If you are considering adopting a child, you may be wondering what the process is like. This article will give a basic overview of Oklahoma adoption law, and the process of adopting a child in Oklahoma.
- This post will only discuss the legal process of adoption in the court. It will not discuss the process of dealing with adoption agencies or child-placing agencies.
- Adoption law is very complicated, and a post of this length only scratches the surface. You will not know enough to handle an adoption simply by reading this post. If you are interested in adopting a child, I would strongly recommend that you seek the help of an attorney rather than trying to handle it yourself.
- This post discusses the adoption process in Oklahoma where I am licensed to practice. To find out about adoption law in other states, consult an attorney licensed in your state.
The Steps for Adopting a Child in Oklahoma
Step 1: See which court has jurisdiction
The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once said that the first question to ask in every legal case is: Does the court have jurisdiction?
In Oklahoma, a court has jurisdiction to hear an adoption case if:
- The child lives in Oklahoma on the date the case is filed or the child lived in Oklahoma within six months before the case was filed and a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in Oklahoma, or
- A court of another state has jurisdiction, but that court has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that Oklahoma is the appropriate forum, or
- No other court would have jurisdiction.
Also, an Oklahoma court may not have jurisdiction if a court of another state has previously made a custody determination regarding the child.
Laws governing jurisdiction for adoption are complex, and the previous paragraph only scratches the surface. To learn more about jurisdiction in adoption cases, read the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which is available here.
In addition to seeing whether Oklahoma has jurisdiction, you also have to make sure you’re filing in the right county. You must file in:
- The county where you reside
- The county where the child lives
- Tulsa County
- Oklahoma County
- The county where the proceeding to terminate parental rights took place
Step 2: Make sure you are eligible to adopt
In Oklahoma, you may adopt a child if you are:
- A married couple
- An unmarried person at least 21
- A stepparent
- A married person at least 21, who is separated from his or her spouse.
Step 3: File a petition to adopt
Once you’ve determined which court has jurisdiction, your next step is to draft a petition, and file the petition with the court clerk in the appropriate county.
The process of drafting an adoption petition is extremely complex, and you should have a lawyer draft the petition for you.
Step 4: Serve a copy of the petition on the biological parents
You must serve a copy of the petition on the biological parents. You must also serve the parents with notice of any upcoming hearings.
You must serve the parent either by:
- Having a sheriff, or licensed process server, deliver the notice personally to the parent, or
- Sending the parent notice via certified mail.
If you cannot locate the parent, or if you do not know the identity of the father, you may serve notice by publishing notice of the hearing in a newspaper in the county where the hearing will take place. You must publish this notice at least once, and at least fifteen days prior to the hearing.
If the child is
- a member of an Indian tribe, or
- is eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and is the biological child of an Indian tribe member
then you must also serve notice of the adoption proceeding on the Indian tribe and on the Bureau of Indian Affairs. You must send this notice by registered mail.
Step 5: See if the biological parents will consent to the adoption
If the biological parents will consent, they must sign a consent form. If the mother signs a consent form, she must sign in the presence of a judge. If the father signs a consent form, he need not sign in the presence of a judge. (However, if the child is a member of an Indian tribe or is eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and is the biological child of an Indian tribe member, the father must sign in the presence of a judge.)
Step 6: If either biological parent will not consent to the adoption, prepare for a hearing on adoption without consent
You don’t need the consent of a biological parent if:
- For 12 consecutive months of the 14 months before you file the petition, the parent does not support the child in compliance with a court order, or, if there is no court order, if the parent does not support the child in keeping with the parent’s financial ability
- The child is placed for adoption within 14 months of birth, and the father has not exercised parental rights or duties to the child. (You don’t need the father’s consent in this situation, although you will still need the mother’s consent, unless one of the other parental consent exceptions applies.)
- The parent has abandoned the child
- For 12 consecutive months of the 14 months before you file the petition, the parent has not established and/or maintained a substantial and positive relationship with the child
- The parent has physically or sexually abused the child or a sibling of the child or has failed to protect the child or a sibling of the child from physical or sexual abuse
- The parent has been convicted, in a criminal case, of having caused the death of a sibling of the child as a result of the physical or sexual abuse or chronic neglect of the sibling
- The parent has been sentenced to a prison term of more than 10 years, and continuing parental rights would harm the child
- The parent had a mental illness or mental deficiency, and continuation of parental rights would harm the child
- The parent has relinquished his or her parental rights
- The parent signs a waiver of service
For a full explanation of when you may adopt a child without a parent’s consent, read the state law here.
If the parent will not consent, and one of these elements exist, you may adopt the child without the parent’s consent. Before you can proceed with the adoption, you must have a hearing to prove that one of these elements exists. If the judge decides that one of these elements exist, the judge will sign an order allowing adoption without consent.
If the parent will not consent, and you serve the parent with notice of the hearing at least fifteen days before the hearing, and the parent does not appear at the hearing, you may adopt the child without the parent’s consent.
Step 7: Complete a Home Study
Except in certain cases, you must complete a home study. Only certain professionals are qualified to perform the home study. The professional completing the home study must submit a report to the court. The law on home studies is too extensive and complicated to describe in a post of this length; you may read the law here.
As part of the home study, you, and every person residing in your home, must complete a criminal background check. You generally may not adopt a child if anyone in your home has been convicted of:
- Child abuse or neglect
- A crime against a child (including child pornography)
- Physical assault, domestic abuse, battery, or a drug-related offense (within the past five years)
- A crime involving violence, including but not limited to rape, sexual assault, or homicide, but not including physical assault, domestic abuse, or battery
In addition, you may not adopt a child if you, or anyone living with you, is required to register as a sex offender.
Step 8: Compile a Medical and Social History Report
You must also compile a medical and social history report on the child, and file this report with the court.
Step 9: Ask the judge to set a date for the final hearing on adoption
Then, go to the final hearing on the adoption. At the final hearing, the judge will see if you have completed all the steps to adopt the child. If you have, the judge will sign a final decree of adoption. File this decree with the court, send the decree to the Oklahoma Department of Health, and you are done.
Congratulations! You have now added a new child to your family. If you have ever considered adoption, it’s definitely a good idea. I’ve practiced many areas of law, and adoption is one of the few types of cases where my clients are happy at the end.
Kyle Persaud has practiced adoption law in Oklahoma for more than 10 years. Founder of Persaud Law Office and lifelong residence of Bartlesville, OK, he wishes to give back to the community by assisting residents with their legal needs. Mr. Persaud holds a Bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa College of Law.