2020 has been a year for the record books, and Magnolia Earl is one record breaker worth celebrating. This year, Magnolia won the Gerber Annual Photo Challenge (yes, that challenge where thousands of parents send in cute pictures of their children) and is the first ever winner of the award to be adopted. Bill Partyka, the President and CEO of Gerber stated, "At a time when we are yearning for connection and unity, Magnolia and her family remind us of the many things that bring us together: our desire to love and be loved, our need to find belonging, and our recognition that family goes way beyond biology."
Like marriage, adoption is one of those special legal mechanisms that creates a bond that can be stronger than biology. Each family's adoption story is unique. In Ohio, there are several different legal avenues that can help you bring your own family together. Whether you are thinking about adopting an infant, foster child, an adult, or a family member, this article will explain some of the different domestic adoption methods available.
Before adopting, there are many questions to ask, such as: (1) Do I want to adopt an infant or older child? (2) What is my level of comfort with an open adoption versus closed? (3) Am I able to take a child who may have needs beyond that of a typical child? (4) How much am I able to spend on this adoption? Answers to these questions may help you to determine what type of adoption is best for you.
There are two main avenues of adoption in Ohio – private agency adoption and public or government agency adoption. For this article, the term "public" refers to an adoption where the county has custody of the child being adopted. A "private" adoption refers to a situation where an individual or private agency has custody of the child being adopted. Note that the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services oversees the licensing of agencies for adoption, both public and private. There are many differences between a private and public adoption, some of which will be discussed below.
First, we will discuss private agency, or "Private Child Placing Agency" ("PCPA"), adoptions. These can be local or national organizations. Unlike in a public agency, or "Public Children Services Agency" ("PCSA"), adoption, the birth parents, in a private agency adoption, voluntarily place the child for adoption. Birth parents may play a role in the adoption process as they may choose from adoptive parent profiles. The adoptive parent(s) chosen by the birth parent(s) will be given priority for placement. As with any adoption, there is always a risk that the parent may attempt to revoke their decision. In Ohio, before surrendering their rights, a birth parent must undergo an evaluation as well as be informed of all of their options and rights. By executing a "Permanent Surrender," the birth parent allows the private agency to take "Permanent Custody" of the child.
In Ohio, only licensed agencies (both public and private) can take "Permanent Custody" of a child. Once a child is in the permanent custody of an agency, the child can be adoptively placed. Because adoption laws and terminology vary state to state, the term "Permanent Custody" may not be used or may have a completely different definition in another state.
Once placement occurs, the finalization hearing typically occurs within roughly six months. Note that these types of adoptions are generally for newborns, though not always. Common reasons that a birth mother may place her child for adoption include her age, financial circumstances, or lack of familial support. Practically speaking, private agency adoptions tend to take less time than a public agency adoption and are more costly. In Ohio, the cost can range from about $20,000.00 to $50,000.00 and upwards depending on your agency. Private agency adoptions can be open, semi-open, or closed, depending on the circumstances. For instance, it is very common in open and semi-open adoptions for the adopting family to share pictures and updates of the child with the agency three or four times a year. The agency then shares this with the birth parent(s) if the birth parent(s) so desires. Another common method of communication is for the adopting parent(s) to set up a new email address that is only used for communicating with the birth parent(s). Again, both parties must be comfortable and agree with these circumstances. Note that Post Adoptive Contact Agreements ("PACAS") are not enforceable under Ohio law; therefore, participation from each party is voluntary. Private agencies can also provide significant emotional support through counseling for the birth parents before and after the adoption, which can benefit everyone involved.
There are many nuances to private agency adoptions including interstate adoptions, adoptions where one birth parent is out of state, adoptions where a birth parent cannot be found, adoptions where a child is over six months old, etc. The above information is a general guide only. Each situation is unique and requires a reputable established private agency as well as an experienced attorney.
A private adoption can also take place with no agency at all. This is an attorney to attorney adoption. In these situations, the adopting parent(s) pays for the birth parent(s) to have legal representation. These adoptions can be less costly than private agency adoptions but may require more trips to court and more legwork on the part of the adopting parent(s). And just like private agency and county adoptions, the adopting parent(s) must have completed all the requirements (home study, etc.) and be licensed by the state to adopt.
