Family Law

Do I Need a Lawyer to Adopt?

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Many prospective adoptive parents wonder if they should hire a lawyer to help them through the process.

What Does an Adoption Lawyer Do?

Adoption gives adoptive parents legal rights to rear and raise a child that is not biologically theirs. Through adoption, both parents and their adoptive child are afforded certain legal protections.

An adoption lawyer can help you:

  • understand your legal obligations and rights
  • complete and file all necessary legal paperwork
  • advise you about “home studies,” which are in-home interviews conducted by a social worker or adoption agency to ensure your home is suitable for a child, and
  • represent you at adoption hearings, if any.
You can help your adoption run smoothly by hiring a competent adoption lawyer to guide you through the process.

Do I Have to Hire an Adoption Lawyer?

In some situations, couples forego using an attorney and handle the adoption on their own. You aren’t required to use an attorney for most adoptions. Typically, stepparent adoptions are more straightforward than other types. Many state court websites even publish the forms necessary to complete a stepparent adoption.

An adoption involving an unrelated child can be more complicated. It’s difficult to understand all the correct forms and requirements without an attorney’s help. Moreover, if you make a mistake or file the wrong paperwork, you can jeopardize your adoption or delay the process. Because time is usually of the essence, many individuals choose to hire an adoption lawyer.

How Much Will It Cost to Hire an Attorney?

Many attorneys bill by the hour, but some attorneys may charge you a flat fee for an adoption—the costs vary widely. For example, stepparent adoptions are usually simple and can be rather inexpensive. On the other hand, private agency and international adoptions will be much more costly. A lot will depend on where you live and your attorney’s hourly rate.

If you're able to complete some of the paperwork yourself, you can reduce your legal bill. Be sure to discuss upfront your lawyer’s rates and the expected cost of an adoption. Your attorney should be able to answer your questions about adoption as well as provide some ways for cutting costs in your case.

How Long Does an Adoption Take?

The length of your adoption will depend on the unique circumstances of your case. Some case delays may be out of your attorney’s control, especially if you’re adopting a child from foster care or a birthparent is trying to undo the adoption. In other cases, it may take additional time waiting for a biological parent to give up (or for a court to terminate) parental rights.

If you have concerns about your case’s progress, talk to your attorney.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My spouse and I are planning to adopt a relative’s child. What is involved in a next of kin adoption?
  • I started an adoption on my own, and now my case is at a standstill. Can an attorney help move the case forward?
  • My spouse and I want to adopt a child, but we don’t know where to start. Can an attorney help us find a child available for adoption?

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