Thursday, July 13, 2017

Step Parent Adoption Fact Sheet


How much does a Step Parent Adoption cost?

 The usual legal fees are $1500, with the consent, abandonment, or death of the non-custodial parent. If the case is actively contested by a nonconsenting birth parent, the legal fees will be much higher. 

For every case, there also will be additional out of pocket fees depending on the particular case, i.e. printing costs, mailing costs, publication, filing fees, birth certificate fees etc.

How long will a Step Parent Adoption take in Virginia?

Between one to four months once the legal pleadings are filed with the Court.

Can you describe the process?

  1. Informational meeting with Adoption attorney.
  2. Consider whether the biological parent must consent to adoption or has abandoned the child or is deceased
  3. Attorney gathers information and Clients sign notarized pleadings
  4. Attorney files the pleadings with the Court
  5. Newspaper publication (required for nonconsenting birth parent)
  6. Possible brief investigation by Social Services, a two month process
  7. Obtain the Final Order of Adoption—Court appearance is sometimes required
  8. Obtain a new Birth Certificate with the child’s new name and the new parent listed as the parent - arrives in two to four months.
  9. Client changes name of child on social security card
Where do you serve clients?
We work with families within 60 minute travel distance from our office.  If you are outside this area, we may be able to provide a referral to another attorney. 


Drafted by Karen S. Law with assistance from Bernadette Miller and Amanda Wong, staff members of the Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC.

Disclaimer

This web site and the information contained within have been prepared by Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This information is not intended to create, nor does receipt of it constitute an attorney-client relationship. Viewers should not act upon information found here without seeking legal counsel. All photographs shown on this web-site are depictions of clients and are not actual clients of this law firm. Copyright Karen S. Law, 2017.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Virginia Court of Appeals Considers SIJ cases in June

The federal program, Special Immigrant Juvenile Visa Program, is a current path to lawful permanent residency for children who have experienced neglect, abuse or abandonment by a parent and who cannot return to their home countries. To obtain lawful permanent residency requires the child to obtain an Order in his state court prior to filing with USCIS. The Order typically places the child in the custody or adoptive placement of another parent or a third party. Additionally, the Order makes findings of fact (SIJ Findings of Fact) which permit the child to then file for a green card with USCIS.

There is great disparity among states, and even among counties within a state, as to whether to issue the SIJ Order. The Virginia Court of Appeals is considering these questions this month and the outcome of the two cases on appeal will determine the availability of SIJ status for children in Virginia.

The core issue currently plaguing the Virginia courts is a debate surrounding whether local judges have the jurisdiction to making rulings on cases that ultimately will become federal immigration cases. As of now, there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding surrounding the situation. Inconsistency has sprung up, stemming from differences in experiences between local judges in dealing with visa/immigration cases. In areas which have a large unaccompanied minor population, such as Fairfax County, judges are fairly confident in determining whether the SIJ Order should be issued in a particular case. In contrast, judges who come from localities where visa/ immigration cases are rare, may feel that the decision is outside of their expertise.

Advocates have argued that local courts are in fact, not making immigration decisions but are taking the necessary step for these young immigrants to start the process. The argument is that the SIJ findings of fact are issued within the context of custody or adoption cases that local judges would be familiar with, in which the court decides which living situation is in the child's best interests. Further, that children are vulnerable and in need of protection, which is the mandate of the state court in family law type cases.

Critics have asserted that local judges do not have the authority to make immigration decisions and that the state courts should not get involve in federal immigration issues. Specifically in assessing the two cases being evaluated by the Virginia Court of Appeals, factual questions were raised- whether the biological fathers had knowledge of the proceedings, and whether there was substantial evidence to warrant mistreatment from the fathers. On a larger scale, there is speculation that immigrant parents have been abusing this program and making false claims, with the two parents actually colluding on sending the child to the United States.

