoption.

Adult adoption

Adult adoption is adoption of any person who is 18 years of age or older at the time of filing the adoption petition. Under adult adoption, consent of the biological parent(s) is not required but the consent of the adult being adopted is required.

Home Study

Home studies are usually an important aspect of an adoption proceeding. A Virginia home study for adoption is an evaluation of the family's readiness to adopt. Some areas of review include, but not limited to, financial position of the adopting family, the health condition of the adopting parent(s), a history of stable residency in home, the current family dynamic, and the potential family dynamic after the adoption.

The adoption process and litigation can be emotionally charged and legally complicated.  It is important that you have an experienced attorney on your side to help guide you through the process. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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