Practice Areas


Every state has its own adoption statutes, and in Washington we are fortunate to have statutes that give a lot of protection to prospective adoptive parents, while at the same time protecting the rights of the birth parents.

Our view of a "successful adoption" is when the adoptive parents have a new child, when the birth parents feel that they made the best decision possible for that child, and when the particular adoption is in the child's best interest.

The various "types" of adoptions will be discussed below, but an overly simplistic description of what happens in an adoption is that it involves the termination of birth parent's rights to a child and the legal establishment of those rights with qualified adoptive parents. The following descriptions are elaborations on this brief description.

1. DSHS. In foster adoptions, the state (DSHS) has stepped in because of grave concerns about the biological parents' ability to take care of the child. A dependency is established, and DSHS places the child with a licensed foster family. If the problem is not able to be remedied, the parental rights are terminated. The foster family can then petition to adopt the child. The State Attorney General takes care of the legal process of terminating parental rights, but an attorney of the adoptive parents' own choice handles the finalization phase.

The Petition for Adoption has to be filed under a separate court case number than that used for the dependency and termination, and it can be filed in any county in the state - it does not have to be filed where the adoptive parents reside or where the dependency was first established.

2. Agency. Adoption agencies in Washington are licensed by DSHS. Birth parents, who have worked with the agency to find a match with adoptive parents, receive counseling and support from the agency. The court grants custody of the child to the agency, which has the legal authority to place the child with the adoptive parents selected by the birth parents. When a post-placement report is completed and when the agency believes that the adoptive parents are ready to finalize, the agency tells the adoptive parents to work with their own attorney to finalize the adoption.

The Petition for Adoption may be filed under the same court case number that the agency used to terminate parental rights and obtain custody. The adoptive parents do not have to reside in the county where the agency's initial petition for termination was filed.

3. Private/independent. Washington allows a birth parent to sign a consent that allows the court to grant custody directly to the adoptive parents in a private adoption. In private adoptions, the attorney for the adoptive parents is usually the person facilitating the adoption. This may involve arranging for counseling services and/or legal services for the birth mother and birth father. The role of the attorney in a private adoption is much greater than compared to a foster adoption or agency adoption.

As with foster and agency adoptions, a pre-placement report (often called a "home study") is required. In a private adoption, the prospective adoptive parents are free to choose and hire a qualified home study provider on their own. Their attorney will have referrals for such home study providers.

The cost of most private adoptions is typically much less than that of an agency adoption. This is because an agency typically spreads out its costs; therefore, if a birth mother changes her mind at the last moment, the adoptive parents go back on the waiting list without having to pay for all the time that the agency spent working with the birth parents. By contrast, an attorney has to charge for the time and work performed, even if the birth mother changes her mind. You can see that the job of the attorney is to minimize the risks.

Petitions for Termination and for Adoption may be filed in any county in the state. For a child born in Washington and being placed with Washington residents, both the order terminating rights and the decree of adoption are obtained from the same court.

Often there is an interstate case where the child is born in Washington and the birth parents choose adoptive parents who live in another state. Or, the child was born in another state and the birth parents choose adoptive parents who live here in Washington. In these cases, there is a law requiring one to work with the offices of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children of both states. Permission has to be given by both state's offices before the child can be transported across state lines. A violation of this is a misdemeanor for each day out of compliance.

4. Step-parent. When a new spouse assumes the parent-figure role for his or her spouse's child(ren) by a former marriage or relationship, and when the biological parent has essentially abandoned their connection with, and support of, the minor child(ren), the new spouse can petition the court for a step-parent adoption.

Only a post-placement report is required.

Sometimes, when the biological parent does not want to willingly relinquish their parental rights, and yet he or she has essentially abandoned their role as a parent, a trial may result. The petitioning step-parent and spouse must then prove by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that the other biological parent has failed to perform their parental duties and is withholding their consent contrary to the child’s best interests. This is not an inexpensive endeavor.

5. International. In the typical international adoption, adoptive parents work not only with a qualified agency, but also with the United States Citizens Immigration Services (USCIS) for pre-approval of the international adoption. If the other country is a "Hague convention" country, approval by that country's "Central Authority" is  required and the U.S. adoption agency must be "Hague accredited." As you might already gather, there are a lot of hoops to jump through for an international adoption.

Except for those countries issuing guardianships for the purpose of an adoption in the U.S., one must first adopt the child pursuant to the laws of the foreign country, and then there is typically a "re-adoption" back here in the States, so that the child can get a Washington State birth certificate.

6. Adult. Adult adoptions? Absolutely. The stories behind these adoptions are very heartwarming. An example might help:

A young woman about to graduate from the UW had spent several of her teenage years as a foster child with a foster family. They had become very close, but for some reason, the foster family was not able to adopt her. When the foster parents asked this young woman what she wanted for a graduation present, she said she wanted them to adopt her so she could be their daughter.

An adult adoption only requires that the adopting adult and the adult adoptee want to establish a parent-child relationship.  No social worker report is required; no consent is required from the biological parent(s).