February 10, 2023

Exploring the Differences Between International and Domestic Adoptions

Adoption is often one of the most rewarding and beautiful aspects of the family law field. At Michael & Russell, PLLC in Wilmington, North Carolina, we are proud to be the first law firm in the area to focus on Adoption and Collaborative Family Law. Attorneys Ashley Michael and Ashley-Nicole Russell have extensive knowledge in adoption law with a combined 25 years of experience with these types of cases. In addition, managing attorney Ashley Michael is one of the most recognized adoption attorneys in the region through her work as a fellow with the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA) and as a Board-Certified Legal Specialist in Family Law by the North Carolina State Bar Board of Legal Specialization.

As families choose to explore adoption options or embark on the journey of adoption, they may have questions along the way. While this process is rewarding, it can also be overwhelming. Michael & Russell often talks to clients who have questions about the legal differences and processes for the variety of adoption types. For instance, the legal process will be different for parents who work with an agency for a foster-to-adopt program versus those who want a private adoption placement. When a child is adopted from another state or a different country, there are additional steps to consider. (To learn more about the many different types of adoption in more detail, click here to read our blog that explains more about seven different adoption processes.) While every adoption has its own unique set of circumstances, there are many differences specifically between domestic adoptions – including interstate adoptions – and international adoptions.

Domestic Adoptions

A domestic adoption is when a child or adult is adopted within the United States. There are many types of domestic adoptions with agency, independent, relative, and stepparent being the most common. While domestic adoptions can take place across the country, each state may have different procedures for adoption processes. For the purpose of this article, we will discuss adoptions as they take place in North Carolina or the child is transported to North Carolina.

One of the most common domestic adoption types is done through a public government agency, such as a county’s Department of Social Services, or a licensed child-placing agency. This process is used for the adoption of children who are in local or state foster care systems. These organizations are responsible for vetting adoptive families and consenting to the adoption. Direct placement, also known as independent adoption, is a private type of adoption when the child’s parent or guardian places them directly with an adoptive family and consents to the adoption. This is common with the adoptions of newborns when the birth parents select a family prior to or shortly after the baby’s birth. In addition, independent adoption processes can also include Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) cases when the intended parents are working with a surrogate.

Oftentimes, family members are involved in the private adoption of children including in relative adoptions and stepparent adoptions. The relative adoption process happens when a parent or guardian places their child with a family member and consents to their adoption. In North Carolina, only some family members are considered relatives for this adoption process. The term covers the grandparents, full or half siblings, first cousins, aunts, uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles, or great-grandparents of the child. If the relationship between the child and adopter is one other than those listed, the adoption is then classified as an independent adoption. Stepparent adoptions are also quite common in North Carolina. This type process involves a stepparent adopting the child(ren) of their spouse, as long as they’ve been married for at least six months. This can be complicated if the other parent is still living because they must consent to the termination of their parental rights. However, there are exceptions to this requirement if the other parent is absent and/or has abandoned the child.

Interstate Adoptions

When adoptions happen from one state to another, they are federally regulated through the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). These types of adoption cases can also be called state-to-state or interstate adoptions. The ICPC is a statutory agreement between all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands with each having its own Compact Administrator Office. The North Carolina office is housed within the state’s Department of Health and Human Services Division of Social Services. This Compact occurs when a child is born or resides in one state but is adopted by an individual or family in another state. Since the adoption crosses state lines, it involves two different state laws as well as federal law. This is widely considered a complex type of adoption case that typically needs the assistance of a skilled adoption attorney. Attorney Ashley Michael has handled many of these cases as she is experienced in the ICPC process and the various laws surrounding it. She knows the ins and outs of interstate adoptions and can guide adoptive families with ease.

International Adoptions

An international adoption, also known as a foreign adoption, is when a child is adopted from another country. There are many types of private agencies that work with different countries to coordinate the adoption process and match families with a child. Just like domestic adoptions, intercountry adoptions have requirements that adoptive parents will need to meet before and after the adoption. These types of adoptions are governed by three different sets of laws, so it can be a lengthy and complex process. These laws include U.S. federal law, North Carolina law, and law of the child’s birth country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides an informative fact sheet through the Children’s Bureau which you can access for free by clicking here. This resource details what adoptive parents need to know about intercountry adoptions from the government perspective. There are two types of recognized adoptions for international placement of a child with an American family including re-adoption and finalized adoption. In re-adoption cases, a child is adopted in their home country by their adoptive family. Paperwork is done to finalize their adoption using that county’s process, so the child is able to leave the country with their new parents. Then, the child will need to be re-adopted once they are brought to the United States and be registered in North Carolina. Finalized adoption cases happen when some countries do not require that a child is adopted prior to leaving. In these instances, the adoption of the child is not finalized in the home country so the process is completed once in the United States. With these adoptions, the child will need proper documentation to leave their home country and enter the United States.

No matter the type of foreign adoption, when bringing a baby or child across a country’s border, there is a lot to consider and prepare for during this delicate process. Working with an experienced attorney for these types of adoptions is often recommended by agencies who coordinate placement and consent. Plus, adoptive families will also need to meet requirements set forth by the United States Department of Homeland Security and Department of State. Michael & Russell attorneys can assist with a variety of these legal needs with foreign adoptions including:

Completing adoption paperwork

There are many documents that need to be drafted and completed by both the child’s adoptive parents as well as their country of birth. This includes notarizing forms, completing them within the requirement scopes, and submitting them to the proper channels. These documents need to be thoroughly completed without error to ensure the adoption timeline isn’t delayed.

Interpreting embassy requirements

When working through adoption processes with other countries, especially with non-English speaking countries, there are occasional communication boundaries. Our attorneys are experienced in navigating embassy requirements and translating documents when needed.

Finalizing immigration procedures

Once families are matched, they will need to bring their new child to North Carolina through an immigration process. There are three different ways that an adopted child born abroad can become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States or a U.S. citizen. Michael & Russell has wide-ranging knowledge about each process option through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. We can assist families in filling out and filing these detailed forms based on the process applicable to their case.

Our Commitment to Adoption Law

When considering adoption, it’s important to research the process and decide if hiring an attorney is right for you. There are many instances where working with an adoption attorney is advised, especially if the case involves various laws and regulations such as with interstate, international, or complex public or private adoptions. In addition, when a name change is involved, you may also find the assistance of an attorney helpful. Michael & Russell, PLLC is one of few adoption firms in Southeastern North Carolina with extensive experience in these types of adoption cases. Our team of knowledgeable and skilled attorneys and legal professionals can guide you every step of the way through domestic and international adoptions. We can also take the guesswork out of complicated legal forms and documents so they’re completed quickly and efficiently. It is our priority to meet your goals of adoption and physical transfer of the adoptee to join your family in North Carolina.

If you decide to pursue an adoption, our law firm is committed to serving you and your growing family. Through our New Hanover County office, we are able to provide family law services in person to all of North Carolina’s southeast region. We can also handle adoption matters across the state and across state lines and country borders. Please reach out to our Wilmington-based office at 910-255-5722 to learn more about working with us for your Adoption or Collaborative Family Law needs.