As adoption lawyers in Charleston, South Carolina, we assist families with adopting children. In this article, we explain the types of adoptions in South Carolina, SC’s adoption laws, the procedure for adopting a child in South Carolina, and more.
What is an Adoption in South Carolina?
The South Carolina Adoption Act defines “adoption” as “the judicial act of creating the relationship of parent and child where it did not exist previously.” The purpose of the act is described as follows:
[T]o establish fair and reasonable procedures for the adoption of children and to provide for the well-being of the child, with full recognition of the interdependent needs and interests of the biological parents and the adoptive parents. However, when the interests of a child and an adult are in conflict, the conflict must be resolved in favor of the child. Children may be adopted by or placed for adoption with residents of South Carolina only, except in unusual or exceptional circumstances.
Types of Adoptions – Adoptions come in different forms in South Carolina. They are always filed in the Family Court, and they are always under seal to protect the identities of the children, parents, and adoptive parents. The most common types of adoptions are:
- Private Adoptions (often by a stepparent or relative)
- Agency Adoptions
- DSS Adoptions/Foster Parent Adoptions
Contested vs. Uncontested Adoptions – Adoptions can be contested or uncontested. In a contested case, one or both of the biological parents are contesting the adoption. In an uncontested case, any parent giving up his or her parental rights either signs a consent or simply ignores the case altogether and lets it go through the process. In the latter, an extra step of terminating that parent’s parental rights may be required if the Adoption Act requires that parent’s consent based on the circumstances of the case. For more information on terminating parental rights in South Carolina, please click to read our article.
Private Adoption – Private adoptions occur when someone wants to adopt a child after one or both parents have been absent from the child’s life. Sometimes, a stepparent may want to adopt when the biological parent has been absent from the child’s life. Sometimes, a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or adult sibling may want to adopt when the parents cannot overcome difficulties that prevent them from giving the child the same life the family member could.
In the case of a stepparent adoption or adoption by a blood relative, some of the requirements described throughout this article are often relieved. These requirements include home studies, accounting, trial deadlines, and the biological father’s right to an attorney.
How Can I Adopt a Child in SC?
Oftentimes we are asked, We answer this question mainly from the standpoint of a family member or stepparent adoption. Foster parent and agency adoptions have some overlap but also some differences.
Location of Adopting Parents – Proceedings for adoption by residents of South Carolina may be brought in the family court of the county in which the adoptive parent resides or is in military service, or in the county in which the child resides or is born. For nonresidents of this State, they must file in the county where the child resides or was born, or where the agency having custody of the child is located.
Petition for Adoption – The parents attempting to adopt start the case by filing a petition in the family court of the appropriate county. There are various statutory requirements that must be contained in the petition. If it is deemed prudent to terminate the parental rights of a biological parent, that request can be made in the same petition. If there are any prior orders regarding the custody, support, or visitation of the child, they must be disclosed at this time. In a foster parent adoption, the petition must be filed within 60 days of the date the child is placed in the adoptive parents’ home.
The petition must include any required consents of biological parents, the preplacement and background investigation reports, and a statement of all payments made within the past five years or agreed to be made in the future by the adopting parents to any person, agency, or organization connected with the adoption. Someone petitioning for adoption may employ the use of fictitious names where necessary if the rules of service or notice are sufficient to the court.
Guardian ad Litem’s Role in a South Carolina Adoption – A Guardian ad Litem (also called a “GAL”) must be appointed by the court in every adoption case, even if uncontested. The GAL shall investigate the situation and provide a report prior to the final hearing for the court’s consideration, and the GAL will normally testify at hearings. The fees of the GAL are separate from other case costs and are often paid by the adoptive parents. For more information on what a guardian ad litem does in a South Carolina family court case, please click here to read our article.
Notice of the Adoption Proceedings – The rules regarding who must be notified of an adoption proceeding are a bit complicated. Sometimes, the SC Adoption Act clearly requires notice, such as in the context of a father on a birth certificate or a father who has registered with the Responsible Father Registry. Sometimes, the Adoption Act seems to suggest that a biological parent is not entitled to notice. These cases include where consent for adoption has been given, parental rights have already been terminated, or the child was conceived due to criminal sexual conduct or incest.
There have been times when the Adoption Act did not seem to require notice, but at the final hearing, the judge did not allow the case to go forward and ordered the attorney to provide express notice to a biological parent. Sometimes it makes more sense to err on the side of caution and notify all biological parents in advance, but also request termination of parental rights, even if the statute doesn’t seem to require it. If a parent is given notice and fails to file a response within thirty days, it could be considered consent to the adoption and forfeiture of rights.
Accounting of Payments – The parents seeking adoption will be required to provide an accounting to the court of any payments made or value given for expenses incurred or fees for services rendered in connection with the adoption. The accounting must be verified by the petitioner under penalty of perjury.
Mediation in Adoption Cases – Court rules require mediation in every case. It is rare for a court to waive the mediation requirement. Even in an uncontested case, we often check this box by scheduling a mediation, giving notice, and having the other parent not show up. Then the mediator can provide a report to the court showing that we tried to mediate.
