Adoption in North Carolina

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In North Carolina, adoptions are governed by Statute. The Clerk of Superior Court handles these cases.

Any adult may adopt another person in theory, except that spouses cannot adopt each other. Any person may be adopted, including adults. The person adopted does not have to be a citizen of the United States, but if not, there can be hurdles with the federal immigration authorities. These hurdles are outside the scope of this article. The person adopted can even be an adult.

If the person adopted is not an adult, there are three types of placements with prospective parents. First, an “adoption agency” as defined by Statute may place a child for adoption. Second, a Guardian (other than a parent) appointed by law may place a child for adoption. Last, a parent having legal and physical custody, or both parents may place a child for adoption.  Agencies may place children for adoption only with prospective parents who have been pre-approved pursuant to the Statutes. Guardians and parents who place children for adoption personally select prospective adoptive parents in what is known as a “direct placement.”

The person(s) seeking to adopt must file a Petition for Adoption with the Clerk of Superior Court. Except in step-parent adoptions, a prospective parent’s spouse must join in the Petition. Notice must be given to the child in certain circumstances, the agency placing the child for adoption, the Guardian (if any), any parent whose parental rights have not been terminated and who has not given proper consent, and anyone with legal or physical custody or visitation rights with the minor child.

The Clerk must then request that a report be completed by a Statutorily authorized agency to evaluate the prospective adoptive parent, if this has not already been performed. By law, these reports may only be completed by county social services departments or licensed adoption agencies.

Unless both parents consent, parental rights of the birth parents have to be terminated before a child can be adopted. In adult adoptions, consent of the biological parents/termination of parental rights are not necessary.

In step-parent adoptions, the agency assessment can often be dispensed with and typically biological grand-parent visitation rights are not affected.

Upon a successful adoption, a new birth certificate is issued for the adopted person, showing the adopting parents’ names as parents.

Surrogacy raises considerable issues under North Carolina law. These issues are quite complex and are outside the scope of this article.

Lee Allen, III, a NC State Bar Board of Legal Specialization certified Specialist in Family Law and a NCDRC Certified Family Financial Mediator, is Of Counsel to the law firm of Colombo, Kitchin, Dunn, Ball & Porter, PLLC, where he provides advice and assistance to clients throughout eastern North Carolina.