In contrast to private adoptions, PCSA refers to a "foster" or "county" adoption. Here, the birth parents' rights have been terminated by the juvenile court and the child has been taken into the custody of a state or local child services agency typically due to abuse or neglect. A common situation could be physical abuse by the child's birth parent(s) or neglect because the birth parent is addicted to opioids. These children are coming from a traumatic situation. They are children who, like every other child, need stability and love.
The purpose of the foster system is not adoption; rather, it is reunification with the birth family. The foster family provides the child with a loving and stable environment until this is possible. In reality though, reunification is not always healthy or safe for many foster children. In Ohio, there are about 16,000 children in the foster system. More than 2,600 children are waiting to be adopted in Ohio.
The vast majority of adoptions that take place via the foster system start out as foster placements, not adoptive placements. This means a family interested in adopting from the county will be licensed a foster parent as well as have a license to adopt. In contrast, when adopting privately as described above, the adopting parent will only be licensed to adopt.
So how does an adoption from the foster system work? When a child is placed in a foster family's home, the agency is typically trying to find appropriate birth relatives to take the child. Only after the birth family has failed to meet the requirements of the juvenile court for reunification will the juvenile court consider granting the county (i.e., Juvenile and Family Services ("JFS")) permanent custody. Once granted, the county agency may adoptively place the child with the foster family. The foster family generally would take preference over all others wanting to adopt. As a practical matter, a last-minute family member seeking adoption may prevail over the foster family.
Adoptions of foster children are usually done at no cost to the adopting family. Additionally, if the child qualifies because of a special need, the adopting family may receive a monthly subsidy that is a combination of state and federal funding to support the child after the adoption and throughout childhood. Children of all ages can be adopted from the foster system. The foster system can be a great choice for parents who are not intent on adopting an infant. There are an incredibly high number of older children and teens who desperately need a forever home. Such adoptions can be very rewarding for both kids seeking a forever home and parents with a place in their hearts and homes.
Careful consideration is needed when thinking about any adoption. While adopting from the foster system is an economic and rewarding choice, you need to weigh that with the possibility that the child you've bonded with may be returned to their biological family until the county takes Permanent Custody.
While each step-parent/step-child relationship is special, in order to receive the legal benefits of a parent/child relationship, the step-parent must adopt the step-child. Step-parent adoptions occur when the spouse is married to the child's birth parent. Depending on the facts, this type of adoption requires either the consent of or notice to the other biological parent because their rights as a parent will no longer exist if the step-parent adoption is granted. As with all other adoptions, the adoption of a step-child creates a legal relationship that allows the adoptee to inherit through the step-parent and affords the step-parent the right to visitation and custody in the event of a divorce. If the step-child is not formally adopted, then the step-child must be included in a will or other legal inheritance instrument in order to inherit from the step-parent. This is why some step-parents choose to go through the formal process. While there are a handful of exceptions relating to the information to be collected from the step-parent, the adoption process largely mirrors that of private or public adoptions.
In Ohio, an adult, someone who is over the age of eighteen, may be adopted. Such adoptions may occur in order to formally and legally recognize an existing parent/child relationship. For instance, if the father of Child A died when the child was 14, and the mother remarried but the stepfather never legally adopted Child A during the child's youth (until 18), then this avenue of adoption is available.
This is also an avenue if the adult is permanently or totally disabled, is determined to have an intellectual disability, there is a child-foster caregiver or kinship caregiver relationship, or the adult is in the legal custody of the adoptive parent at the age of eighteen. Because the adoptee is an adult, the adoptee must consent to the adoption if the adult does not have a disability that would cause the adoptee to be unable to. Once the adult is adopted, the legal relationship with his or her birth parent is terminated.
Growing your family through adoption can be a beautiful and life changing choice for all involved. To make it so, due diligence is required to determine the best fit for you and your family. The newest Gerber baby, Magnolia, is a sweet reminder that we all desire to be loved, to find belonging, and that family is more than just biology. Before beginning the adoption process, be sure to consult with an experienced adoption attorney, as this article serves only to briefly highlight a few of the different adoption avenues available in Ohio.