Deciding to adopt a child is a significant decision for any family. Regardless of the reason for desiring adoption — wanting to expand your family, give a child a good home or just because you want to — the adoption process can be complicated, uncertain and at times quite lengthy. A family that wants to adopt a child needs to be sure of their decision and ready for any obstacles thrown their way. This is why it’s helpful to work with an adoption attorney from the very beginning of the adoption. An attorney who knows their way around South Carolina’s adoption laws can help you and your family be psychologically, emotionally and financially prepared for this big step.
Statistics on Adoption in South Carolina
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In 2018, there were 476 finalized adoptions in the state. Of that 476 total, 70 of those finalized adoptions happened in Greenville. Of those 70, 21 were finalized in less than 24 months, and 57 were cases where all total parental rights (TPR) were terminated.
As of 2017-18, however, many children are still waiting for adoption. About 956 children are waiting for the termination of TPR, while 626 children are ready for adoption now.
Adoption can be a lengthy process. The 2017-18 average for an adoption to be finalized was 35.5 months — almost three years.
The Adoption Process in South Carolina
Adoption policies differ from state to state. As a resident of South Carolina, you want to work with an attorney and an adoption agency who are familiar with the state’s laws and policies regarding adoptions.
Who Is Eligible to Adopt a Child in South Carolina?
Any resident of South Carolina is eligible to adopt a child if they can meet the state’s sometimes stringent requirements for adoption. Nonresidents can adopt a child in several circumstances:
- If the child has special needs and being adopted out-of-state would be in the child’s best interests.
- If the child will be adopted by an out-of-state relative.
- If one of the adoptive parents is serving in the military and stationed in South Carolina.
- If the child has been placed in foster care for six months or longer.
Nonresidents must finalize any adoption through the South Carolina Family Court.
Currently, state laws do not prohibit a same-sex couple from adopting a child.
South Carolina’s Domestic Adoption Laws
To adopt a child in South Carolina, prospective adoptive parents need to make sure they understand and follow all the laws and rules that surround the adoption process. This is a good reason to work with an adoption lawyer and an adoption agency from the very beginning.
Some of the laws about which adoptive parents may have questions include:
1. Can Adoptive Parents Advertise That They Are Looking for Birth Parents Who Are Interested in Placing a Child for Adoption?
Yes, but before they can do this, adoptive parents need to have a current home study report that shows they are suitable for adoption. We discuss home study reports below.
2. Can Adoptive Parents Pay for an Adoption Facilitator or Another Intermediary?
Yes, they can, but court approval is necessary before any payment of services.
3. What Are Some of the Birth Parent Expenses That Adoptive Parents Need to Pay?
Adoptive parents will need to pay medical, legal and living expenses for the birth parent and the child, but the birth parent must provide receipts for these expenses. Adoptive parents must pay these fees within a reasonable time. These payments are normally subject to court approval.
Any adoption petition needs to include an accounting of every expense incurred over the past five years or that adoptive parents have agreed to pay in the future. When it comes time for the finalization hearing, the adoptive parents need to file a complete, itemized account of all disbursements of any kind that have been made or will be made if they are connected to the adoption.
4. What About the Issue of “the Putative Father”?
The putative father, or a man who claims he has parental rights to any child who may be placed in adoption, is an important issue. The South Carolina Department of Social Services maintains a punitive father registry known as the “Responsible Father Registry.”
Punitive fathers must prove their connection to their children. They must sign their birth certificate, provide support for the child and communicate with them regularly. They also need to have acquired a court order establishing their paternity with the child. In almost every case, the father needs to have done these things before the birth mother tells the court she has decided to place her child for adoption.
If the child’s biological but unmarried father fails to file with the Responsible Father Registry, the state considers this an irrevocable waiver of their right to be notified of any adoption proceeding.
5. Is There a Timeframe for Consent to Adoption to Be Granted?
There is no minimum time. Consent to adopt may be granted at any time after a child is born. Typically, consent for adoption is accepted by the courts after 24 hours.
Individuals granting consent to adoption need to sign a sworn document in the presence of two witnesses. One of those witnesses must be:
- A family court judge
- A licensed attorney who does not represent the people attempting to adopt the child
- An individual who has been certified to obtain such consents
If the adoption takes place in another state, consent must be witnessed by:
- An attorney from that state
- An agency designated person from that state
- An individual or agency legally authorized to obtain adoption consents
- A person from South Carolina authorized by a family court
If both birth parents are deceased, or if their parental rights have been terminated by a court, then the consent of the legal guardian, the child-placing agency or the child’s legal custodian is required.
If the child is 14 or older, they need to consent to the adoption. However, if the court finds that the child is mentally incapable of giving that consent, or that consent is not in the child’s best interest, the court can waive this need for consent.
6. When Does the Birth Mother’s or Father’s Consent Become Revocable?
This happens almost immediately. Consent can only be revoked if a birth parent can prove they gave consent involuntarily and that withdrawing consent is in the best interest of the child. If consent is revoked, the child is returned automatically.
7. What About Contract Agreements Made Post Adoption? Are They Legally Enforceable?
No, contracts make after adoption are not legally valid.
9. What About Finalizing an Adoption Made Internationally?
When a child is adopted in another country, the documentation that accompanies their foreign adoption will be reviewed by a South Carolina court. The court will then issue an order saying that the adoption needs to be recognized in the state. The adoption certificate and this court order will then be given to the South Carolina Registrar of Vital Statistics. There is no hearing required unless the court believes that the adoption documentation from the foreign country is not satisfactory.
