Ralph M. Tsong
Frequently Asked Questions in Adoption
By: Ralph M. Tsong, Principal Attorney at Tsong Law Group
As adoption attorneys, we receive many questions from people looking to adopt children in the United States. Here are some which may be relevant to you:
I have been taking care of a child for some time. The parents are out of the picture. Can I adopt the child?
Answer: It depends. If you are a relative of the child, you are eligible to adopt the child. If you are not related to the child, you can only adopt the child if (1) you either have the consent of at least one parent or (2) a guardianship has been in place for a year. Parental rights are protected rights. They can only be ended by a petition to terminate parental rights, which is done either by the County or by an individual if they are a guardian, a stepparent, or a relative.
I want to adopt a niece or nephew who doesn't have a green card. Will doing so get the child a green card?
Answer: It depends largely on the country and the age of the child. If the child is a citizen of a country that is a signatory to the Hague Convention on Adoption, then probably not. You will need to adopt the child in their home country and likely use an adoption agency licensed in that country to actually confer legal status on the child. If the child's home country is not a Hague Convention signatory, the child must be fully adopted before age 16 by a green card or citizen and the adopting individual must have legal and physical custody of the child for two years as adjudicated by a court. When adopting a child from another country, it is a good idea to work with an immigration attorney to make sure the adoption will satisfy USCIS. There are other means to give status to the child who is in the United States if the child is abandoned, neglected or abused in their home country. We can help with that process.
How long does an adoption take?
Answer: An adoption will usually take at least 6 months, usually nine months to a year. This is the adoptive parents must complete a home study before the adoption finalization hearing will be set.
How much does an adoption cost?
Answer: Legal fees will vary, but usually less than $5000. Home study fees depend on the type of adoption. A stepparent adoption a home study costs $700. A non-step parent adoption can cost up to $4500. Any adoption other than a stepparent adoption will be eligible for an adoption tax credit on your federal tax returns, currently over $13,000, and can be recouped over three years. So the adoption may end up not costing anything.
What is the advantage of adopting a child I have been taking care of like a parent?
You will have to answer this yourself, but the child will have a lot of advantages. 1. The child will have the stability of having a parent and they will know the difference whether you are legally a parent or not from seeing how schools and adults act. 2. If something happens to you, the child will be able to receive your estate if you die without a will, and your social security benefits. 3. There are many decisions and privileges that a parent has which a caretaker doesn't. Making medical decisions, enrolling in school, receiving government benefits, visiting in the hospital, having the authority to do things such as apply for a passport or travel abroad without a travel authorization.
What if I don't have permanent residency or am not a citizen?
There is no requirement you have any particular legal immigration status in the United States to adopt. The agency conducting a home study will not inquire or report your immigration status. There will be a criminal background check as part of your home study and your home will be reviewed to make sure that the living environment is safe and adequate, so if these areas are deficient, you may not be eligible to adopt.
Have another question or want clarification? Call us and schedule a consultation.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, or create an attorney-client relationship.