Finding Ways To Bring Your Family Together

Types of Adoption

Prospective adoptive parents in Wisconsin can seek to adopt a child through five main pathways:

  • Domestic Infant Adoption
  • Independent Adoption
  • Foster Care (Public) Adoption
  • Relative Adoption
  • Step-Parent Adoption
  • International Adoption
  • Each of these methods has its own criteria, time frame, and associated costs. Because of this, it is important for anyone looking to adopt to weigh each option carefully and develop realistic expectations. Each method will be discussed in more detail below.

    No matter the adoption pathway chosen, adopting a child is a major life decision for both the prospective parent(s) and the child. The goal of the adoption process is to create forever families that will be there for each other no matter what, regardless of biological connection.

    The Role Of Attorneys In Adoption

    While welcoming a new family member is an exciting prospect, the adoption process is often complicated. Adoptive families and birth parents are subject to various state and federal laws and regulations. Attorneys are vital in the adoption process, making sure that these laws and regulations are satisfied and that all documentation associated with the adoption is filed promptly and with the appropriate department. Seeking counsel also ensures that the legal rights of both adoptive families and birth parents are protected. In short, adoption attorneys handle the legal aspects of the adoption process from start to finish, providing peace of mind that the adoption meets all legal requirements and preventing adoptive parents from incurring additional costs due to misfiling.

    Adoptions can occur under different circumstances, but each adoption is governed by complex regulations in the state of Wisconsin. Before a child can be adopted in Wisconsin, the birth parents’ rights must be legally terminated. Often, the child’s birth parents can file a petition with the Court to voluntarily terminate parental rights after the birth of the child. A hearing will then be held within 30 days of the filing of the petition. In this process, it is vital that both the birth and adoptive parents seek legal counsel, so that the process is completed according to Wisconsin’s laws and regulations, and to ensure that all parties’ rights are protected.

    It is also important to note that the laws governing consent to the adoption can vary based on each individual situation. For example, if the child has Native American heritage, the adoption is governed by additional federal laws that must be upheld.

    Wisconsin laws also denote which of the birth mother’s expenses may be paid by the prospective adoptive parents. Additionally, the adoptive parents must provide the Court with an itemized list of all payments made or promised in connection to the adoption. A qualified attorney can ensure that these expenses are paid and documented correctly.

    There are also laws in Wisconsin concerning how families seeking to adopt inform birth parents of this desire, as well as laws on how birth families express their interest in placing a child up for adoption. Adoption attorneys are required by the Wisconsin State Bar Association to stay up-to-date on regulations governing adoption, and can therefore provide prospective adoptive or birth parents with information and guidance on how to proceed with an adoption process.

    Domestic And Independent Infant Adoptions

    In a domestic infant adoption, birth parents, or sometimes just the birth mother, choose adoptive parent(s) for their child, most often prior to the child’s birth or in early infancy. The adoptive parents are typically selected through their applications to a licensed adoption agency, and the birth parents are able to “interview” prospective families to determine the best fit for their child. Then, upon the child’s birth, the adoptive parents are often able to take physical custody of the child before it leaves the hospital, provided that they have successfully completed a SAFE home study assessment. The adoption agency retains legal custody of the child until the adoption is final.

    For a domestic infant adoption to be legally complete, most licensed adoption agencies require a post-placement home study. This is similar to a SAFE assessment; a social worker will come to the home and make sure that the parent(s) and child are adjusting well to their new family dynamic. After a successful post-placement study, the social worker can inform the Court in the jurisdiction where the adoption is taking place that finalizing the adoption is in the best interests of the minor. Next, the Court must verify that the adoption was legally valid. A qualified attorney can assist in presenting sufficient evidence to the Court to demonstrate that every step of the adoption was done in accordance with relevant Wisconsin laws. Once proof of legality is submitted to the Court, they will schedule a final adoption hearing, during which a judge will ask questions about the adoption. If the judge is satisfied with the documentation provided, they will then sign an order finalizing the adoption and making the child a legal member of the adoptive family.

    Similarly, in an independent infant adoption, also known as a private adoption, the birth parents are able to select adoptive parents for their child, but the birth parents and adoptive parents are not put into contact by a large adoption agency. Instead, they may connect through mutual friends or via a smaller agency. Independent adoptions still require the involvement of a licensed agency to ensure the adoption follows state laws in conducting the SAFE home study, providing the birth and adoptive parents with counselling prior to the adoption, and maintaining legal guardianship of the minor prior to the adoption’s finalization.

    Can A Child Be Put Up For Adoption Without The Consent Of Both Parents?

    Placing a minor up for adoption in Wisconsin requires the consent of both birth parents whenever possible, as both parents have the legal right to be involved in their child’s life and to participate in decisions involving the child. That said, the Court also recognizes that parental relationships can vary, and often decides whether the biological father’s consent is required on a case-by-case basis.

    Most often, in situations where the birth father’s identity is unknown or the birth mother refuses to divulge the father’s identity and the Court cannot identify them, the Court will waive the requirement for the birth father to give consent, and will move forward with the process of terminating the birth parents’ rights.

    In other situations where the birth father’s identity is known but he struggles with addiction or severe mental health issues, or if he is incarcerated, or has previously been abusive or neglectful to the child, the Court may make a determination of unfitness. I Getting a parent declared unfit is a serious legal process, and can’t be done simply because one birth parent dislikes the other, for example. Parental unfitness proceedings require hearings to allow parents and other interested parties to present evidence to support their position. In Wisconsin, the rights of unfit parents can be terminated without their consent.

    What Is The Putative Father Registry?

    Wisconsin and other states have a putative father registry, also known as a paternal interest registry. The registry allows someone to make a Declaration of Possible Fatherhood regarding a child, where they assert that they are a possible father of the child. Typically, they must do so within fourteen days of the child’s birth.

