Mistake #1 – Not knowing there are different types of adoption agencies - Children can be placed for adoption by a parent or guardian, the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, or a child-placing agency. Private and public agencies each have their own internal adoption procedures, rules, and policies that parents need to follow. It is a good idea to do some initial research on available adoption agencies before deciding which one is best suited to meet your needs.
Mistake #2 – Not understanding an adoption could be contested - Adoptions are generally either contested, or uncontested. A contested adoption means that someone disagrees with the placement of a child for adoption or disagrees with you being the adoptive parent(s). An uncontested adoption means that no one with a legal right to the child is fighting that child’s placement for adoption or specifically, that child’s placement with you.
In both contested and uncontested adoptions, the parental rights of one or both biological parents must be terminated before an adoption can go forward. Termination can happen either through voluntary consent (when a parent agrees, in writing, to relinquish the child), or through an involuntary judicial termination (usually in cases where there has been abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child). If the person to be adopted is fourteen years of age or older, he or she must also consent. RCW 26.33.160(1)(a).
Mistake #3 – Not realizing stepparent adoptions are a little different - The adoption process is slightly different in stepparent adoptions. In stepparent adoptions, there might be only one parent with legal rights to a child (because the other biological parent’s legal rights to the child may have been previously terminated). The remaining biological (and legal) parent is not seeking to have their legal rights terminated. Instead, they are usually joining in the petition to allow the stepparent (aka the biological parent’s spouse) to adopt the child so that both the biological parent, and the stepparent will be the legal parents of the child. Importantly, no pre-placement report is required in a stepparent adoption.
Mistake # 4 – Not knowing when Pre and Post Placement Reports are required - In most cases, a child will not be placed with future adoptive parents until a preplacement report has been filed with the court. Preplacement reports, as mentioned above, are not required in stepparent adoptions or in adult adoptions. A preplacement report is a written document that includes all relevant information as to the fitness of the adoptive parent or parents and also verifies that certain issues related to the adoption have been discussed. These reports include a background check. All such reports must be provided by an agency, department, or individual approved by the court.
Post-placement reports are required in all adoption cases except if the person being adopted is 18 years of age or older. A post-placement report must be prepared in the same manner as a preplacement report. The purpose of the post-placement report is to determine “the nature and adequacy of the placement and to determine if the placement is in the best interest of the child.” RCW 26.33.200(1).
Mistake #5 – Thinking an attorney isn’t necessary- Generally, attorneys are never required and you may of course complete an adoption without the assistance of an attorney. However, even the most straightforward adoption requires a lot of paperwork, from drafting the initial pleadings to finalizing the adoption. Official reports must be submitted and proper consent procedures must be followed. Mistakes can cause the finalization of your adoption to be delayed and at worst, serious mistakes could cause the adoption to be set aside or declared invalid. Working with an attorney throughout the adoption process relieves you from having to deal directly with many of the pressures associated with adoption legal proceedings. Often, simple adoptions can run into complex problems, so having an attorney on the case from the beginning might save you a lot of time and heartache.