If you and your spouse cannot give birth to a child of your own, you want to have a child by yourself, or you are caring for a family member, adoption may be the best way for you to grow and establish your family. But do you qualify? Who can adopt a child in Colorado? And what will you need to do to complete the process?
The General Rule for Adoptions
Adoption is how the new or intended parents of a child become personally and legally responsible for that child’s care. It officially terminates the parental rights of the birth parents (except in step-parent cases) and establishes those rights and responsibilities in the non-biological adoptive parents. Once this process is done it cannot be easily undone, so biological and intended parents are advised to talk to an experienced adoption attorney or work with an agency to be certain they know it will be done right.
As a general rule, any person over the age of 21 can adopt a child. Younger people can adopt if given special permission from the court. If you are married or in a civil union, both spouses or partners must join in the petition. Depending on the circumstances of the case, the agencies involved, and the relationship of the parties, adoptions can be:
- Public: where the child is a ward of the state in the foster system before placement with the intended parents
- Private: where an adoption agency or non-profit organization connects biological and intended parents directly (or where non-relatives agree to placement without any agency involvement)
- Open: Where the intended parents agree to keep in contact with the biological parents as the child grows up
- Closed: Where all communication and visitation between the child and his or her biological parents ends when the adoption is finalized
Can Single People Adopt a Child in Colorado?
You do not have to be married to adopt a child in Colorado. Single parents can adopt entirely on their own without a second legally responsible adult. There is no restriction on religion or gender, and you cannot be discriminated against because you are too old (though you do need to be 21 years old except in special circumstances). Nor do you have to own your home.
Can Step-Parents and Unmarried Couples Adopt?
Colorado law allows for step-parent adoptions. If a child’s custodial parent (one granted legal custody) agrees to the adoption, that person’s spouse can petition the Colorado family court to take the place of the non-custodial parent. To do this, the custodial parent and his or her spouse will have to show that the non-custodial parent has:
- Consented to the adoption
- Abandoned the child for at least 1 year
- Failed to provide reasonable support (including failing to pay child support)
Since 2007, unmarried parents can also adopt one another’s children. This process, called second parent adoption allows a specified second adult to step into the role of parent if a child only has one legal parent. This could happen where no father was named on the birth certificate, or one parent’s rights have been terminated. Second parent adoptions are also available to married couples if the child only has one legal parent.
Can Relatives and Guardians Adopt?
Sometimes family situations aren’t as simple as parents and children. Often relatives and close family friends step in when a biological parent is struggling. Certain family members can petition for a kinship adoption if the child has been living with them for at least 1 year:
- Brothers or sisters
- Aunts or uncles
- First cousins
More distant relatives, friends of the family, or “fictive kin” must show more than simply cohabitation with the child. A non-family member can request a custodial adoption if:
- They have legal custody over the child through an Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (APR) or a Guardianship
- The birth parents have abandoned the child for at least 1 year
- The birth parents have failed to provide reasonable support (including failing to pay child support)
Can Military Families Adopt?
Active-duty servicemembers and their families can still adopt through the Colorado foster care system, or through private adoptions. Even if you are currently stationed overseas, if your residence is in Colorado, or you work with a Colorado placement agency, your adoption can be completed through the state system. To avoid unnecessary delays due to your deployment, be certain to work with an adoption attorney familiar with military service requirements who can help ensure you get timely access to paperwork and have an opportunity to participate in any necessary hearings.
Can Same-Sex Couples Adopt?
Same-sex marriage became legal in Colorado in 2014. Since that time, gay and lesbian couples have been entitled to all the same rights regarding marriage and children as their heterosexual counterparts. This includes the right to adopt individually and as married couples. In addition, many same-sex couples use private adoptions or second parent adoptions to solidify their parental rights after a child is born using alternative reproductive technology (i.e. sperm donation or gestational surrogacy).
Can Convicted Felons Adopt?
Just because you have a criminal record doesn’t mean you are automatically disqualified from adoption. However, there are certain crimes that will interfere with your ability to adopt. A petition for adoption will not be granted if you have been convicted of a felony for:
- Child abuse or neglect
- Spousal abuse
- Any crime against a child (i.e. child pornography)
- Any crime of domestic violence
- Violation of a protection order
- Rape, sexual assault, homicide, or a crime of violence
- Physical assault or battery
- Drug-related crimes within the last 5 years
Even misdemeanor convictions in those areas can create problems. However, a court may approve an adoption if it believes doing so promotes the welfare of the child. If you want to adopt but you have a criminal record, be certain to speak to an experienced adoption attorney who can advocate on your behalf and show that allowing the adoption is what is best for the child.
What Will Parents Need to Do to Adopt a Child in Colorado?
No matter which category you fall into, you will need to take certain steps before your petition for adoption can be finalized. All intended parents will need to complete a petition and all related documents and file them with the court. You and any other adult living in your home will also have to submit to background checks through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, FBI, and Colorado Department of Human Services.
Next, a social worker from a licensed placement agency will need to come to your home and interview you in what is called a Family Assessment or Home Study. This can often be waived in kinship adoptions and custodial adoptions, but only if you and your attorney file a Motion to Waive the Family Assessment/Home Study, and that motion is granted by the court.
Once the background checks are returned and the home study is completed, the placement agency will provide the court with a written report recommending for or against your adoption. If everything is in order, the adoption will be granted and you will become the legal parent of the child.
Completing the adoption process can be long, tedious, and time consuming. Often, the paperwork alone can be intimidating. But you don’t have to do it alone. At Aviso Law, LLC, our family law attorneys are ready and able to meet with you and guide you through the process. We are here to serve you and your family from petition to finalization, to make sure everything is done properly and secure your family’s rights. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.