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Adoption and Guardianship

Children’s Law Center provides free legal help to relatives and foster parents of children in the DC foster care system. Call 202.467.4900 option 4 to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer.

What is adoption?
Adoption creates the legal relationship between a parent and child that is the same as if the parent were the child’s biological parent. Adoption also permanently terminates the birth parents’ rights.

The legal relationship between the birth parent and the child can be severed in two ways:

  • The birth parent voluntarily gives up her rights by executing a relinquishment of parental rights.
  • If a child is adjudicated neglected, the court can terminate parental rights as a result of a motion to terminate parental rights (TPR). A TPR can be filed and litigated prior to the filing of an adoption or while the adoption case is pending.

Even if parental rights have not already been terminated or relinquished, the court can grant an adoption under the following circumstances:

  • The birth parent consents to the adoption.
  • If the birth parent does not consent, the court can nonetheless grant the adoption if it finds that consent is being withheld contrary to the best interests of the child or that the parent had abandoned and voluntarily failed to support the child for 6 months preceding the filing of the petition.

If there has been no termination of parental rights (through any of the above methods) prior to the adoption, the adoption is known as a “contested” (also known as “direct” or “show cause”) adoption. If parental rights have been terminated, or the birth parent consents, the adoption is considered “uncontested.”

Who can adopt?
Under DC law, any person may file a petition for adoption, If a person is married, his or her spouse must join in the adoption petition.

Who can be adopted?
There is no legal requirement that a child be living with or in the physical or legal custody of the person seeking to adopt him or her at the time the petition is filed. But, for a final decree of adoption to be entered, the child must have been living with the petitioner for at least 6 months.

What is the adoption process?
The adoption process starts when a person files a paper in DC Superior Court called the adoption petition. When an adoption petition is filed, the court asks the DC Child and Family Services Agency or the involved private adoption agency to file a written report with the Court. The report must include an investigation of the truth of the allegations in the petition, whether the child is a proper subject for adoption, whether the home of the petitioner is suitable and other circumstances and conditions which may have a bearing on the adoption. The report must also include a recommendation as to whether the court should grant the adoption.

The judge will hold a hearing about the adoption. At that hearing, the prospective adoptive parent has the burden to show by clear and convincing evidence that:

  • The child is physically, mentally and otherwise suitable for adoption by petitioner;
  • Petitioner is fit and able to give child a proper home and education;
  • Adoption will be in the best interest of the child; and
  • Birth parents consent, have abandoned and failed to support child or are withholding consent contrary to the best interests of the child.

 

Do adoptive parents receive financial help?
When foster parents adopt a child from the abuse and neglect system, they may able to receive a monthly subsidy to help care for the child. Eligibility for a subsidy depends on many factors, including the child’s age, whether they are being adopted along with a brother or sister and whether they have special emotional or medical needs.

Adoption subsidy agreements must be negotiated with CFSA and signed prior to the entry of the final decree of adoption. Subsidies are reviewed every year and adjustments can be made based on the changing needs of the child.


What is guardianship?
Guardianship is an option when a caregiver is committed to raising a child but adoption isn’t the right solution. In DC, caregivers of children who are in the abuse and neglect system can become guardians.

Guardianship gives the caregiver most of the rights and responsibilities of raising a child without permanently terminating the birth parents’ rights. Although the birth parent retains some rights, the guardian generally has primary legal and physical custody of the child. Guardianship continues until the child reaches adulthood and allows the court’s abuse and neglect case to close. Guardianships can be modified by a judge under some limited circumstances.


What is the process for seeking guardianship?
A guardianship proceeding begins when the proposed guardian, the DC government or the child’s guardian ad litem files a motion in the child’s neglect case. The motion can be filed at any time after a neglect petition has been filed, but a guardianship order cannot be entered unless the court has determined the child has been neglected and the child has been living with the proposed guardian for at least 6 months.

The court may approve the guardianship if it finds that guardianship is in the child’s best interest, that adoption or return to the parent is not appropriate and that the guardian is suitable and able to provide a safe and permanent home.

May a guardian receiving ongoing financial support?
Guardians may be eligible for monthly guardianship subsidy payments which are similar to foster care payments. Subsidies can be time-limited or can continue until the child’s 18th birthday. The subsidy amount is calculated on a sliding scale (based on the age and needs of the child and the income of the guardian). Guardians can only receive a subsidy if they sign a written agreement with CFSA. Requirements to be eligible for the subsidy are:

  • The child is adjudicated neglected;
  • The child is committed to the legal custody of CFSA (eg: in foster care) prior to the guardianship being finalized;
  • The guardian is an approved kinship caregiver (defined as a relative or godparent)


Where can I find out more about adoption and guardianship?

Foster and Adoptive Parent Advocacy Center (FAPAC)

Post-Permanency Family Center 

National Center for Adoption Law and Policy

AdoptUsKids

The North American Council on Adoptable Children

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