Do I Need a Lawyer for an Uncontested Adoption?

We ask an Oregon attorney about the risks

It is not uncommon for the parent of a minor child to remarry and their new spouse wants to adopt that child as their own. Oftentimes, the other biological parent is no longer present or has no interest in contesting such a stepparent adoption. Does this mean the stepparent can proceed with an uncontested adoption without the assistance of an attorney?

“You usually need to in Oregon,” says Mindy Stannard, a family law attorney at Morris Stannard & Batalden in Portland. “I’ve done only one in Washington, [where] you can just order a pack of forms from the courthouse. But in Oregon … there’s different steps and phases of the process, and you need to make sure that you dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s. It’s not as simple as downloading some forms.”

Understanding the Steps in Successfully Completing an Adoption

As mentioned above, strictly speaking, you do not have to hire an attorney to complete the adoption process. That does not make it a good idea. Even in the best-case scenario—i.e., an uncontested stepparent adoption—there are a number of legal formalities that must be observed. Among the issues that frequently come up in Oregon's adoption process:

  • The parties seeking to adopt must file a number of legal documents with the court within specified deadlines.
  • The petitioners must be able to resolve any outstanding questions surrounding the child's paternity.
  • If the other biological parent is still alive, they must give their consent in order for the adoption to proceed as uncontested.
  • If the child is over the age of 14, they must also give their consent to the adoption.
  • The Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) must be served with a copy of the petition, as it is considered an interested party in any adoption proceeding.
  • After a petition for adoption is filed, the court may require a “post-placement evaluation,” i.e., a DHS social worker will need to interview the custodial parent and stepparent and potentially conduct a home study.
  • The court will conduct a hearing at which a judge can question the parents and the child and decide whether or not permitting the adoption is in the child's best interest.
  • Once the hearing ends, the judge must wait at least 90 days before finalizing the adoption.

If at any point you have a question or concern about these procedures, an experienced Oregon adoption attorney will be in the best position to provide you with answers. You will not be able to ask court employees for help. By law, they cannot provide legal advice or assistance to persons who file an adoption petition.

While Stannard notes that uncontested adoptions are most often stepparent adoptions or the result of another family member stepping in to adopt after a family member has passed, they still take time. “Even with an adoption where you’re not doing a home study … I usually tell clients you might be looking at a six-month window—even if things go really smoothly,” she says.

What Happens If the Other Parent Contests the Adoption?

The other thing to keep in mind is that even if you enter the adoption process assuming the non-custodial parent will not contest the proceedings, that may not end up being the case. In most cases, biological parents retain certain legal rights that they cannot be forced to waive just because the custodial parent has remarried. If the biological parent does object, then you will find yourself in a contested adoption proceeding. A court may still ultimately find adoption is the child's best interests, but that is not a given. And if you find yourself in a court fight, then you will definitely benefit from the assistance of a qualified Oregon adoption attorney.

For more information on this area, please see our overview on adoption law.

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