Questions have also been raised concerning whether a young undocumented immigrant who joins an illegally documented parent here can legitimately be seen as “unaccompanied.” There  have been bills proposed in the past year to address these issues, with Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) proposing that the term “unaccompanied minor” not apply to those with a suitable guardian in the United States to assume custody. As well as the bill introduced by Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) which would restrict eligibility for the SIJ program to juveniles who don’t have parents in the United States.

Ultimately, the Virginia Court of Appeals decision, expected to be rendered by late June, will clarify which children may use the Virginia Courts to obtain the state court order that would then allow them to apply for SIJ status. Our office has worked with many deserving youth who have benefited from this program and are now attending college or working. We are hopeful that the Court of Appeals decision will bring uniformity to the process in Virginia and clarify that the Virginia Courts do have jurisdiction to render SIJ Orders in the context of custody or adoption cases.

Drafted by Amanda Wong, staff member of the Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC.

Disclaimer

This web site and the information contained within have been prepared by Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This information is not intended to create, nor does receipt of it constitute an attorney-client relationship. Viewers should not act upon information found here without seeking legal counsel. All photographs shown on this web-site are depictions of clients and are not actual clients of this law firm. Copyright Karen S. Law, 2017.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Ethiopia Adoption Suspension

As of April 21, 2017, adoptions from Ethiopia have been put on suspension by the  Ethiopian 
government.  Regardless of what stage an adoption is in, the Ministry of Women and Children's 
Affairs, MOWA, has indicated that only negative letters will be issued preventing an adoption from 
being finalized or an exit visa from being issued.  As of now, there is no official communication from
the Ethiopian government about the rationale for the suspension.  The Department of State is fighting 
for any adoption completed prior to the suspension date of April 21 to be allowed to continue in the 
process.  Ethiopian adoptive parents are meeting with their U.S. Senators and Representatives to urge 
involvement at the highest level of government.  This is extremely difficult for families who have 
already met the children they are adopting.  In some cases, the families have already completed the 
Court process in Ethiopia and the children are expecting to join their U.S. families in the near future.
For more information adoption.state.gov.  Click on country information under Ethiopia.  You can also sign up for information calls on this topic through that web-site. For those families in the early stages of the process, the Department of State suggests that they switch to another country. This will involve an updated home-study and notifying USCIS of the change in country.  For more information, see below from www.uscis.gov

Change of Country
Prospective adoptive parents may file for a change of country at any time. 
Prior to Approval
Prior to the approval of the Form I-600A, Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition or Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country:

  • You must notify the USCIS National Benefits Center (NBC) in writing for the change to be made.
  • There is no fee associated with a change of country prior to the initial approval of the Form I-600A/I-800A.
  • For a Hague Convention adoption case,  you must submit an amended home study specifying the new country.
  • For Orphan cases, you may need to submit a new home study if the recommendation for the child to be adopted was country specific.

After Approval

After Approval of the Forms I-600A/I-800A:

  • All requests must be submitted in writing to the NBC.
    • Please note that only first change of country request is to be sent to the NBC.  All later significant change of country requests must be filed according to the directions for Form I 600A or Form I 800A
  • There is no limit to the number of change of country requests that may be submitted. 
  • There is no fee for the first change of country request.
  • For an Orphan adoption case: for any subsequent change of country request, you must submit Form I-824, Application for Action on an Approved Application or Petition, with fee.
    • You may need to submit a new home study if the recommendation for the child to be adopted was country specific. 
  • For a Hague Convention adoption case: a change of country request is made using Form I-800A, Supplement 3 and an amended home study.

Change from Hague to Orphan process, or from Orphan to Hague Process

Prospective adoptive parents may not simply change from the Hague process to the Orphan process, nor from the Orphan process to the Hague process. 
  • Someone who has started the Hague process may withdraw a Form I-800A or Form I-800 and begin the Orphan process by filing a Form I-600A or Form I-600, with a new filing fee. 
  • Someone who has started the Orphan process may withdraw a Form I-600A or Form I-600 and begin the Hague process by filing a Form I-800A with a new filing fee.
The filing fee for the earlier case will not be refunded.


