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All About Adoption in North Carolina*

What Is It Legally?  

Adoption permanently creates the relationship of parent(s) and child for all legal purposes, including inheritance, public benefits and any other rights or obligations, such as child support in the event the adoptive parents separate. Adoption also severs any and all relationship between a biological parent and their child. It legally creates new parents, treated as the biological parents.

How Do You Begin an Adoption?

In private adoptions, the biological parent(s) choose someone they know to adopt their child. People may also work with an adoption agency.  Adoptions through the state happen when a child who has been placed in the custody of the state is adopted, sometimes when the child is a foster child.

Terminating Parental Rights

Parents may consent to an adoption. Otherwise, they have a constitutional right to the care and custody of a child unless a court rules they are unfit or they have acted in a manner inconsistent with their rights as parents.  A lawsuit of this kind is called a proceeding to terminate parental rights, and is filed by the state or by an individual. If the court terminates parental rights, the child is cleared for adoption.

What Happens in the Courthouse?

The adoptive parents must file a petition to adopt. If they are married, both spouses must sign the petition, and if the child is 12 or older, he or she must consent to be adopted. Adoptive parents must have a pre-placement assessment of their home, including state-wide and national criminal record check. The state or a licensed agency meets with them in the prospective home. Social workers perform the assessment and interview the adoptive family, touching on these subjects:

  • Employment and/or careers to support a child
  • Religious and cultural background
  • Marital status and circumstances of any potential siblings of the minor
  • Health and ability to physically care for a child
  • Preparedness to become parents
  • Criminal backgrounds

Do We Have to Go Through a Trial?

The adoption proceeding is uncontested if no third party files motions or appears in court to object to it. Uncontested adoptions do not require an actual hearing at the Courthouse. In our state, the clerk of court is given the authority to enter adoption decrees in uncontested cases. However, if the adoption is contested, the adoption case must go to a District Court judge. In Pitt County, upon request, the office of the clerk of court will hold a special ceremony for the adoption, allowing the new extended family to be present when the decree is officially signed.

Who Can Access Adoption Records? 

Adoption records are sealed. Upon the entry of an adoption decree, a new birth certificate replaces the original one, reflecting the names of the new parents, and perhaps a new name for the minor child or adult being adopted. Besides specific court personnel, only the parties to the adoption will have access to the records.

What About Contact With Biological Parents?

In North Carolina, any agreements between the biological parent(s) and adoptive parents for visitation are not legally enforceable.  In other words, visitation, letters and pictures, for example, are left completely to the discretion of the adoptive parents.

In any adoption, the person/people seeking the adoption must file a petition to adopt.  If they are married, both spouses must sign the petition. If the minor child is aged 12 or older, he or she must provide consent to be adopted. Adoptive parents must have a pre-placement assessment of their home, which requires the state or a licensed agency to visit the prospective home and family. Social workers for the state (or for a private licensed agency) perform the assessment and interview the person or people seeking to adopt, touching on these subjects:

  • Employment and/or careers to support a child
  • Religious and cultural background
  • Marital status and circumstances of any potential siblings of the minor
  • Health and ability to physically care for a child
  • Preparedness to become parents
  • Criminal backgrounds

The adoption proceeding is uncontested if no third party files motions or appears in court to object to it. Uncontested adoptions do not require an actual hearing at the Courthouse. In our state, the clerk of court is given the authority to enter adoption decrees in uncontested cases. However, if the adoption is contested, the adoption case must go to a District Court judge. In Pitt County, upon request, the office of the clerk of court will hold a special ceremony for the adoption, allowing the new extended family to be present when the decree is officially signed.

See NC Gen. Stat. §48 et seq.

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