Family Law

Reversing an Adoption

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Some adoptions may be reversed, but only under very limited circumstances.

Talk to a Local Adoptions Attorney

In certain situations, families may need to reverse an adoption due to fraud, an adoptive parent’s health, or the child’s unexpected needs. Adoption laws are regulated at the state level, so your ability to reverse an adoption will depend on your family’s individual circumstances and your state's rules.

What Is an Adoption Disruption?

The details of how to reverse an adoption will depend, in part, on where you are in the process. Prospective parents in the middle of an adoption can simply stop the process. This is called an “adoption disruption.” For example, potential adoptive parents may cancel an adoption if they discover that they’re not emotionally or financially prepared for a child’s mental or physical condition. At this stage, no court has finalized the adoption yet, so you won’t need a judge to issue an order to undo it. Your adoption agency can help you complete any final cancellation paperwork.

When Can an Adoption Be Reversed?

Once a judge has finalized a child’s adoption, you’ll need court approval to undo it. Typically, the child’s adoptive or birth parents can petition a judge for a reversal. Each state has its own specific time frames for reversing an adoption. Generally, the sooner a parent files the reversal petition, the better chance it has at being granted.

Adoptive Parents Reversing Adoption

In very limited circumstances, adoptive parents can undo an adoption if there's a compelling reason which would serve the adopted child’s best interests. For example, a court might decide it’s in a child’s best interests to dissolve an adoption if one of the parents received a terminal cancer diagnosis or the child has significant medical needs, and the adoptive parents can’t afford the necessary treatments. On the other hand, a court isn't likely to reverse an adoption because the adoptive parents no longer want to raise the child.

Biological Parents Reversing Adoption of Their Child

Some states allow biological parents to reverse an adoption if the adoptive parents give their consent, but a few states, like Utah, don’t allow biological parents to rescind their consent under any circumstances. In Utah, a birth parent’s relinquishment of a child is effective as soon as it’s signed and it can’t be revoked. Virtually all other states allow a birth parent to revoke adoption consent during a limited time frame.

Because certain states like Utah have limited notice requirements for unmarried parents, there have been several high-profile Utah cases where biological dads have successfully reversed their children's adoptions. In each of these cases, the biological father never received notice of, or consented to, the impending adoption. These dads eventually received custody of their children in place of the adoptive parents.

Never Abandon a Child

Under no circumstances should you ever abandon a child in an attempt to reverse an adoption. Child abandonment is a criminal offense. For example, if you refuse to pick your child up from a treatment facility or hospital, you could face criminal charges and jail time. This rule applies to any foster children in your care as well. Moreover, in some states it’s illegal to “transfer” your adopted child to the care of another family without court approval.

Adoption can bring unexpected challenges to parents and children alike. Some parents are surprised to find that their child suffers with emotional scars of past abuse. Some children may find it hard to adjust to a new family.

If you're considering reversing an adoption, you should speak to an experienced adoption attorney and only seek a reversal through the proper legal channels.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My adoptive child has spent more time in treatment facilities than in my home. This adoption simply isn’t working. What can I do?
  • I’m a birth mom, and I’m regretting giving up my child for adoption. Do I have any legal recourse?
  • I want to reverse the adoption, but my spouse doesn’t. What are my options?

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