    Being on the putative father registry does not give someone legal rights to a child; establishing legal paternity is a separate Court process. However, if the mother of a child listed on the registry files to voluntarily terminate her parental rights, the Court must submit an inquiry to the paternal interest registry to see if anyone has come forward as the child’s possible father. If there is a potential father listed, he will be notified that the mother is looking for a voluntary termination of parental rights and he will be given time to submit an answer to the Court.

    Can I Adopt More Than One Child At A Time?

    Anyone who is eligible to be an adoptive parent can adopt more than one child if they wish to do so. While this is most common when siblings are adopted together by the same family, but unrelated children can also be adopted into the same family. Typically, adoptions of multiple children into the same family can be finalized in the same Court hearing.

    Requirements for Adoptive Parents

    As with other states, Wisconsin has basic requirements that prospective parents must meet in order to adopt. The following criteria is put in place to ensure the health and safety of any child entering the home, as well as the suitability of the parents. While these qualifications are codified in state statutes, they are not exhaustive, and can vary based on the child’s background, the prospective parents’ history, and any other factors deemed relevant by the Court.

    In general, prospective adoptive parents in Wisconsin must:

    • Be at least 21 years old. There is currently no upper age limit for adoptive parents in Wisconsin.

    • Be in generally good mental and physical health.

    • Own or rent a home or apartment.

    • Pass a criminal background check.

    • Provide proof of adequate financial resources to care for a child.

    • Complete an approved adoption training program.

    • Complete a Structured Analysis Family Evaluation (SAFE) home study through the Department of Children and Families.

    Prospective adoptive parents in Wisconsin can be of any race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or gender. They may choose to adopt as a single person, or as a couple adopting jointly. They can also be first-time parents or have other adopted or biological children in the home, provided that there is adequate space and financial resources to welcome another child into the family.

    What Is A SAFE Home Study Assessment?

    A Structured Analysis Family Evaluation (SAFE) home study assessment is a standardized method to assess the fitness of people looking to become adoptive or foster parents. The SAFE home study method was developed by the Consortium for Children (CFC), which is a research-centered organization based out of California that focuses on connecting families and professionals with resources that promote the welfare and happiness and adopted and fostered children. It is used throughout the United States and Canada to ensure that adopted and fostered children are placed into safe and loving homes that allow them to thrive.

    Adopting A Child From Foster Care

    While people seeking to adopt a child from the foster care system must meet the same eligibility criteria as other prospective parents, the adoption process itself sometimes looks slightly different. Children typically enter the foster care system from less-than-perfect circumstances, becoming wards of the state temporarily while their birth parents receive access to training programs or other forms of assistance to then be able to regain custody of the child. The length of time a child spends in the foster care system can vary from case to case, as the child can only be returned to their birth parents if and when doing so is in the child’s best interest.

    During the time that the child is unable to live with their birth parents, they are placed with a foster family. Foster parents are typically connected to children in need of placement via a state agency, such as the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF). Prospective foster parents must be licensed by the state in which they want to foster to ensure that they are qualified, and they also must complete one or more background checks and a SAFE home study assessment. While foster parents might hope to adopt the child that is placed with them, unfortunately doing so isn’t always an option. The goal of foster care placement is to provide a temporary home for children while their birth parents take the steps necessary to provide a safe and stable home for them, then for the birth parents to regain custody.

    If a Court rules that the birth parents are unfit and the child should not be returned to them, the child can then be placed for adoption. Most often, children in the foster care system are adopted by a relative or by their foster family, but unconnected people can also adopt a child from foster care.

    Whether or not they able to adopt a child temporarily placed in their care, foster families play a pivotal role in that child’s development and long-term stability. Many children in the foster care system are between the ages of three and eighteen, and have experienced trauma in previous living environments. Foster parents’ healthy responses become all the more important for . Much of the training required of prospective foster parents hinges on trauma-informed care. This approach involves acknowledging that children who have been through abusive, neglectful, or other traumatic situations have different needs and different ways of viewing the world than well-adjusted children might. Thus, foster parents, and those adopting a child from foster care, must advocate for their access to resources that promote healing from these experiences.

    International Adoption

    International adoption, also known as intercountry adoption, involves adopting a child who was born a citizen of another country and bringing them to the United States. International adoptions are governed by U.S. federal laws, the laws of the child’s home country, and applicable laws of the U.S. state where the child will be brought to live. In order to standardize the intercountry adoption process, the U.S. and over 100 other nations entered into the Hague Adoption Convention in 2000. Under the convention’s guidelines, person or agency who wants to provide intercountry adoption services in a country belonging to the convention must be approved to do so. In 2014, these accreditation guidelines were imposed on countries not belonging to the Hague Adoption Convention as well.

    Because international adoption laws can still vary somewhat between countries, anyone considering adopting a child from another country should start by consulting an Adoption Service Provider (ASP) who offers adoption services that country. The Adoption Service Provider Directory allows prospective adoptive parents to filter ASPs by the countries they work with, the U.S. state they are located in, and the adoption services they provide. As with domestic adoptions, international adoptions require that the prospective parents undergo background checks, pre- and post-placement home studies, and training. ASPs are well-versed these procedures, as well as in any country-specific policies to be aware of.

    Because of the coordination required between countries, and because many countries require prospective adoptive parents to spend a period of time meeting and getting to know the child that they wish to adopt in the child’s home country, international adoptions can take between one and five years from start to finish. Consulting with an Adoption Service Provider that is accredited to assist with the adoption process in the country or countries that you are considering adopting from before beginning the adoption process ensures that you enter into it with a clear idea of the process and how to be proactive from start to finish.