- What is Adoption
- Different Types of Adoption
- Getting Started
- Voluntary Consent
- Termination of Parental Rights for “Cause”
- The Home Study
- Post-Placement Assessment and Finalization
- Foreign Adoptions
- Special Needs Children
- Legal Counsel
- Local Rules for Adoption
Bringing a child into a family through adoption is a wonderful experience. Many families, however, are afraid of the adoption process. The public usually only hears the stories about the adoptions that turn sour, like cases where consent was not obtained or the biological parent changed their mind.
That is not true in most adoptions. Thousands of children are adopted each year and remain happily with their new families without any legal battles ever occurring.
This guide was written to briefly explain the adoption laws in the state of Missouri and the process a prospective adoptive family must complete before the adoption is final. The procedures may vary slightly depending on where you reside in the state. It is always best to consult an attorney when you are considering adoption. Several helpful phone numbers for adoption agencies and placement services are listed in this guide along with other resources.
Hundreds of thousands of children all over the world yearn for the chance to be part of a family. In Missouri alone, thousands of children are in the custody of the Division of Family Services looking for a special place to call home. This number does not take into account the children in Missouri who are part of the independent adoption process. Missouri, through the use of the Division of Family Services has made adoption one of its top priorities and even offers special subsidy programs to families who adopt children in the Divisions custody. Additional information about the subsidies is available later in this guide.
While the legal process may seem complicated, it is no match to the joy adoption can bring to a child and a family. Understanding the law will help you achieve the goal of creating a new family for you and your adopted child.
2. WHAT IS ADOPTION?
Adoption is a legal means by which a person becomes a member of a family different from that persons birth family. Once a decree of adoption has been entered, the adoptive parents gain the same rights and responsibilities as parents whose children are born to them. Adoptive parents must provide nurture, care and support to the child. An adopted child has the same inheritance rights as a child born to birth parents. Adoptive parents are real parents in every sense.
The method of transferring physical custody of the adoptive child to a prospective family and the requirements which must be met to create this new legal relationship are set forth in Chapter 453 of the Missouri statutes.
3. DIFFERENT TYPES OF ADOPTION
Adoptions takes place in various forms, classified generally as independent, step parent, adult adoption, relative placement, and agency adoptions.
Independent adoption occurs when birth parents and adoptive families find each other on their own or through the help of an adoption intermediary, e.g. a pastor, lawyer, or doctor. The adoption intermediary or the adoptive familys attorney facilitates the placement. Thereafter, an agency or social worker conducts interviews and visits for a six-month custody period and files its assessment with the court at the time of the adoption finalization.
In a stepparent adoption the family trying to adopt is a birth parent and a new spouse, usually following a divorce from or death of a prior spouse.
Adult adoption is the process whereby a person eighteen years or older is adopted by one or more person also eighteen years or older. Written consent is required by the proposed adoptee.
Relative adoption frequently occurs because the birth parent is still a minor, has died or is disabled, or the child has been removed due to abuse and neglect. Another relative assumes physical custody and responsibility for the child.
Agency adoptions are handled through a licensed child placement agency. In Missouri, agencies are licensed by the Department of Social Services. You will find a listing of licensed agencies in the back of this guide. When a prospective adoptive family contacts an agency, the social workers counsel the family while its on the agencys waiting list. Birth mothers contact the agency to make their adoption plan and usually select an adoptive family from the agencys list of interested families.
Before any child can be placed in an adoptive home, three things must first happen: (1) the birth parents rights must first be terminated; (2) a home study of the prospective adoptive family must be successfully completed; (3) lawful custody must be obtained.
4. GETTING STARTED
The termination of the birth parents rights, which is commonly referred to as “TPR”, is the surrender of all rights associated with parenthood. An adoption cannot be completed until a TPR occurs. TPRs result in one of two ways. The first is when the birth parent(s) both consent to the termination. The second method is when the Court, after a hearing, finds a statutory reason that the termination is in the childs best interest.
5. VOLUNTARY CONSENT
Depending upon the adoptive situation, certain requirements must be met in order to obtain proper consent. If the child is an infant, the birth mother may sign consent to a future adoption after the baby is at least 48 hours old. The consent must be written and notarized or signed by two adult witnesses, who are not the adoptive parent or an attorney involved in the adoption. If the birth father is the legal husband of the birth mother, or is otherwise recognized as the father of the child, he must also sign a consent to the adoption.
There are certain exceptions to the consent rules, however, it is best to consult with an attorney to prior to obtaining consent or taking any steps to secure a TPR.
