Thousands of Michigan parents and families adopt children every year. Whether through an agency, a relative, or simply their own marriages, these individuals rely on the Michigan Adoption Code to solidify their rights and unite their families. Find out what you need to know about Michigan adoption, and how an adoption attorney can help.
On Tuesday, April 16, 2019, adoption attorney Lisa J. Schmidt presented an overview of the Michigan Adoption Code as part of the Institute of Continuing Legal Education’s Adoption, ART, and Paternity seminar. You can read more about the seminar, and ICLE here.
The seminar was directed at lawyers from across the state looking to expand their practice and provide services to adopting families. But it’s not just lawyers who need to understand how the law works. Here’s what potential parents need to know about the Michigan Adoption Code.
Who Can Adopt?
Generally, any adult in Michigan can file a petition for adoption — as a single person, or as a married couple. (In most cases, if one spouse wants to adopt, the other spouse will have to join the case as a co-petitioner.) This includes married same-sex couples, who may adopt a child together since the 2015 Obergefell marriage equality decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, two unmarried people generally cannot adopt the same child. The Michigan Adoption Code also prevents placement with a person who has been convicted of solicitation of a minor, child pornography, or criminal sexual conduct.
Where Should You Adopt?
A Michigan adoption attorney can help you adopt a child by filing a petition with your local county circuit court, even if the child you are adopting is coming from out of state. Picking the right county depends on:
- Where you live
- Where the child is found
- Where the child’s legal parents’ rights were terminated
- Where you filed temporary placement documents (explained below)
Types of Adoption
There are 6 types of adoption in Michigan:
- Agency adoption — where a child is a ward of the state or in the foster care system before he or she is adopted
- Direct placement adoption — where a legal parent selects the person (or couple) he or she wants to adopt the child
- Relative adoption — where someone related to the child by blood or marriage becomes the legal parent of the child
- Stepparent adoption — where a child’s stepparent assumes the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent to the child
- Guardian adoption — where a legal custodian of a child becomes the legal parent of that child
- Adult adoption — where one adult takes on the legal status of parent for another adult, usually for inheritance or sentimental reasons
Many steps of the Michigan adoption process are the same across all the different types. However, some types of adoptions have special rules, especially when it comes to terminating the rights of the child’s non-custodial parents.
How to Get an Adoption
Depending on the type of adoption you use, there may be several steps involved:
Most child placement agencies require their foster and adoptive parents to complete training and assessment before they will connect them with a child up for adoption. However, even in direct placement cases, you will need to get a favorable preplacement assessment by a child placing agency before you can take the child into your home.
This assessment will include interviews, background checks, physical medical exams, and a home visit, and could take several months to complete. These can be done anytime up to 1 year before you file your petition for adoption, so it is better to start the process early.
Once the preplacement assessment and the adoptive child is chosen or born, the agency or custodial parent can place the child with his or her intended parents. This involves completing and filing temporary placement paperwork. Custodial parents or guardians must work with either a child placing agency or an adoption attorney who will help them understand their rights and the process involved in completing the adoption. Temporary placement can be revoked at any time until the legal parents’ rights are terminated if either the custodial parent or the adoptive parents change their mind.
Petition for Adoption
Once the child is placed with the intended parents, your adoption attorney will help you prepare and file a petition for adoption, along with all the necessary supporting paperwork. You should work with a lawyer familiar with the practices in your specific county, because different courts have different requirements that could slow down the process.
Adoption Services Investigation
After the Petition for Adoption is filed, in most cases, a court officer or child placing agency will perform an investigation and issue a report. If you already had a preplacement assessment, the court may use that assessment as the basis for its report. However, in relative placement and stepparent cases, this will be the first time someone is reviewing the appropriateness of the intended parents and their home. The investigation uses all the same methods as the preplacement assessment, and helps to determine:
- The identity and location of any biological, “putative”, or legal parents whose rights need to be terminated
- The suitability of the proposed home for the child
- The ability of the petitioners to serve as parents for this child and meet this child’s needs (special needs or disabilities can come into play here)
Once the investigation is done, the adoption services social worker or child placing agency employee will recommend that the adoption go forward, or that the petition be denied and temporary placement be revoked. Work with your adoption attorney to anticipate any problems so you get a favorable recommendation.
Termination of Parental Rights
The next step is to terminate the legal rights of the biological or legal parents into whose shoes the petitioners are stepping. Depending on the type of adoption and whether everyone is on the same page, this can be done through:
- A release by a parent to a child placement agency
- A consent signed by a parent to adoption by a particular person or couple
- Notice to the parent of a hearing that he or she does not choose to attend
- Involuntary termination of a parent’s rights based on the child’s best interests and a history of no support or significant contact with the child
If you think one or both parents may object to the adoption it is especially important that you work with an experienced adoption attorney who can help you make sure everything is done correctly to meet the high constitutional standard to terminate parental rights.
If the child is a ward of the state (because of abuse and neglect proceedings or a parental release), you will also need to get consent to adopt from the child placing agency and the state. When those consents become a problem, you and your attorney will have hard work ahead of you to find a way to overcome the state’s non-consent and proceed with the adoption.
Formal Placement and Supervision Period
Once a parent’s rights are terminate, the court will enter formal placement orders with the intended parents. These orders will last at least 21 days while the court waits to see if the former parents appeal the decision to terminate their rights.
In direct placement and agency adoption cases, there is a 3 month supervision period for infants and a 6 month supervision period for older children. During this time the child placing agency or court officer will make periodic visits and report back to the court on how the child is adjusting. The court can choose to waive this supervision or extended up to 18 months, if there is good reason to do so.
Final Order of Adoption
Once the waiting periods and supervision is over, the time has finally come for a final order of adoption. This order may change the child’s name and will direct the Secretary of State to issue a new birth certificate in the names of the adoptive parents. Once this order is entered, an adoptive parent has all the rights and responsibilities to a child as his or her legal and biological parents once had.
The Michigan Adoption Code can be confusing. When challenges come up along the way, you need an experienced adoption attorney to guide you through the process. Before you head to the courthouse, be sure the person you hire has been there before, or you could face a long, sometimes sad, road to formally uniting your family.
Lisa J. Schmidt is an adoption attorney at Schmidt & Long, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps stepparents, relatives, and intended parents navigate the Michigan Adoption Code and formally adopt their children. If you are looking to adopt, contact Schmidt & Long today to schedule a consultation.