Topics on this page:
- Adoption Generally
- Who Can Adopt
- Adoption Agencies
- Revocation of Consent
- Independent Adoptions
- Adoption of an Adult, and name change
- Medical and Mental Health Records
Adoption is a legal process that establishes a parent-child relationship between individuals who are not biologically related. Through judicial order, the adoptive parents become the legal parents of a child, assuming all the rights and responsibilities that come with parenthood. The legal process terminates the biological parent's legal rights and responsibilities. Under the law, the new parent-child relationship is no different than the relationship between a biological parent and child.
Adoption can occur for various reasons, such as when biological parents are unable or unwilling to care for their child or when a child is orphaned. It provides a way for children to become part of a new family and allows adoptive parents to expand their family and care for a child in need. Maryland does not bar adults from being adopted.
Maryland law defines three different kinds of adoptions:
- Public agency adoptions: this type of adoption is filed by the Department of Human Services after parental rights have been terminated.
- Private agency adoptions: this type of adoption is filed by a private adoption agency that has identified a child available for adoption and has identified a family willing and able to adopt the child.
- Independent adoptions: this type of adoption is usually filed by a private party. Independent adoptions are often filed by a stepparent or co-parent who wants to adopt their partner’s child.
All three kinds of adoption have similar procedures. Adoption begins with filing a petition for adoption in Circuit Court. If the biological parents can be found, they are allowed to consent or object to the adoption. Investigations and reports are filed with the court, and a hearing is held. Finally, the court will either grant or deny the petition. The Appellate Court of Maryland (formerly the Court of Special Appeals) handles appeals.
Adoption laws, rules, and regulations are available in the following locations:
- Maryland Rules
- Family Law Actions - Adoption: Rules 9-101 through 9-113.
- Maryland Statutes
- Public agency adoptions Code of Md. Regulations Title 7, Subtitle 2, Chapter 12.
- Private agency adoptions Code of Md. Regulations Title 7, Subtitle 5, Chapter 3.
Any adult who is not the child’s biological parent may petition the court for adoption. The petitioner does not need to be married. If the petitioner is married, the petitioner's spouse will be joined in the petition unless the couple is separated, the spouse is not legally competent, or the spouse is already the child's legal parent. Petitioners who pursue an adoption through a public agency must complete a 27-hour home study course.
Public Agency Adoption - The Maryland Department of Human Services places children for public agency adoptions.
Private Agency Adoption - Any person or organization that places children for adoption must be licensed through the Social Services Administration. Parents and other close relatives may put a child up for adoption without a license.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 5-507
Read the Regulation: Code of Md. Regulations 07.05.01.03
Maryland law requires that the legal guardians of the person to be adopted consent to the adoption. For agency adoptions, the agency itself is often the child's guardian and can consent. For most independent adoptions, the petitioner will need the consent of all living parents.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 9-102
In some public agency adoptions, the Department of Human Services has already gotten an order from the court terminating the natural parents' parental rights. If parental rights have been terminated, only agency consent is required. If the parental rights have not been terminated, and the parents are still alive, at least one parent will need to consent. If one parent consents to the adoption, and consent cannot be obtained from the other parent, the court can still grant the adoption if the non-consenting parent:
- is dead,
- cannot be located,
- has not been in contact with the department for 180 days, and
- fails to object to a notice of the adoption in the newspaper.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 5-338
If the child to be adopted is at least 10 years old, the child must also consent. If the child is under 10 years old, then the child must not object.
- Public agencies may revoke consent up until the court grants adoption.
- The person to be adopted may revoke consent up until the court grants adoption.
- In public agency adoptions, parents may revoke consent within 30 days of signing the consent or the petition filing, whichever is later.
- Private agencies may revoke consent within 14 days of signing the consent or 14 days of the petition filing, whichever is later.
- In an independent adoption, the parent has 30 days after signing consent to revoke.
The adoption process begins with a petition for adoption.
Rule 9-103 lists in detail what information must be included in the petition, and what additional documents must be filed as exhibits along with the petition.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 9-103
When the petition is filed, the clerk of the juvenile court sends notice of the filing to each person who is required to give consent and the attorneys for the child and parents.
In a public agency adoption, the court will schedule a status conference within 60 days after the filing of the petition. The court will also issue a show cause order that is sent to parents in cases when parental rights have not been terminated. The show cause order gives the parents a right to object to the adoption. Anyone with a right to participate in the proceeding has 30 days to object to the adoption. Md. Rule 9-105 gives the form for the show cause order.
The petitioner and the natural parents may enter into an agreement to grant visitation after the adoption.
The court will hold a hearing before granting or denying a petition for adoption. In private agency adoptions, the agency must submit a report to the court before the hearing. In independent adoptions, the court may order an investigation before granting adoption.
The most important consideration in the hearing is what is in the best interest of the person to be adopted. The court will make sure that all the proper paperwork has been done. The court will also determine the fitness of the petitioner to be parents.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 9-109
Independent adoptions generally refer to adoptions arranged by and between a biological parent and a prospective adoptive parent, and the biological parents and prospective parents negotiate with one another (either directly or through lawyers).
There are special issues when a parent has not consented in an independent adoption. If a parent files a notice of objection the court cannot grant the adoption unless the petitioner:
- Has had custody of the child for more than 180 days, and
- Has significant emotional ties to the petitioner
In addition, the parent must:
- Have not had contact with the child while the petitioner had custody;
- Have not contributed to the child’s support;
- Abused the child significantly; or
- Have been convicted of serious crimes of violence.
These issues will be raised at the hearing.
Read the Law: Md. Code, Family Law § 5-3B-22
After the hearing, the court will issue an order either granting or denying the adoption.
Public agency adoption: the court must rule on the adoption within 180 days, but after the show cause order and time for revocation expires.
Private agency adoptions: the court may not enter an order for adoption until 30 days after the agency received the order for guardianship of the child.
Independent adoptions: the court cannot enter an order of adoption until the revocation period expires.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 9-111
It is common for an adopted minor child to take the last name of the adopting parent. It is also possible for an adult adoptee to take the adopting parent’s last name (or any other name desired).
The basic process for the adoption of an adult is the same as for the adoption of a minor.
The adopting parent must list the desired name of the adoptee in the petition and on the MDH Certificate of Adoption form.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 9-103
Adoptive or prospective adoptive parents can request medical and mental health histories of the adoptee's biological parents. The information available will depend on what was recorded at the time of the adoption. Non-identifying medical information can be requested directly from the agency that facilitated the adoption. If you do not know which agency facilitated the adoption, the Adoption Search Contact and Reunion Services office of the Department of Human Services may be able to assist you in finding the medical records you are looking for. See their website for more details