Each year, more than 100,000 children are adopted in the United States. Most adoptions proceed smoothly, and for most families, adoption is a joyous event. If you are considering adoption in Washington’s Tri-Cities area, you should be advised by a good Washington adoption attorney.

The adoption of a child severs the legal ties between one or both biological parents and the child. Before an adoption, in most cases, a biological parent or parents must waive parental rights so that the rights and duties of parenthood may legally transfer to the adoptive parent or parents.

Although most adoptions in Washington require one or both biological parents to waive their legal parental rights and consent to the adoption, there are some circumstances where the consent of one or both of the biological parents will not be needed for the adoption to proceed.

What is a “Consent to Adoption” Form?

In a voluntary adoption, the biological parent or parents must sign a “Consent to Adoption” document confirming that the adoption is voluntary and waiving any future claim to parental rights to the child.

If the child being adopted has a legal guardian, the guardian’s consent is needed, and if the child has been cared for by a state agency, the agency’s consent is also required. In most cases, when the necessary consent forms are received and approved by the court, the adoption may proceed.

When Does Adoption Not Require a Biological Parent’s Consent?

In any legal matter that involves a child in the State of Washington, the best interests of the child will always be the court’s highest priority. When is a biological parent’s consent not required for an adoption in Washington? Here is what state law provides:

1. A state agency or department or a legal guardian’s consent to an adoption is not required if the court decides on the basis of “clear, cogent and convincing evidence” that proceeding with the adoption is in the best interests of the child.

2. A biological, legal, or alleged parent’s consent to an adoption is not required if the court determines that proceeding with the adoption is in the best interests of the child.

3. Consent is not needed if a biological, legal, or alleged parent has been convicted of rape, incest, or sexual assault of the child or the other parent, unless a parent who was a victim gives sworn or written testimony that the guilty party’s consent should be required.

What If the Father Can’t Be Identified or Located?

If the identity of a biological parent cannot be established by the court, or if the known biological parent refuses to identify the unknown biological parent and the court is unable to determine the unknown biological parent’s identity, that parent’s consent to the adoption is unnecessary.

The consent of a biological parent who cannot be located by the court will not be required for an adoption.

A man who is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth is presumed to be the legal father, but a father who is not married to the mother of the child must establish legal paternity, or he will not be entitled to a father’s rights, and his consent will not be needed for an adoption.

What is Required of Prospective Adoptive Parents?

To legally adopt a child in Washington, a prospective adoptive parent must be at least 18 years old and legally competent. An extensive family assessment is conducted to ensure that the prospective adoptive parents can adequately meet the responsibilities of parenthood.

The family assessment or “home study” may seem like the most daunting part of the adoption process. Take it one step at a time. A thorough criminal background check of the prospective adoptive parents will also be conducted.

Everyone who resides in the home who is age 16 or older will also be checked for any record or history of child abuse. If an adult in the home has resided in a different state, that state’s records will be checked as well.

If a biological parent refuses consent to an adoption, the other biological parent, a state agency, or the prospective adoptive parents may seek the termination of the non-consenting biological parent’s rights.

Termination of parental rights lets the court proceed with the adoption process without the biological parent’s consent.

How Do You Start the Adoption Process?

In the state of Washington, if you have decided to adopt a child, you begin the process by submitting a petition for adoption to the court with your adoption lawyer’s help. The petition includes the reasons for the adoption and why the adoption is in the child’s best interests.

If you are a prospective adoptive parent, and if you want to change the child’s legal name, ask your adoption attorney to submit a name change request to the court along with your adoption petition.

In most Washington adoptions, the adoption hearing itself is a formality. The prospective adoptive parents affirm that they understand their legal rights and obligations as parents. If the court finds that the adoption is in the child’s best interests, a judge will sign the adoption order.

If a biological parent will not voluntarily consent to an adoption, in most cases, that biological parent’s parental rights must be terminated by the court before the adoption may proceed.

How Do Adoption Lawyers Help Prospective Adoptive Parents?

Adoption lawyers are usually family law attorneys who also handle matters like divorce, domestic violence protection orders, child custody and alimony disputes, and prenuptial agreements.

During an adoption, a good Washington family law attorney will help the prospective adoptive parents:

1. submit their adoption petition to the court
2. accurately complete the legal forms and documents required for an adoption
3. work with state agencies, adoption agencies, biological parents, and or legal guardians
4. meet the requirements of the family assessment

A good Washington adoption attorney will guide prospective adoptive parents through the adoption process from start to finish, help you deal with any legal obstacles you encounter, and offer effective advocacy and representation on your behalf before and at the adoption hearing.