28 Feb Missouri family law: adoption in the Show-Me State
Missouri has exacting legal requirements for a petition to adopt a child, which to be granted must be in the child’s best interest.
Few things would change a child’s life more drastically than being adopted. In the state of Missouri, the legal adoption of a person gives him or her the same rights as if biologically born to the adoptive parents, such as the right to inherit property.
While Missouri family law allows the adoption of adults, the usual situation is the adoption of children, the focus of this article.
The person who raises a young child or teen has a profound impact on the child’s emotional well-being. Understandably, the state of Missouri is concerned that the fit for children is right.
Missouri adoption standards
To accomplish this, Missouri law says that its adoption statutes are to be carried out “so as to promote the best interests and welfare of the child in recognition of the entitlement of the child to a permanent and stable home.” In addition, at the final hearing, the judge must decide whether the adoption would be “fit and proper” after reviewing a considerable amount of relevant evidence.
Since adoption is life changing for a vulnerable child, state laws build in many special requirements to protect the child’s rights. For example, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem for the child. The guardian ad litem is an independent advocate for the child, speaking up in court for what is good for the child and for what the child wants to happen. In particular, the guardian ad litem is responsible to determine the child’s “wishes and feelings” about the adoption when the child is under 14.
To begin the adoption process, the prospective adoptive parents must file a petition with the juvenile court. Specific legal requirements begin here like a determination of the proper county’s court, adequate legal pleadings, service and notice prerequisites, and more.
The court will normally order a thorough investigation of the proposed adoptive parents and the child him or herself for consideration by the judge in the adoption decision.
Before adoption will be granted, Missouri law requires that in almost all instances the child will have first lived at least six months with the proposed adoptive family. This period of “lawful and actual” custody must be a legal one such as pursuant to court order, or with a stepparent and biological parent. Assessment of the success of this temporary placement will be available for the judge’s review in the adoption.
In addition to the court’s approval, written consent to the adoption is required from the child him or herself if at least 14 years old, unless the child is unable to meaningfully consent because of an intellectual disability. Signed consent must also be obtained from the biological mother (after at least 48 hours from birth); a legally presumed father; a man fighting in court for paternity in specific instances or on the state’s putative father registry; and by any adoptive or other legal parents. (Sometimes, consent may be waived such as when parental rights were terminated.)
Several types of adoptions are possible:
- Stepparent adoption
- Private adoption between biological parents and prospective adoptive parents
- Foster-parent adoption
- Third-party adoption like one by a grandparent, adult sibling or other relative, often of a child for which the biological parent is unable or unwilling to care
- Agency adoption
- International adoption
Get smart legal counsel
Any Missourian considering adoption should speak early and often with an experienced family lawyer who has handled adoptions before because the law and required procedures are extremely complex.
Keywords: Missouri, adoption, child, best interest, guardian ad litem, consent