Relative and Step-Parent Adoptions
In most states, there is an abbreviated procedure for the adoption of a child by a relative. In some states, a birth parent may even be able to place their child with a relative without a court order, although a legal process must still be completed after the placement. What constitutes a “relative” varies state by state, but usually includes at least aunts, uncles, grandparents, and step-parents of a child. A termination of parental rights to any and all parents is still necessary in a relative adoption, whether it is by consent or not. Home studies of the relative of some sort are also usually required.
Often relative adoption cases can start as or become contested matters for custody and visitation between the birth parents and the relative caring for the child. Federal law recognizes both the constitutional rights of biological parents and the need to protect a child’s best interests, attachments and bonds, and important relationships that have been allowed to develop. As such, relative cases can become a delicate balancing act involving federal constitutional cases and interfamilial conflict. Experienced adoption attorneys are essential in such cases.
Most relative adoptions are not subject to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). However, the definition of “relative” in the sending state and the receiving state should be checked before assuming no ICPC compliance is necessary.
On the other hand, if the child was not born in the United States, most relative adoptions are subject to international adoption law and U.S. immigration law and must proceed through the regular international adoption process. Such adoptions may even be subject to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. There is one exception: international step-parent adoptions are generally not subject to such treaties and immigration law.