Adopting a child is a very exciting time for a family. However, it also can be a very stressful time for the adopting parent, especially if he or she has is new to the process. Below you will find some information on the adoption laws of Illinois. A family law attorney experienced in helping families with adoptions can help make the process less confusing and less stressful for everyone involved.
Remember to consult with an experienced attorney. The adoption process is extremely complicated and the statute must be strictly complied with; failure to do so may result in the adoption being invalid.
Meeting the Initial Adoption Eligibility Requirements
The first step in the adoption process is ensuring that you meet the basic eligibility requirements in Illinois to adopt a child. To adopt a child in Illinois, you must:
- Be at least 18 years old (the court may allow a minor to adopt for good cause)
- Have resided in Illinois for at least six months (if in the military, this requirement is dropped to 90 days) – there is no residency requirement for related adoptions
- Pass a criminal background check – only applies to unrelated adoptions
Your marital status is not important – you can be single, married, divorced or widowed. But if you are married, then both you and your spouse must petition jointly to adopt the child. You also can adopt if you have other children, either biological or adopted. The residency requirements do not apply to family members wishing to adopt a related child.
Finding a Child Available for Adoption
The next step in the adoption process is finding a child you are interested in adopting. There are several different ways to find children available for adoption in Illinois. The most common way is through a licensed adoption agency, which helps to facilitate the adoption of children of all ages. The agency does much of the work for the adopting parents, including matching prospective adopting parents with a child, performing the home study and ensuring that the child meets the eligibility requirements for adoption. Agencies also offer workshops and programs for prospective adopting parents to help them adjust to life once they have adopted a child.
Private adoption is another option. Private adoption may occur directly between prospective adopting parents and the biological parents. In other cases, a neutral third party, such as an attorney or member of the clergy, may bring together the biological parents and the prospective adoptive parents.
Prospective adopting parents also have the option of adopting children through the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). This option typically involves older children and/or children removed from unsafe or abusive homes. Additionally, this option may involve children who have special needs or who are siblings wishing to be adopted by the same family.
The Legal Adoption Process
Adoption Petition. Once prospective adopting parents have found the child they wish to adopt, the next step is filing an adoption petition with the clerk of the circuit court.
Guardian Ad Litem. Within 10 days of filing the petition, the court will appoint a lawyer to be a guardian ad litem, guardian for the litigation, for the minor sought to be adopted. The guardian is to determine if the child is eligible for adoption, if proper notice has been given to all entitled to notice, if the minor is available to be adopted, if the consents of the biological parents (if they consented) are proper, if the adoptive parents are suitable, and if the adoption is in the best interests of the minor.
Home Study. Prospective adopting parents working with a private adoption agency or the DCFS are normally required to fill out an application and receive an initial certification prior to beginning the adoption process. As part of the process for unrelated adoptions, all prospective adopting parents will have to complete a home study and a criminal background.
During the home study, a court appointed investigator will come out to the prospective adopting parent’s home and verify that the house meets safety requirements and that there is adequate room for a child. The social worker also will meet and speak with the family to get to know them better and determine the emotional and financial stability of the family. There can be one or more home visits before the home study is completed. At the end of the home study, the social worker will write a report with his or her recommendations. However, if the DCFS or an adoption agency completes a home study, that home study will suffice and a subsequent home study by a court appointed investigator may not be needed.
As part of the process, prospective adopting parents also must complete a criminal background check by the Illinois State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Conviction for certain types of crimes can make an individual ineligible to adopt a child.
Note that a home study and criminal background check are not required for adoptions in which the adoptive parents and the child are related.
Each Illinois county may have specific rules pertaining to the home study process, please consult an experienced adoption attorney to learn of the specific rules that will apply.
Notice. The biological parents and the child are entitled to notice of the proceeding. The notice should be personally handed to them. If the parents, or one of them, cannot be found after diligent inquiry, then notice may be published in a local newspaper. The purpose of the notice is to give the biological parents the opportunity to contest the adoption if they wish. If they, or either, have signed consents, consistent with Illinois law, then they are not entitled to notice. The lawyer for the adoptive parents will ensure that notice is had. The guardian ad litem will ensure that it was done properly.
Interim Custody. The court may enter an order that gives the prospective adopting parents temporary custody of the child until the final adoption is approved. Notice must be given or reasonable effort by the prospective adopting parents must be made to notify the biological parents or legal guardian of the request for interim custody of the child.
However, in a case where the court finds there is an immediate danger to or irreparable harm may be done to the child notice does not need be given to the biological parents or legal guardian before temporary custody may be granted.
Also, if consent is given by a biological parent, notice need not be given prior to the granting of temporary custody.
Interim Hearing. The court will hold a hearing to determine several issues, including if the biological parents’ parental rights should be terminated (this usually is not an issue in DCFS adoptions since it secures the necessary consents/termination of rights prior to making the child eligible for adoption).
Judgment. In unrelated adoptions, six months after the interim order is issued, the adopting parents can request that the court finalize the adoption by issuing a judgment. The court must first terminate the parental rights of the biological parents by consent or by finding them unfit, as defined by the Adoption Act. Next, the court must determine if the adoption is in the best interest of the child. If so, the court will enter a judgment in favor of the adopting parents, granting the adoption. After the judgment is entered, the adoptive parents can request a new birth certificate for the child with his or her new name from the Department of Public Health.
If the biological parents are not found unfit or the court determines that the adoption would not be in the best interest of the child, a contested custody trial will be held to determine who will have custody of the child.
Illinois Adoption Laws Conclusion
The adoption process may be different depending on the individual family and child’s situation. The requirements of stepchild and related children adoptions may vary as well as those of adult adoptions and international adoptions. An attorney knowledgeable in Illinois’ adoption laws can guide you through the process and handle the legal work while you concentrate on preparing your home for your new child.