The Must Knows of Colorado Adoption
Adoption Options and Legal Processes in Colorado
Adoption is a life-changing decision, not just for the parents, but also for the child involved. Adoption can take on many forms – from couple’s hoping to expand their family, grandparents taking over as the main caregiver, step-parent looking to legally cement their bond with a step-child, to an adult wanting to adopt another adult for inheritance purposes. Whatever the circumstance, the adopter may find themselves in uncharted waters, unsure of where to begin or what to expect. This article is meant to explain the basic ins and outs of adoption in Colorado. It will outline various adoption types, the processes and some legal ramifications an adopter may face.
When parents are either unable or unwilling to take care of their biological children, Colorado statue 19‑5-100.2 dictates that adoption is a legal proceeding which is sometime “necessary” to provide a “permanent, stable home” for children. The statue also finds adoption to offer “significant psychological, social and legal benefits” for a child. Adoption allows a person to legally affirm their care and love of a child that is not biologically related to them (there are exceptions, such as a grandparent adopting a grandchild).
In Colorado, there are several types of adoption, which offer prospective parents a variety of routes to choose from. Below are the most common types of adoption:
- Step-parent – involves a step-parent who is legally married to the biological parent, taking over parental responsibility of the non-custodial parent.
- Kinship – A person who wishes to adopt a family member.
- Adult – Adoption of someone who legally considered an adult, in Colorado that is age 18.
- Second-parent – Allows unmarried couples to assume the same parental rights, popularly known as a co-parent adoption.
- Domestic vs international – Adopting a child who resides within the country vs. outside the U.S.
- Open vs closed – An open adoption is when the biological parents of the adopted child can keep in contact with each other. Closed means there can be no communication or visitation between the biological parents and child.
- Private vs state – Private adoption is when a person relinquishes their parental right directly to the adoptive parent. Conversely, in public adoption the state assumes parental responsibilities while a child waits to be adopted.
As exciting a time this may be, with so many choices, circumstantial variability’s and unique requirements, it’s easy to go from excited to overwhelmed. Our family law attorneys at R&H can help guide potential parents: from advising them on viable options, to making sure they are legally prepared for the adoption process.
Who can adopt?
Anyone can adopt, so long as they are 21 years or older. Contrary to widespread belief, a person looking to adopt does not need to be married or own their own home. You may adopt without regard to your age, religion, gender or if you have any other children at home. Colorado does allow for same-sex couples to adopt. However, a person convicted of any violence crime(s) against a spouse or child, such as – abuse, neglect, battery, sexual assault, rape or murder are not allowed to adopt.
Myself or my spouse is in the military, can we still adopt?
Even if you are stationed here or aboard, a military family are still eligible to adopt children from the foster care system.
Can the biological parents take back a child?
Not usually no. The adoption process is legally binding. While they can be challenged in court, according to ColoradoFosterandAdopt.org more than 98% of adoptions remain unbroken.
Guardianship vs. Adoption
The main difference is that adoption is seen as legally permanent, whereas guardianship only grants temporary parental responsibility, it does not permanently relinquish the parental rights of the biological parents.
The Adoption Process in Colorado
The process varies depending on what type of adoption you are pursuing. If you are hoping to expand your family by adopting a non-biological child, you have three options: public adoption, private infant adoption or an international adoption. Typical wait times and costs are:
As already defined, public adoptions (aka foster care adoptions) are controlled by the Department of Human Services. Children who enter foster care do so because either: a parent has relinquished them to the local child welfare system; or a court has forcibly removed a child from an abusive/neglectful home. These types of adoptions are least expensive, as parents go through non-profit companies (such as the Adoption Exchange) who partner with local, state and federal governments. If parents choose this route, they often receive federal subsidies.
In contrast, a private adoption is coordinated through a for-profit or non-profit agency. These types of adoptions are also popularly referred to as “infant adoptions” because it involves an agency matching an adoptive family with a birth mother. Unlike a public adoption where the biological parent transfers their parental rights to the state, this option allows for a direct transfer between the natural to adoptive parent. Since these agencies are not affiliated with local or federal governments, they rely on funding from adoptive parents to operate – hence they can be a bit pricier.
