When an adoption order is entered, the relationship of parent and child is established between the adoptive parent and the adopted child. The child has all of the legal rights and privileges as though he were born to the adoptive parent in lawful wedlock. Conversely, the parental relationship between the natural parents and the adopted child is completely severed (unless the adoption is by the child’s stepparent).
An adoption may be either an “agency placement adoption” or a “direct placement adoption.” An agency placement adoption is a proceeding in which an adoption agency has been authorized to place the child for adoption. A direct placement adoption is a proceeding in which a particular person has been authorized to adopt the child. The authorization is given by the child’s parents after the child is born.
Any child in Arizona under the age of 18 years may be adopted. A husband and wife may jointly adopt a child.
Before a person may petition to adopt a child, that person must be certified by the court as acceptable to adopt children. A certificate will be issued only after an investigation is conducted by an officer of the court, by a licensed agency, or by the Department of Economic Security (DES). The investigation will include the prospective adoptive parent’s social history, financial condition, moral fitness, religious background, physical and mental health, and other facts bearing on the issue of fitness.
The person or agency conducting the investigation will submit a written report to the court, which will include a recommendation for certifying the applicant as being acceptable or unacceptable. The court will certify the applicant as being acceptable or nonacceptable to adopt based on the report. A certification remains valid for 18 months, but may be extended for additional one-year periods if there are no material changes in circumstances.
The requirement for preadoption certification does not apply if the prospective adoptive parent is the spouse of the birth or legal parent of the child, or is an uncle, aunt, adult sibling, grandparent or great-grandparent of the child, and in other limited circumstances.
A person who is not certified as acceptable but who has custody of a child, except for a stepparent, close family relative or guardian of the child, must petition the court for an order permitting that person to keep custody of the child pending certification. The person must file the petition not later than five days after he obtains custody of the child.
Consent to Adoption
Generally, a court will not grant an adoption unless consent to adopt is obtained from the child’s mother, the child’s father, the child (if 12 years of age or older), any court-appointed guardian with authority to consent to adoption, and, in the case of an agency placement adoption, the agency. Consent must be obtained from DES if it has been given consent to place the child for adoption by a parent whose consent would otherwise be necessary, or if it otherwise has legal authority to place the child for adoption, although the court may waive the requirement for consent if to do so is clearly in the child’s best interest. It is not necessary to obtain consent from a parent whose parental rights have been terminated, or from a potential father who fails to file a paternity action within 30 days after receiving legal notice that the adoption is planned.
All consents to adoption, except from the child, must be in writing and signed by the person giving the consent, be witnessed by two credible adults, and be acknowledged by the person giving consent before a notary public. A consent that is given before 72 hours after the birth of the child is invalid. A consent to adopt is irrevocable, unless it was obtained by fraud, duress, or undue influence. Except for payment of certain expenses, a person may not be compensated for giving or obtaining consent to place a child for adoption. (In any event, a person cannot pay the living expenses of a birth parent that exceed $1,000 without permission of the court.)
When a consent to adoption is given, the birth parent will usually also give a notarized statement granting or withholding permission for the child, when he reaches 18 years of age, to obtain information about himself and the birth parent. The decision to grant or withhold information may be changed by the birth parent at any time by the filing of a notarized statement with the court.
Before placing a child for adoption, DES, the licensed agency, or the person placing the child is required to compile and provide to the prospective adoptive parent detailed written nonidentifying information, including a health and genetic history, and all nonidentifying information about the birth parents or members of their families.
Petition to Adopt
A petition to adopt can be filed in the juvenile division of the superior court in the county in which the child resides. The petition must state the name of the prospective adoptive parent, but the child to be adopted may be referred to by a fictitious name. If a change of name for the child is desired, the new name should be stated in the petition.
Adoption Hearing; Social Study
After a petition to adopt has been filed, the court clerk will set a time and place for the hearing. All persons interested in the adoption must be given notice of the hearing. DES, a licensed agency, or an officer of the court will conduct a social study before the hearing date. The social study will include all information that is pertinent to the adoption proceedings, and it will contain a recommendation for or against the proposed adoption. The social study must be submitted to the court at least 10 days before the adoption hearing.
Not less than 10 days before the adoption hearing, the prospective adoptive parent must file with the court a verified accounting of all fees, payments, disbursements, or commitments made by him in connection with the adoption. The birth mother must sign an affidavit that verifies that she has been given written notice and understands that the payment of her living expenses by another person does not obligate her to place the child for adoption. These requirements do not apply if an agency is involved in the adoption, or if a stepparent is the prospective adoptive parent.
The adoption hearing will be conducted in an informal manner. The prospective adoptive parent, his spouse, and the child to be adopted must attend. The matters discussed at the hearing will not be disclosed to any person who is not present. If all of the adoption requirements have been met and the court believes the adoption is in the best interests of the child, the court will order the adoption. The order may change the name of the child to that of the adoptive parent. The court will send an order to the department of vital records to change the child’s name on the child’s birth certificate, and to add the name of the adoptive parent thereto.
The parties to an adoption may enter into an agreement regarding communications with the child. Under this agreement, the adoptive parent may terminate contact between the birth parent and the adoptive child at any time. The court will approve the agreement, unless it finds that communication between the parties is in the child’s best interests.
All files, records, reports, and other papers in an adoption proceeding are withheld from public inspection.
The above article is an excerpt from Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, 2nd Edition (Fenestra Books, 2012), by Donald A. Loose, republished with the author’s permission.
Disclaimer: Laws change constantly. Specific legal advice should be obtained regarding any legal matter. The information contained on this website does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created.
Don likes to target shoot, scuba dive, and pilot airplanes. Most recently, he has been working on his golf handicap. Don enjoys writing, reading, and spending time with his wife, twin sons, and golden retriever, Lucy.