Drafted by Karen S. Law, with assistance from Brittany Alness, staff member of the Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC.

Disclaimer


This web site and the information contained within have been prepared by Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This information is not intended to create, nor does receipt of it constitute an attorney-client relationship. Viewers should not act upon information found here without seeking legal counsel. All photographs shown on this web-site are depictions of clients and are not actual clients of this law firm. Copyright Karen S. Law, 2017.



Monday, March 13, 2017

Is My Adopted Child a U.S. Citizen?

I am frequently asked, "Is my adopted child a U.S. citizen"? This can be confusing especially if your child was adopted many years ago.

Child Citizenship Act taken from the Department of State Intercountry Adoption Website:

"It is important to ensure that your adopted child becomes a U.S. citizen. If you postpone documenting or obtaining your child's citizenship, later he or she may have difficulty getting college scholarships, working legally, voting, and enjoying other rights and privileges. In some cases, the child might even be subject to deportation. Act now to safeguard your child's rights and future.
The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was designed to make acquisition of U.S. citizenship easier and to eliminate extra steps and costs. Under the Child Citizenship Act, children adopted abroad automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if:
At least one of the child's parents is a U.S. citizen;
The child is under 18;
  • The child lives in the legal and physical custody of the American citizen parent;
  • The child is admitted into the United States as an immigrant for lawful permanent residence; and
  • The adoption is final."
  • The Act came into effect on February 27, 2001.


How do you secure a certificate of citizenship automatically?

The adoption is finalized outside the U.S. and the child is admitted with an IR3 or IH3 visa.
All requirements are met before the child's admission
One parent saw the child before or during the adoption proceeding
The child came to the U.S. after January, 2004.  Between February 27, 2001 and January 2004, the parents had to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship.

If you finalized the adoption in the foreign country and the child is admitted as an IR2, the child is a U.S. citizen but will not receive the Certificate of Citizenship automatically.  You must apply for proof of U.S. citizenship using the Form N-600 from the USCIS web-site.

Am I required to readopt my child?

If you obtain guardianship of the child in the foreign country or at least one parent did not personally see and observe the child before or during the adoption proceedings, the child is NOT a U.S. citizen.  Instead, the child is a lawful permanent resident. The child's stamp in their foreign passport will end in 4, IR4 or IH4.

A rule of thumb--if it ends in 3, you are free.  If it ends in 4, there is more.

In order to qualify for U.S. citizenship, the child must be readopted in your home state before the child turns 18.  Some states recognize a foreign adoption without a formal state process. Consult an adoption attorney in your state. http://www.adoptionattorneys.org/aaaa/home

I forgot to readopt my child and now, she is nineteen.  Her lawful permanent resident card has expired so it appears she is undocumented.  She cannot get a job or a driver's license.  What should we do?

This happens all too often.  Your child is still a lawful permanent resident although her card has expired.  She needs to apply for a replacement lawful permanent resident card, using the Form I-90 which is found at the USCIS web-site.  Then, she can apply to naturalize using the Form N-400.  She will have to demonstrate proficiency in English and civic and meet all the other qualifications for citizenship.  Contact an Immigration attorney to assist your family.


FAQ:Child Citizenship Act of 2000 contains a list of 9 questions that are commonly asked about the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.

Drafted by Karen S. Law, with assistance from Brittany Alness, staff member of the Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC.

Disclaimer


This web site and the information contained within have been prepared by Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This information is not intended to create, nor does receipt of it constitute an attorney-client relationship. Viewers should not act upon information found here without seeking legal counsel. All photographs shown on this web-site are depictions of clients and are not actual clients of this law firm. Copyright Karen S. Law, 2017.




Monday, January 23, 2017

Stepparent Adoption; Biological Father Uninvolved or Unknown in Virginia



When a parent of a child marries or remarries, there are lots of changes that happen to create a new family dynamic.  The stepparent may want to adopt his spouse's child as his own.  There are several different situations in which adoption becomes the best decision for this newly formed family.  There are, however, a few obstacles that could prevent this from being an uncomplicated process. 

