Adoption is the creation of a parent-child relationship by judicial order between people who are not a natural parent and a child. When the court orders an adoption it also ends the parental rights and responsibilities of the natural parents. Under the law, the new parent-child relationship is no different than the relationship between a natural parent and child. Maryland does not bar adults from being adopted.
Maryland law defines three different kinds of adoptions: public agency, private agency, and independent. All three have similar procedures. An adoption is begun with the filing of a petition for adoption in Circuit Court. If they can be found, the natural parents are asked to consent to the adoption and given the opportunity to object. Investigations and reports are filed with the court and a hearing is held. Finally, the court will either grant or deny the petition. The Court of Special Appeals handles appeals.
Locating adoption laws, rules, and regulations:
- Maryland Rules 9-101 through 9-113.
- Public agency adoptions are in Family Law Title 5, Subtitle 3
- Private agency adoptions statutes are in Family Law Title 5, Subtitle 3A.
- Independent adoptions are covered in Family Law Title 5, subtitle 3B.
Who Can Adopt
Any adult who is not the child’s natural parent may petition the court for adoption. It is not required that the petitioner be married. However, the spouse of the petitioner will be joined in the petition unless the couple is separated, the spouse is not legally competent, or the spouse is already the legal parent of the child. Petitioners who pursue an adoption through a public agency will be required to complete a 27-hour home study course. Read the Law/Regulation: Family Law § 5-331, § 5-3A-29, § 5-3B-13, COMAR 07.02.12.10
The Maryland Department of Human Resources places children for public agency adoptions. 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: Family Law § 5-507; COMAR 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 guardian of the child and can consent. For most independent adoptions, the petitioner will need the consent of all living parents. Read the Law: Family Law § 5-338, § 5-350, § 5-3A-35, § 5-3B-20, § 5-3B-22, MD Rule 9-102
In some public agency adoptions, the Department of Human Resources has already gotten an order from the court terminating the parental rights of the natural parents. Only agency consent is required if parental rights have been terminated. If the parental rights have not been terminated and the parents are still alive, at least one parent will need to consent. If the parent who does not consent is still alive, the court can still grant the adoption if the parent cannot be located, has not been in contact with the department for 180 days, and fails to object to notice of the adoption put in the newspaper. Read the Law: Family Law § 5-338
If the child to be adopted is at least 10 years old, the child must also consent. Read the Law: Family Law § 5-338, § 5-350, § 5-3A-35, § 5-3B-20
- 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.
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 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 also issues 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 who has a right to be a part of the proceeding has 30 days to object to the adoption. Maryland Rule 9-105 gives the form for the show cause order. Read the Law: Family Law § 5-333, § 5-334, § 5-346, § 5-3B-14, § 5-3B-15, § 5-3A-30, MD Rule 9-104, MD Rule 9-105, MD Rule 9-107
The court will hold a hearing before either 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. Read the Law: Family Law § 5-3A-31, § 5-3B-16
The most important consideration in the hearing is what is in the best interest of the person to be adopted. The court will also make sure that all the proper paperwork has been done. The court will also make a determination about the fitness of the petitioner to be parents. Read the Law: Family Law § 5-337, § 5-349, § 5-3A-34, § 5-3B-19, Rule 9-109
Nonconsensual Independent Adoptions
There are special issues when a mother 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
And the parent
- has not had contact with the child while the petitioner had custody
- has not contributed to the child’s support
- abused the child significantly, or
- has been convicted of serious crimes of violence
These issues will be raised at the hearing. Read the Law: Family Law § 5-3B-22
After the hearing, the court will issue an order either granting or denying the adoption. In a public agency adoption, the court must rule on the adoption within 180 days, but after the show cause order and time for revocation expires. In 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. In independent adoptions, the court cannot enter an order of adoption until the revocation period expires. Read the Law: Family Law § 5-336, § 5-348, § 5-3A-33, § 5-3B-18, Rule 9-111
The following books may be available at a public Circuit Court Law Library.
Family Law Manual, Maryland. Hanford Pub. Co. (1984 with 2012 supp.) Children (CHI) 101-102, 701-702, 801-802.
Maryland Domestic Relations Forms with Practice Commentary. LexisNexis (with 2012 supp.), Ch. 7.
Maryland Family and Juvenile Law : Practice Manual and Forms. Data Trace Pub. Co. (2003 with June 2012 supp.), Ch. 8
Practice Manual for the Maryland Lawyer. Maryland State Bar Association (4th ed. 2012), Ch. 3