Consent may also be withdrawn until it is reviewed and accepted by a judge. It may also be revoked within a one-year period if the person giving the consent was under fraud or duress. Again, it is recommended that you consult an attorney in order to ensure proper consent is obtained.
6. TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS FOR “CAUSE”
There are several reasons a Court may terminate the parental rights of the birth parents without their consent. If the Court finds that the birth parent abandoned, abused or neglected the child, then the Court may terminate the parents rights. If the child is in the jurisdiction of the Division of Family Services and the parent or parents failed to rectify those potentially harmful conditions that brought the child before the Court, then their rights may be terminated. If the child has been in foster care for at least 15 months, parental rights may be terminated. If the Court finds the parent seriously injured, killed or aided or attempted to kill one of his/her children, the parent may lose their rights. If the parent is guilty of a felony sex offense or incest when the child or a child in the family is a victim, then the rights of the parent may be terminated. A biological fathers rights may be terminated when the child was born because of a forcible rape. If the Court finds a parent is unfit because of a consistent pattern of abuse or conduct rendering the parent unable to care for the needs of the child, then a termination of rights may occur.
Disputed termination of parental rights cases usually may be filed by a private agency, an individual or the Court. The Department of Social Services is frequently involved. Likewise, the proposed adoptive parents may be eligible for the payment of their attorneys fees through the adoption subsidy program which will be discussed later on in this pamphlet.
7. THE HOME STUDY
Except in stepparent adoptions, where all the parties consent, all prospective adoptive parents wishing to adopt must participate in a full investigation, which includes an assessment. The Division of Family Services, a juvenile court officer, a licensed child placing agency or a licensed social worker may complete the assessment. This full investigation is required to contain information determining whether the child is suitable for adoption by the parents and whether the parents are suitable for the child. This assessment and the investigation are commonly called the home study.
Usually the assessment will last six to eight weeks. This time is spent gathering information such as reference letters, record checks and medical information. Interviews of the prospective parent(s) are conducted and a home visit with all the family members is completed. As adoption effects every member of the adoptive family, the assessment process includes all family members.
Recent changes to Missouri law now require the content of the assessment to be very specific. The Division of Family Services has developed the guidelines for the assessment and requires the information similar to what is listed below.
Identifying information on each member of the household including: full names, current addresses and phone numbers, previous addresses; date and place of birth; citizenship; social security number; race and ethnic background; religion; education; place of employment; any children, including those not living in the home; physical description.
A social history on each applicant which may include: family structure, discipline methods, child rearing experience; educational and occupational history; marital history and current relationships; interests and hobbies; physical and mental health history including psychiatric treatment, if any and extent of alcohol and drug abuse, if any; religious beliefs; applicants personality, including their perceived weaknesses and strengths, emotional stability and maturity.
Parenting background of the applicant; motivation to adopt; attitudes and acceptance of adoption by other family members; location and description of family residence; child care arrangements; financial status; if the family contains school age children, reports from school personnel regarding school adjustment.
Reference letters, including but not limited to one employment related reference.
Child abuse and neglect background screening check no more than six months old.
Criminal arrest and /or conviction records may include a finger print search.
Written medical reports, no more than 12 months old on all adult members of the household.
Verification of marriages and divorces if applicable.
Written documentation of income and financial resources, including a copy of the latest Federal Income Tax 1040 form verifying adjusted gross wages.
Birth and death certificates.
Frequently, the information described above is gathered by way of an application and/or social history forms completed by the family. This information is used as a basis for discussion during the interview part of the assessment. Together, with the required documents, the information is summarized, forming the basis of the assessors impressions and recommendations.
The home study brings up several issues the adoptive family may not have yet discussed but are crucial considerations. Comittment, family support, birth ties, and self-esteem are all questions the prospective parents need to discuss. During the home study process, the person conducting the assessment is seeking information about the awareness, motivation, and philosophy of the applicants. It is important for the participants to be direct, accurate and truthful.
First and foremost, the home study is designed to assure the safety of the prospective adoptee. The assessment process of the home study also offers the opportunity for prospective parents to examine the capabilities and resources available within themselves, their family and their community to meet the needs of a child. A home study is not a search for the perfect family, or for the perfect couple. It is a process through which information is gathered and explained; where strengths are identified and possibilities and dreams explored; and where a life long process begins.
The adoptive family should not assume the physical custody of the child until the Court issues an order transferring lawful custody to the adoptive parent(s). To take custody of a child prior to receiving such a transfer order is a class D felony. In some jurisdictions, the child must be placed temporarily in a foster home until the Court can schedule a hearing to transfer custody.