Home Study Requirements in South Carolina
All prospective adoptive parents must undergo the South Carolina home study. The home study is a pre-placement and a post-placement evaluation that helps determine an adoptive family’s ability to provide a nurturing and stable environment to an adopted child. The home study requires at least two face-to-face interviews with the prospective adoptive parents as well as individual face-to-face interviews with every member of their household.
The home study investigates the following:
- The home’s suitability
- The maturity of the adoptive parents
- Their finances, relationship to each other and other important characteristics that reflect their ability to parent
- The health of every family member, including a physical exam within six months of the home study
- Any legal proceedings regarding alleged neglect, abandonment or abuse of children or if the adoptive parents have delinquent children
- Counseling or courses taken by the prospective adoptive parents to prepare them for adopting a child
- Their motivation in adopting a child
- Their ability to financially support an adopted child
- The home’s physical environment and where it is located in the community
- The attitudes of other members of the family towards adopting a child
- Possible arrests and convictions of either of the prospective adoptive parents
- How the prospective adoptive family will discuss adoption with the child they wish to adopt
- Character references from friends and others in the community
- The religious orientation of the prospective adoptive parents
- How the prospective adoptive parents will provide for childcare if both parents work
The home study needs to be completed before any adoptive placement and must be renewed annually before the placement of an adopted child is finalized.
As you can see, the home study is quite thorough, and every member of the family is included in the study. The agency placing the child conducts the study. Thirty days after the agency has completed the study, they will send written notification to the prospective adoptive parents informing them of whether they have been approved or denied. If their application has been denied, the agency will tell them why.
Are There Home Study Requirements for Relatives or Stepparents Who Wish to Adopt in South Carolina?
No, unless the court orders one.
What About a Child Being Sent out of State for Adoption?
The adoption of any South Carolina child by prospective adoptive parents in another state is subject to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). A child will not be sent to another state until the proper authorities in that state notify the child placement agency in South Carolina in writing that the proposed adoption is not contrary to the best interests of the adopted child.
What Makes Adoption so Challenging for Some Greenville Couples?
Adoption can clearly be a complicated, uncertain process. It is also a permanent decision, which is why every adoption needs to be checked thoroughly to avoid any difficulties at a later date. It can be frustrating and difficult when a family who wants to adopt a child has to jump through all these hoops, but it is truly in the best interests of the child and the potential new family and helps them achieve as solid and hopeful a transition as possible.
Some of the factors that might make adoption challenging for Greenville couples include:
1. Challenges by the Birth Parents
All adoptive parents fear — if even just a little bit — that the birth parents will have a change of heart and petition to have their children returned to them. Birth parents can challenge an adoption for several reasons. While most states will give a birth mother the right to withdraw her consent to place her child for adoption, in some states, she can do this right up to the final step.
This is why it’s important to work with an adoption attorney who understands the laws and rules governing the issue of consent and when that consent can be revoked.
2. Punitive Fathers Challenge the Adoption
In recent years, more punitive fathers have challenged the adoption of their biological children. Many states changed their laws in the ’70s to allow unwed or punitive fathers to establish certain rights to their biological children. These individuals, however, still need to prove that they deserve these rights by following the steps outlined above.
3. Multiethnic Issues
Another controversial question is whether parents seeking to adopt a child should be allowed to adopt a child of a different race or color. This is a complicated issue for several reasons, including the reality that there are many more minority children available for adoption, while there are many more white families interested in adoption than minority families.
The Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) of 1994 says that no adoption agency receiving federal funds can delay or deny an adoptive placement based on ethnicity or race. It’s a tricky issue, but if prospective adoptive parents work with a knowledgeable adoptive attorney and a reputable adoptive agency, they should not have any problems.
Adopting a Native American child is different since MEPA does not cover them. It is in your best interest to consult with an adoptive attorney if you are interested in adopting a Native American child.
Why You Need Legal Counsel Throughout the Adoption Process
The adoption process can be complex and overwhelming for many people. Depending upon how the adoption is done, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to three years. The adoption process is regulated from start to finish. Both the state and the federal government have laws that apply to families that want to adopt a child and the birth mother.
Fortunately, adoption attorneys can help you through the entire process and guide you to a successful adoption. An adoption attorney can step into this complicated legal process and help prospective parents regarding legal issues the staff of a placement agency may find challenging. Adoption attorneys provide crucial legal services and can help reduce the amount of time it takes to finalize an adoption.
If the prospective adoptive parents have already identified a potential birth mother from whom they wish to adopt a child, an adoption attorney may be able to handle the entire process from beginning to end, which is often faster and more cost effective than working with an adoption agency.
Choosing the right adoption attorney to work with is a significant decision in the adoption process. Take your time before you decide, and find an experienced attorney whom you feel comfortable working with.
For Legal Help With Adoption in Charleston or Greenville, Contact Lauren Taylor Law
Adopting a child can be an amazing experience. You are adding a new member to your family, and you’re helping a child have a much better and more stable life. The end results can make the long journey very rewarding.
If you need help negotiating the adoption process through that long journey, contact Lauren Taylor Law. Ms. Taylor is an experienced family attorney and can help you through the difficult adoption process. She can answer your questions and handle all your legal concerns.
You can contact Lauren Taylor Law at 843-790-9009 or contact us online to leave some details about your situation. A member of Ms. Taylor’s team will get back to you as soon as possible.
South Carolina divorce attorney Lauren Taylor practices family law in Charleston and Greenville. She graduated from the Charlotte School of Law, and has been practicing for more than ten years.
Since the firm’s inception in 2012, Mrs. Taylor has helped hundreds of people navigate the uncertainties surrounding the family and criminal court process.
She has cultivated a team that ensures each case has a strategy crafted specifically to the clients needs and desires.
Her commitment to top notch service has led her to open two additional offices in the low country where she now resides with her husband Michael and her golden retriever, Buster.