I am often asked by people who are in long term relationships whether they can adopt the other partner's biological child.  At present, if they were to do that, it would terminate the parental rights of the biological parent, which is not the goal.  Under Virginia law, the couple has to marry in order for this adoption to add a parent, without subtracting the biological parent. 

Next, the child must be legally free for adoption.  What does this mean? Under Virginia law, as in other states, you have to consider the parental rights of the other biological parent.  
Image result for father and child picturesIf the biological parent gives consent, then the process is straightforward.  The parent's consent document is filed with the Petition for Adoption along with a proposed Final Adoption Order in the Circuit Court.  In most cases, the Final Adoption Order is entered without a hearing fairly quickly.  Some courts will order an investigation by the County Department of Social Services, which will add two months to the process.

Four Categories of Birth Fathers 

The birth father who is listed on the child's birth certificate is an acknowledged father. If the father is not listed on the child's birth certificate, we must determine whether the biological father has ever been adjudicated as a father through a paternity test or child support order.  Alternatively, were the biological parents married but for some reason, the father was not listed on the birth certificate? 

Another category of birth fathers that have the right to notice of the adoption plan are those who have properly registered with the Virginia Putative Father Registry or the Putative Father Registry in the state where the child was conceived or born.  More information on the Virginia Putative Father Registry can be found at the Virginia Department of Social Services which maintains a data base of those who have properly registered to receive notice of any potential adoption plan:  http://www.dss.virginia.gov/family/ap/putative_fatherhood.cgi

If there is a birth father who qualifies under one of these four categories, then we either need to obtain his consent or the Court will hold a best interests hearing to determine if he is withholding his consent contrary to the best interests of the child.

Abandonment

However, in many situations, the birth father has not been in touch with the child for years.  In some instances, there is a child support order in place but there has been no visitation or contact with the child. Often, we do not even know where the birth father is living anymore.

Image result for stepfather and child picturesVirginia has an abandonment statue where if the biological parent hasn't visited or contacted the child for the six months prior to filing the case, the Court may hold a hearing and determine that that parent's consent is no longer necessary.  There is a higher evidentiary standard at those hearings.  And, the missing biological parent must receive notice of the abandonment allegations so they can contest the allegation of abandonment.  In other words, perhaps they have a really good reason for dropping out of the child’s life such as the birth mother disappeared with the child and left no forwarding address, phone number or social media contact. But, absent that, the Court may order the adoption even if the biological parent objects if the Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the biological parent has abandoned the child.   

Other Common Questions

"Can I just add my husband's name to the birth certificate".  The short answer is no, you can't just simply add a name to the certificate.  Your child has to be legally adopted by your husband.

What happens when the biological father doesn't agree to terminate his rights?  Then the Court has to hold a hearing to determine whether the adoption is in the best interest of the child or not.

Does the child have to consent?  The child has to consent to the adoption if he is 14 years old or older.


Image result for father and child picturesWe work with many families in Virginia on stepparent adoptions.  It is always a joyful moment when we appear in front of the Court and the family that has been acting as a family for many years finally receives legal recognition of that.  The child will then receive a second birth certificate with the new parent added.  This does not eliminate the first birth certificate or the biological parent’s role in the child’s early life.  The child will always have two birth certificates.  However, legally, the stepparent will have all the rights and obligations of a parent after the stepparent adoption is completed.


Drafted by Karen S. Law, with assistance from Brittany Alness, staff member of the Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC.

Disclaimer


This web site and the information contained within have been prepared by Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. This information is not intended to create, nor does receipt of it constitute an attorney-client relationship. Viewers should not act upon information found here without seeking legal counsel. All photographs shown on this web-site are depictions of clients and are not actual clients of this law firm. Copyright Karen S. Law, 2017.