Minnesota Adoption Law: An Overview

Adopting a child is a joyous occasion, marking the beginning of a new family. Getting to the moment when an adoption becomes official, however, involves a rather vast amount of preparation. Minnesota family law requires many prospective adoptive parents to meet residency requirements, to obtain consent to the adoption from multiple parties, and to submit to several studies. Many adoptions must go through a placement agency licensed by the state, while others mostly require submission of paperwork to a court for approval. The following is a general overview of Minnesota’s legal requirements for an adoption.

Please note that Minnesota law allows for adoption of both children and adults. In this post, we will focus on adoption of a child or children, meaning people who are under the age of eighteen. Both individuals and couples can petition to adopt a child. For the sake of brevity, we will alternate between language that suggests couples and language that implies an individual adopter.

Types of Adoptions

An adoption proceeding can take several forms in Minnesota. Cases may vary based on the relationship between the prospective adoptive family and the child, along with other factors:

  • Kinship adoption: Also known as a relative adoption, this involves adoption by a close family member of the child, such as an aunt or uncle, a sibling, or a grandparent.
  • Step-parent adoption: As stated, this involves adoption of a child by the spouse of one of their parents.
  • Private adoption: In certain situations, children may be placed directly into a prospective adoptive home, without going through a licensed adoption agency.
  • Agency adoption: Many adoptions must occur through an agency that takes custody of a child after they are removed from their parents’ custody or otherwise become wards of the state. Some prospective adoptive households also serve as foster families for children.
  • International adoption: Adoption of children from other countries is possible. It usually requires legal proceedings in the child’s home country, issuance of a visa by federal immigration authorities, and confirmation of the adoption by a Minnesota court.

Who May Adopt a Child?

Minnesota law states that a person must have been a Minnesota resident for at least one year before they may petition to adopt a child. A court can modify or waive this residency requirement in certain circumstances:

  • If a court concludes that it would be in a child’s best interest, it can reduce the required length of residence to a minimum of thirty days. This might apply if a uniquely suitable adoptive home is available for a particular child, but the prospective parent(s) do not yet meet the residency requirement.
  • A court can waive the residency requirement altogether if the prospective adoptive parents are family members of the child, or if they are “important friends with whom the child has resided or had significant contact.”

Placement of a Child

With notable exceptions, a person may not file an adoption petition unless an agency has placed the child they seek to adopt in their home. Placement by an agency is not required when:

  • The child is related to the prospective adoptive parents;
  • The child is over the age of fourteen;
  • The child was placed in the home under another state’s laws;
  • The child was directly placed in the home, such as under an agreement with the child’s birth parents; or
  • The court waives the placement requirement.

Consent to Adoption

Many adoptions take place after a child’s biological parents agree to allow another couple to adopt the child. Parents can consent to this type of adoption no sooner than 72 hours after the child’s birth, and no more than sixty days after the child’s placement in a potential adoptive home. Consent must be in writing, and signed in front of two witnesses.

If the birth parents decide to revoke their consent, they must give written notice to the placement agency within ten days after the date they signed the consent. After ten days, their consent becomes irrevocable.

If a parent is a minor, their parents or guardian must give consent to placement for adoption. If the child has a legal guardian, they must consent as well. If the child is at least fourteen years old, state law requires the child’s consent to adoption.

The consent of the child’s birth parents is not required if:

  • They have abandoned the child;
  • They have received notice of a loss of custody of the child; or
  • Their parental rights have been terminated by a court.

If the child is a member of one of Minnesota’s eleven federally-recognized Indian tribes, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act gives the tribal government jurisdiction over the child’s adoption. If the child lives on a reservation, the tribal government has exclusive jurisdiction, meaning that a state court cannot hear the petition. Otherwise, the tribal government might share jurisdiction with the state government. This can become very complicated.

Paternity issues

In some situations, a child in an adoptive placement might not have a legally-acknowledged biological father. Minnesota law presumes that someone is a child’s father if they are married to the child’s mother, if they have signed and filed written acknowledgment of paternity, or if they openly claim the child as their own. A person who believes that they are the father of a child can register with the Minnesota Father’s Adoption Registry within thirty days of the child’s birth. Once registered, they are entitled to notice of any adoption proceeding in the state affecting that child.

Background Studies

Minnesota law requires background checks and home studies of the prospective adoptive parents. The specific requirements may vary based on the type of adoption. Cases involving a licensed placement agency typically have the strictest requirements.

The background study must include a criminal background check, a search of child abuse and neglect registries in every state where the person lived in the previous five years, and other information from national crime databases. Federal law also requires this type of background check for adoptive placements. The placement agency must make at least one visit to the prospective adoptive parents’ home.

Filing the Petition

The prospective adoptive family must file a petition for adoption within one year of the placement of the child in their home. The petition should include all of the required consents, the background study, and a proposed adoption decree for the court to sign.

Within ninety days of the filing date, the agency must conduct a post-placement study. The purpose of this study is to check in on how the child and the prospective adoptive parents are doing, and how well the child is settling into the home.

Finalizing the Adoption

Eventually, the court will hold a hearing on the adoption petition. In some situations, the child’s biological parents are entitled to notice of the hearing. If a biological parent or other individual objects to the adoption, they must notify the court before the hearing date.

Most adoption hearings are not courtroom battles. Instead, they give the judge the chance to review the paperwork and to speak to the prospective adoptive parents, representatives from the placement agency, other people involved with the child, and if appropriate, the child themselves. If everything is in order and the judge concludes that adoption is in the child’s best interests, they will grant the adoption.

Anthony Toepfer is a family law attorney in St. Cloud, Minnesota who represents people during some of the most difficult times in their lives, such as divorces and child custody disputes, but also during happier times. As a client at Toepfer at Law, you will always be able to receive up-to-date information about your case, and we will always be available to answer your questions and address your concerns. Please contact us through our website, or give us a call at (320) 497-4416 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

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MEET TONY TOEPFER

Attorney Anthony (Tony) Toepfer began his legal career in the area of business and technology law. While successful in that field, he felt there was something missing. He turned down opportunities, because, as he says, “I wanted to see the faces of the people I was helping.” He transitioned into family law practice, and found what he was looking for.

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