It is an important milestone and cause for celebration in every adoption: finalization.
Finalization is the official completion of the legal adoption process that awards adoptive parents permanent legal custody of their child. An adoption is officially finalized in court after a judge has reviewed the entire adoption to ensure it was completed in accordance with state laws. The adoptive family will then appear at the finalization hearing, which will conclude with the judge signing the final adoption decree, officially awarding legal custody to the adoptive parents.
Below, find more information about the legal requirements that must be satisfied in order to finalize an adoption, as well as a brief overview of what you can expect at your finalization hearing.
Requirements for Adoption Finalization
In order for an adoption to be legally finalized, all state adoption laws must be followed through each step of the process. Adoption laws and post-placement requirements vary from state to state. However, every adoption must at least meet the following criteria:
- Termination of Parental Rights: Both birth parents must have their rights legally and ethically terminated. Whether the birth parents voluntarily consent to the adoption and relinquish their rights or their rights are legally terminated by the court, this step is legally necessary before the child can be adopted into a new family.
- Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Clearance: ICWA is a federal law that helps preserve American Indian tribes and families by requiring certain legal proceedings involving any Indian child who is a member of a federally recognized tribe. Finalization ensures that ICWA clearances were conducted by the adoption attorney, if applicable.
- Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) Clearance: The finalization hearing ensures ICPC regulations were followed if and when the child crossed state lines for the purpose of the adoption. ICPC ensures the child is placed in a safe environment and serves as a checks and balances system between states to make sure the adoption is legal.
- Post-Placement Visits: Each state requires a varying amount of post-placement contact, usually ranging from two to six in-home visits with the adoptive family. Post-placement visits are essentially an extension of the home study and are often conducted by the adoptive family’s home study social worker. These visits are intended to ensure the adoptive parents are adjusting well to their new child and that the new child is adjusting well to his or her new family.
It is important to work closely with your adoption professional or adoption attorney throughout the adoption process and during finalization to ensure all steps of the adoption process are completed legally and ethically. Your adoption attorney will also represent you at the finalization hearing.
What to Expect at the Finalization Hearing
The finalization hearing is an exciting event in every adoptive family’s history. The hearing usually takes place three months to one year after placement, once you have satisfied all of your state’s post-placement requirements. Your social worker or adoption attorney will notify you of the date and time of your finalization, and in most cases, you will have the opportunity to invite friends and family to witness and celebrate this important milestone with you.
Your attorney will provide all of the necessary paperwork to the court in advance and the judge will review it ahead of the hearing, so the proceedings are usually brief. Typically, you can expect the hearing to last about 30–60 minutes. During that time, you will likely experience the following:
- Your family, attorney, and possibly your social worker will stand before the judge and be sworn in
- Your attorney will ask you to introduce yourself and briefly answer some questions about your motivation to adopt and your understanding of the permanency of adoption. He or she will ask you to confirm for the judge that you will provide your child with a loving home
- If you are adopting an older child and his or her consent is required by state laws, your child may be asked to verbally confirm that he or she wishes to be adopted
- The judge may ask a few questions and invite everyone to take a picture
- The judge will conclude the hearing by signing the final adoption decree
- You will celebrate your new, legal and permanent family!
After finalization, the adoption is legally complete and the adoptive family can apply for a new birth certificate and social security card. If you completed an international adoption, you may need to complete the readoption and finalization process in your state in order to receive a U.S. birth certificate for your child. Your adoption agency or attorney should be able to answer any questions you may have about post-placement requirements and adoption finalization for your individual circumstances.
Finalization may be the end of the adoption process, but it is just the beginning of something even better — your lives together as a permanent adoptive family.