Finally, international adoptions involve prospective parents adopting a child from outside the United States. Because parents must fulfill legal obligations from the state in which they reside, the US Federal Government and the country from which they are adopting, there is greater potential for complications. Depending on the country, there may be restrictions concerning the adoptive parent’s ages, family size and/or length of marriage. Often, the parents must also visit the child in their home country and work with UCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) on acquiring a visa for the child. As such, the process for these adoptions are usually lengthier and can cost the same or more than domestic private adoptions.
Whichever of these routes a person or couple may choose, there are legal obligations that must be satisfied during the process. Some of these obligations are:
Orientation/Training Classes. Many public and private placement agencies require potential adoptive parents to attend one or more parenting classes. These usually kick-off the adoption process, as they familiarize parents with the agency’s processes and inform parents what to expect in regard to common emotional and behavioral difficulties an adopted child may go through.
Home Study. Colorado requires this step in most adoptions. A licensed social worker (or case worker) will meet with the potential family at their home. An inspection of the home is performed for three reasons: 1) to make sure the home itself is a safe environment for children (that it meets Colorado state housing codes); 2) evaluate the aptitude and competence of the family, and; 3) educate and prepare the family for adoption. After the case worker inspects the home, each individual in the home (parents plus any other adults or children) will be interviewed. Interviews can be lengthy, touching on various personal subjects, such as a parent’s upbringing, parenting style, marital health and work-life balance. While this process may feel invasive, our attorneys recommend that parents keep a pleasant demeanor during the home study, as this has negatively impacted couples in the past, even being denied after inappropriately fighting with each other or with the case worker.
Note – for those pursuing an international adoption, an agency that is certified by the Hague Convention can only perform a home study.
Financial Check. Additionally, those hoping to adopt must undergo a financial check. While you do not need to be wealthy, authorities want to make sure that there is financial stability within a home and that a couple are economically capable of rearing a child. Tax returns and finance statements may be requested during the home study process.
Medical histories. Both mental and physical medical assessments are required of the parents. Prospective parents will need to obtain a written statement from their family doctor. While having existing medical conditions do not necessarily rule a person out, the case worker may factor it in when deciding if or who a potential match is.
6 month waiting period. By law all adoptions must wait a period of 6 months, starting from the day a parent take over custody of a child, until they can petition the courts for finalizing the adoption. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that it is a good fit for all persons involved.
Process for Step Parent Adoptions in Colorado
For step-parent’s looking to show their love, they have the option to adopt their spouse’s child. This is sometimes in the child’s best interest, especially when the non-custodial parent fails to take responsibility.
This type of adoption requires that the biological parent and step parent to be legally married. First, the adopting parent will need to undergo a background check. Secondly, Consent of Adoption forms along with the Petition of Adoption form must be collected and submitted. The Consent Forms must be signed by both biological parents and the child (if they are 12 years or older). There are three options a step parent may take in order to fulfill the obligation of the Consent Form:
- The non-custodial parent willingly signs the consent form, revoking their legal responsibility to the child in question.
- If the non-custodial parent is unwilling to sign the consent form, then there must exist legal grounds to involuntarily terminate the parent-child relationship. This can be achieved by demonstrating the non-custodial parent’s abandonment of the child in question for a year or failed to financially assist them during that time.
- If the non-custodial parent cannot be found, then a notice can be submitted to the local newspaper, which can later be used as proof of notification during the official hearing.
Once all forms have been filled out and submitted to the county court, in which the family resides, a hearing date will be set, when the court will make an official decision.
Note: Relinquishment of parental rights is final and irrevocable. However, a parent may try to retract the order for a period of 90 days after it was made. The court will need convincing evidence that they parent gave up their rights due to fraud or duress.
Process for Grandparent Adoption
Often a grandparent or relative are left to look after young children in the family. When this family member assumes parental responsibilities without receiving the legal rights that go along with it, they can run into trouble with things such as: school registration, medical decisions and receiving financial help. This can be overcome by instating either legal custody, guardianship or kinship adoption.
