Adoption can enlarge an existing family or create a brand-new one. The adoption process itself, however, can be plagued with legal obstacles and hurdles that can cause stress and anxiety for prospective parents. While adoption was once only an option for married couples, state laws have changed in recent years to reflect the societal changes regarding what constitutes a “family.” For example, unmarried couples could adopt a child in Massachusetts.
Who Can Adopt a Child in Massachusetts?
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a prospective adoptive parent must be at least 18 years of age (unless adopting the child of a spouse) and the child and/or adoptive parent must be a resident of Massachusetts. You do not have to be married to adopt a child; however, if you are married, your spouse must be part of the adoption process except in rare cases where the court excuses your spouse from the adoption. This means that single people, unmarried couples, and same-sex spouses/partners are all eligible to adopt a child in Massachusetts.
Types of Adoptions
The type of adoption you plan to pursue will impact, to some extent, the adoption process. The most common types of adoptions include:
Generally facilitated by an adoption attorney, a private or “birth mother” adoption only involves the birth mother and prospective adoptive parent(s). There is no agency involved. Note that Massachusetts does not allow private adoptions.
An adoption agency acts as an intermediary, matching birth mothers with prospective adoptive parents. An agency adoption can be an open adoption or closed adoption.
State agency adoption
This involves adopting a child, or sibling group, that is a ward of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Typically, these are children whose parents have had their parental rights terminated by a court.
A family adoption involves adopting a step-child, grandchild, niece/nephew, or any other family member.
The Massachusetts Adoption Process
Adoption is a complex, and frequently, lengthy legal process. Navigating the steps required to finalize an adoption can be difficult without the assistance of an experienced attorney. The precise path you must follow to adopt a child as an unmarried couple will depend on your unique circumstances, however, some common steps include:
Petitioning to adopt
A petition must be filed with the appropriate court to initiate the adoption process. For an infant, this cannot occur until at least four days after birth.
Submitting the required documents
Numerous documents must be submitted with the petition or soon thereafter for the court to consider your request to adopt.
Completing a home study
Unless waived by the court, you must complete a home study home which is a written report based on interviews with an assigned social worker along with supporting documents provided by you. Typically, you will have three or four meetings with the social worker with at least two of these meetings taking place in your home.
Attending pre-adoption training
Both adoptive parents must attend at least ten hours of pre-adoption training.
Completing medical and background checks
Both adoptive parents, and any other adults living in the home, will need to submit to a criminal background check as well as submit medical records to the social worker conducting the home study.
Meeting the birth parent surrender/termination of rights requirements
Before a child can be adopted, the birth parents must consent, or their parental rights must have been terminated by the court.
Conducting a missing child search
You will need to respond to the Federal and Central Registers of Missing Children Search Request that is submitted to the court.
Finalizing the adoption
The court will finalize your adoption when all conditions have been met. The time it takes to reach this point can vary widely. For example, a family adoption typically takes less time than an agency adoption.