To obtain a transfer of custody order, the adoptive parent(s) must first go before the Court. The Court can enter a custody order after it finds that the statutorily required assessment, verified accounting, and reports on the child are satisfactory, and that there is compliance with all applicable laws. Some courts require the birth parent(s) to appear at this hearing to testify that their consent to adoption was freely, knowingly and voluntarily given.
A child must be in the lawful custody of the adoptive parents for at least six months before the adoption can be finalized. Lawful custody by court order can include a guardianship order.
When the final adoption order is granted, after six months of lawful custody, the child becomes the child of the adoptive parents, as though born to them.
9. POST-PLACEMENT ASSESSMENT AND FINALIZATION
After the child has been placed with the adoptive family, the social worker or agency representative continues his/her investigation by monitoring the placement for six months. During this period of supervision, the assessor will make visits to the adoptive home at least once every three months to observe the family. He/she will also talk to the family and/or child at least monthly. The assessor may also check with the childs doctor and school to make sure he/she is doing well. At the conclusion of the six-month period, the assessor submits a written report to the court that sets forth a recommendation on the pending adoption.
The Court will hold a hearing and finalize the adoption after the adoptive family has had lawful custody of the child for at least six months. The judicial officer will review various reports, receive recommendations, and insure compliance with certain laws. If the Court decides that it is fit and proper for the adoption to occur, the child legally becomes a member of the adoptive family. The Department of Health will then issue an amended birth certificate, showing the child as born to the adopting parent(s).
10. FOREIGN ADOPTIONS
Adopting children from outside the United States can be a complicated process because the family must comply with the requirements outlined by the United States Department of Justice and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Additionally, the adoptive family must comply with the laws and requirements of the foreign country. Further, it is very important to be familiar with local customs, protocols and the culture of the foreign country. It is important to work with either an agency or an individual who is experienced in this area of adoption law. The USCIS does require a home study and has specific requirements for content and format. Currently, children from Asia, Korea, Latin America, South America, and Eastern Europe are being placed with loving adoptive families. It is sometimes necessary to travel to the country where the child resides in order to obtain a ruling from that countrys court that the child is eligible for adoption and can leave for the United States.
Missouri is required to recognize as valid an adoption that has taken place in a foreign country and is accepted and recognized by the USCIS and the Department of Justice. If the foreign countrys adoption decree contains an adoptive parents surname, the Missouri Department of Health can issue a birth certificate upon request. The Department of Health does require proof of adoption, including a copy of the original birth certificate and adoption decree, an English translation of both, and the copy of the approval from the USCIS. Adoptive parents may also request the court to recognize the foreign countrys adoption decree. A Court must be involved to change the adopted childs name to the name given by the adoptive parent if that name is different from the adoptive parents surname or is different than the decree from the foreign country. Several helpful phone numbers are included in this pamphlet which will offer direction if you are interested in adopting a child from a different country.
It is also possible to involve two or more states in the adoption of a child. For example, the child might be born in State X and the adoptive parents may reside in State Y. If a child is transferred from another state, the Interstate Compact officers of both states must be involved. The Interstate Compact is a set of laws adopted by all 50 states to insure that the best interests of the child are met. It prohibits the transportation across state lines, of a child being adopted until the Human Services agency approves the move.
As adoption laws differ from state to state, it is important to work closely with knowledgeable attorneys in both states. The prospective adoptive family may want to become familiar with certain laws of the states, including the residency requirement for filing a court petition, the rules on paying birth parent expenses, and what constitutes a lawful consent of the birth parent(s). Missouri recognizes the adoption decrees and custody transfer orders of other states courts.
11. SPECIAL NEEDS CHILDREN
Throughout Missouri there are many children who have been identified as “hard to place” children. Some of these special needs children are physically or emotionally disabled. Some of them are older or have siblings who want to stay together as a family. Many of them are minorities or are biracial. Through no fault of their own, these children were victims of circumstance and are in urgent need for a family to love and support them. Many of the medical problems these children face are curable. Some are not. Many of the emotional disabilities will improve with time, tenderness and love. The Division of Family Services has a list of children who fall under this category and will work closely with any family who is interested in adopting a special needs child.