Legal custody and guardianship are legally temporary, the parents usually retain some rights (including visitation and the right to petition for full custody), which can leave the family member with less parental rights than they need. If it is in the child’s best interest to sever the relationship with an abusive or incompetent parent and the family member is looking for a permanent solution, then adoption is the best answer. A grandparent or biological relative can file for adoption of related children if:
- If the parent(s) have abandoned the child for one year or more
- If the parent(s) have failed to sufficiently provide support for one year or more
- That the party seeking kinship adoption has had legal custody of said child for a year or more
Note: for grandparents wondering which course of action to take – adoption sometimes afford greater financial stability, if the court approves the grandparent to receive child support payments from the parents. To read further on grandparent’s rights click here.
An adult adoption is a good option for those who want to legally recognize a parent-child relationship, even after a person has legally become an adult. Compared to some of the other options, adult adoption is usually much quicker and can be completed in 90 days. A formal hearing is not required but can be requested. The process requires that the correct paperwork be filed with the local court, in which the adopter resides. Because this process doesn’t affect the rights of the biological parent, they do not need to be notified of the event. This option is popularly used for establishing inheritance rights, which allows for the easy transfer of property and assets to non-related individuals.
Annulment (reversal) of Adoption
This is rare but not impossible. Colorado statue allows for the final adoption decree to be challenged for a period of 91 days after the decree was passed. Either the adopted child, adopted parents or biological parents can file for an annulment. There are several reasons a person may seek an annulment:
- Biological parents wish to challenge the adoption to regain parental rights.
- Adoptive parents may no longer be able to care for the child, or due to increasing deterioration in the relationship may feel that neither party is benefitting from the adoption.
- An adopted child may later in life file to achieve emancipation, to regain inheritance from natural parents, or get away from failing relationship with adoptive parents.
If the 91-day period has already passed, Colorado statue 19-5-214 says that no adoption decree can be challenged unless that there is clear and convincing evidence that the adoption is not in the best interests of the child.
Additionally, an appeal can be made on the grounds of procedural defect that occurred during the original hearing, such as: fraud or failure to properly notify the natural parent whose parental rights were being revoked.
Annulment is not possible for an international adoption, as US courts have no authority to annul an order from a different country.
Why Hire an Attorney
State rules vs. local court rules can complicate things. In Colorado, adoptions are governed by the Children’s Code statute, as well as Colorado Rules of Juvenile Procedure. Despite the homogeneity that these state rules may provide, each court has its own unique set of rules and procedures – even requiring the use of their own forms. Unless you are already familiar with your county court, an attorney can provide insight and stability to an otherwise opaque situation.
Totality of Circumstance. If a step-parent must prove abandonment when the non-custodial parent is unwilling to relinquish their right to the child, it can be difficult. As abandonment is a question of intent, the step-parent must prove that the biological parent left the child willfully and without intent to return. When a court takes into account the biological parent’s intent, the court regards the “totality of circumstance” meaning, they look at the whole picture – this leaves a lot of room for the biological parent to argue their case. Our attorneys at R&H are trained to regard all the evidence so that the case receives the best possible outcome.
Importance of biological parents. Colorado statue dictates that biological parents have a “fundamental liberty interest” in the care of their children; which leads to “the presumption that a child’s best interests will be furthered by a fit natural parent”. What this means is that a court will always try and protect the biological parent-child relationship. This can give biological parents some leverage when fighting an adoption case. Whether you are the biological parent hoping to retain parental rights, or an adoptive parent, an attorney can help you build a solid case. Especially for adoptive parents, it is paramount that all rules are properly followed and paperwork filled and submitted correctly. Otherwise, a biological parent may claim that they weren’t properly notified or their rights were relinquished under duress. An experienced attorney, like ours at R&H, know state and local procedures, so that scenarios like these can be avoided. If problems have surfaced, our attorneys know how to construct the best defense and tailor your case to the particularity of each local Colorado court.