The adoption process can be quite overwhelming. It’s hard to get answers to even basic questions like, “how long will this take?” Here, I’ll tackle this question.
The length of time will generally depend on 3 factors. First, is the adoption contested or uncontested? Second, is the adopting party a stepparent or relative of the child, or a non-relative? Third, is the adoption a private adoption or a foster-care adoption?
On the first issue, uncontested adoptions are much quicker than contested ones. An adoption is uncontested if both biological parents voluntarily sign a document surrendering their parental rights and consenting to the adoption. This factor makes a bigger difference than anything else as far as the timetable.
On the second issue, if the adopting party is a stepparent or relative, versus a non-relative, the process is faster. “Relatives” include grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The reason this type of adoption is faster is because no home study is required to be performed. For all other types of adoptions (besides stepparent and relative adoptions), a home study is required. A home study involves an adoption agency or DHS interviewing the adopting parents, inspecting their home, and writing a report for the court to review. The home study alone can take several months, so the process goes much quicker if it is not required.
On the third issue, private adoption is simpler and quicker than foster-care adoptions. Private adoption simply means the biological parents voluntarily place their child for adoption, either using an agency or finding the adoptive family on their own.
So how long does the process take? If the adoption is uncontested, is a stepparent or relative adoption, and is a private adoption (which almost all stepparent/relative adoptions are), the process goes the fastest. It will depend somewhat on how busy the court’s docket is, which varies by the county. But generally speaking, adoptions of this type (uncontested, stepparent/relative, private), usually can be completed within 3 months. Sometimes, we can do such an adoption in as short as a month, although I can’t always promise that.
If the adopting family are non-relatives, this adds a little bit of time, but not much. It only adds the amount of time it takes to get a home study done. Often the adoption can still be done in several months, but it will all depend on the length of time it takes for the agency to perform the home study (or for DHS to, if the adopting family opt to use DHS for the home study). The home study might add an extra month or two to the process but usually no more than that.
If the adoption is contested, then expect the adoption to take at least a little bit longer. “Contested,” as I’m using it here, simply means both biological parents won’t sign consents. If the parents won’t sign consents, then the court is required to appoint a “guardian ad litem” to conduct an investigation and report to the court. This sounds intimidating, but it is somewhat akin to the home study. The guardian ad litem is an attorney, but he or she will meet with you, examine your home, and create a report. If you love the child and are a suitable parent, the GAL will almost certainly give you a good report, so this is not anything to sweat. It just takes additional time.
In contested adoptions, there are varying degrees of how much the biological parent truly fights it or doesn’t fight it. Often, they put up no fight whatsoever – they just won’t sign. Or sometimes they cannot be found. In that event, you would publish process in the newspaper for 3 consecutive weeks to provide notice of the proceedings. Sometimes, however, the biological parent fights it tooth and nail. This could result in a complex multi-day trial where various witnesses are called to testify in support of or against the termination of the biological patents’ rights to the child.