The Missouri Adoption Subsidy Program was designed to encourage the adoption of children with “special needs”. The program assists those families who cannot afford adopting a “special needs” child on their own. There are different types of subsidies that the state offers. The maintenance program includes an allowance for room and board, clothing and personal items. The medical program covers health related expenses not covered by other sources. If it is necessary to adjust the home to the special needs of the child such as adjustments to stairs for a wheelchair a special bed or other necessary equipment, then the integration subsidy could cover those expenses. There is also a subsidy program for legal fees and one time special expenses.
12. LEGAL COUNSEL
As adoption is a legal action, prospective adoptive parents are encouraged to and sometimes ordered by the Court to work closely with an attorney. The lawyer should not only be well versed in Missouris adoption laws and rules, but also should be knowledgeable about local Court practices in this area. Failure to comply with certain laws or rules could jeopardize the adoption. For example, adoptive parents are only allowed to pay for certain expenses related to the adoption. They must also provide a verified accounting of every type of consideration rendered in connection with the adoption. Although recent changes in the law now allow adoptive parents to pay for reasonable living expenses f the birth parent(s) and child, certain restrictions apply to those expenses. Compensation that is improperly offered or given could be a violation of the law.
Recent changes in the law now dictate that the birth parent(s) are entitled to be represented by a lawyer throughout the adoption process. Missouris law also allows the Court to order the adoptive parents to pay for the fees of the lawyers for the birth parent(s).
Again, it is best to contact an attorney at the beginning of any adoption process. Lawyer Referral Service telephone numbers are listed on page 8 of this guide.
13. LOCAL RULES FOR ADOPTION
Different counties throughout Missouri have different court rules about adoption. Below is a list of some of the larger counties and how they process adoption petitions. Each Judge will have their own schedule and timetables for receiving the necessary paperwork. If you have an attorney representing you, he or she would comply with the local court rules and make sure all the appropriate forms are filed. Filing fees will vary from county to county.
Jackson County-Kansas City
Contact the adoption unit at (816) 435-4738 when all the paperwork is completed. A hearing will be scheduled. A docket for temporary custody adoption orders is held every Wednesday. Final decrees of adoption are held every Friday.
Cole County-Jefferson City
Contact the Circuit Clerk at (573) 634-9150. Once the paperwork is filed and following the prerequisite waiting period established by the court, the attorney might contact judges secretary to schedule a hearing. There is no set days for adoption hearings.
Contact the Juvenile Office at (417) 868-4008. The Chief Officer of Domestic Relations reviews the paperwork and schedules a hearing with the attorney. The adoption docket is held every Wednesday and Thursday from 1:00 to 1:30 p.m.
St. Louis City
Contact either the Adoption Specialist or the Family Court Clerk at (314) 552-2000 to schedule a hearing. All required paperwork must be filed in advance of the hearing. Adoption dockets are usually held on Wednesdays and Fridays. Attorney representation is required unless waived by the Judge.
St. Louis County
All petitions for adoptions may be filed by mail or in person at the Office of the Circuit Clerk (Juvenile Division), 501 S. Brentwood, Clayton, MO 63105. The Adoption and Termination Specialist may be reached at (314) 889-3400. Adoption hearings are held the first and third Wednesdays of the month.
St. Charles Countyy
The Deputy Circuit Clerk may be reached at (314) 949-7900 extension 4585 to schedule an adoption hearing. Adoption hearings are heard every Monday morning.
Cape Girardeau County-Cape Girardeau
Adoption hearings are held once a week. Contact the Circuit Clerks office at (573) 335-8253. The Clerk will advise the parties of available dates. The parties will choose a date and schedule it with the clerk.
National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
330 C Street, SW Washington, DC 20447
Phone: (703) 352-3488 or (888) 251-0075
Fax: (703) 385-3206
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
National Council For Adoption
225 N. Washington Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-2561
Phone: (703) 299-6633
Fax: (703) 299-6004
Adoptive Families of America
Minnesota-based nonprofit support organization.
Includes bimonthly magazine and parenting resources.
Adoptive Families magazine website:
The Child Welfare League
440 First Street, NW, Third Floor
Washington, DC 20001-2085
National Council for Single Adoptive Parents
Single adoptive parents help.
Phone (toll-free): 1-888-490-4600
National Adoption Center
1500 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19102
American Academy of Adoption Attorneys
Resource to locate an adoption attorney.
Washington, D.C. 20033-0053
Phone: (202) 832-2222
National Resource Center for Special Needs Adoption
16250 Northland Dr.
Southfield, MI 48075
The North America Council on Adoptable Children
970 Raymond Ave.
St. Paul. MN 55114-1149
Note: The article above may not contain current information.