The Final Hearing/Decree of Adoption – There may be timing rules regarding when the final hearing may be held. The family court judge at this hearing will make sure we checked all the procedural boxes required by the law and that the adoption is in the minor child’s best interests. These boxes include making sure:
- The child has been in the custody of the adoptive parents for at least 90 days
- All necessary consents have been obtained
- Notice was given to all required parties
- Any payments made by the adoptive parents are reasonable
- Any required home studies have been performed by a certified investigator
- The adoptive parents are fit and proper people and able to care for the child and provide for the child’s welfare
- The adoptive parents desire to establish a relationship between parent and child
- The Guardian Ad Litem has reported his or her findings
- The best interests of the child are served by the adoption
- If the adoptive parents are non-residents, there has been compliance with Article 11 (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children).
The court will hear testimony from the parents, the GAL, the child in limited instances, and any other witnesses called at the hearing. If the court is satisfied that adoption is appropriate, then it will enter its findings in a written Decree of Adoption. The Clerk of Court will also issue a Certificate of Adoption for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHEC) to record.
After the final decree of adoption is entered, the relationship of the adoptive parent and child begins. This includes all of the rights, duties, and other legal consequences of the natural relationship between parent and child. Further, the biological parent(s) are relieved of all responsibilities and have no further rights relating to the child.
Challenges to a final order (Decree of Adoption) can be made in some cases. Our job as adoption lawyers is to make sure that the Decree is airtight so that our clients have the peace of mind of finality when we walk out of the courthouse.
Confidentiality of South Carolina Adoptions – All adoption cases are confidential. Some people will use the term “under seal,” which is effectively the same thing. This means that people who aren’t parties or attorneys to the case cannot go pull the records from the Clerk of Court unless they have a court order allowing it. The case name will not be published on public court dockets. No one unrelated to the case is allowed to be in the courtroom for proceedings.
Adoption agencies may provide limited, nonidentifying information to the parties. This includes medical histories of biological parents, grandparents, and siblings. It may also include general family background without name references or geographical information. In some cases, the child may be able to learn the identity of a biological parent from a public adoption agency after the child turns 21 years old and the biological parent consented to this release of information.
Consent by the Biological Parent – In many cases, consent (also called “relinquishment”) of the biological parent(s) and/or child is required:
- The child must consent if over 14 years of age unless the court finds an exception.
- If the child was conceived during the marriage of the parents, the parents or surviving parent must consent.
- If the child was conceived out of wedlock, then the mother must consent. The father’s consent is required only if the father meets various criteria and depending on the age of the child.
- The legal guardian, child-placing agency, or legal custodian must consent if authority to execute a consent has been vested legally in the agency or person, and the parents are either deceased or their parental rights have been judicially terminated.
- The child-placing agency or person facilitating the placement of the child for adoption must consent if the child has been relinquished for adoption to the agency or person.
If consent cannot be obtained, additional steps be taken. In some cases, we have to request the court terminate a biological parent’s parental rights, which can be done for various reasons. Exceptions exist in certain cases of mental incompetence or criminal sexual conduct.
Legal consent has statutory requirements. The signing of the consent form must be witnessed by two people, one of which must be either (1) an attorney who does not represent the adoptive parents, (2) a family court judge, or (3) someone certified by DSS. The witnesses must attest that the provisions of the document were discussed with the person giving consent or relinquishment and that based on this discussion, it is each witness’ opinion that consent or relinquishment is being given voluntarily and that it is not being obtained under duress or through coercion.
What Investigations & Reports are Required in a South Carolina Adoption?
Various investigations and reports are required in adoption cases. Sometimes, an investigation is referred to as a “home study.” These investigations or reports include a preplacement investigation, a background investigation, and a postplacement investigation.
1. Preplacement Investigation
The report from any preplacement investigation must:
- State whether the home of the adoptive parent is suitable for the placement of a child.
- Describe how the emotional maturity, finances, health, relationships, and any other relevant characteristics of the adoptive parent affect the parent’s ability to provide the child with a proper environment.
- Reveal whether the adoptive parent has a history of neglected, abandoned, abused, or delinquent children.
- State whether the adoptive parent has completed a course or counseling in preparation for adoption.
- Approve or disapprove the adoptive parent is approved for adoptive child placement.
- Provide any other information that would assist in the family court judge’s decision.
Preplacement investigation reports expire after one year, at which point they must be updated to determine whether there have been any changes in circumstances.
2. Background Investigation
The report from any background investigation must:
- Not disclose the identity of the biological parents of the adoptee (in DSS/foster cases).
- Provide a medical history of the biological family of the adoptee.
- Provide a medical and developmental history of the adoptee.
Criminal background check. In many cases, an investigator, the Guardian ad Litem, or a contesting party will pull the criminal backgrounds of the adopting parents.
3. Postplacement Investigation
The report from any postplacement investigation must:
- Be completed after the filing of the adoption petition.
- Provide the race, sex, and age of the adoptee and whether the child is a suitable child for adoption by the prospective adoptive parent.
- Provide the reason for the adoptee’s placement away from the biological parents.
- State whether the adoptee, if of appropriate age and mental capacity, wants to be adopted.
- Investigate the allegations of the adoption petition.
- Evaluate the progress of the placement of the adoptee.
- Determine whether adoption is in the best interests of the adoptee.
DSS-Approved Investigators for South Carolina Adoptions – Click here to see the DSS-approved list of investigators. We recommend consulting with an adoption attorney prior to ordering the home study!
What is the Responsible Father Registry in South Carolina?
Over half of the United States has registries available for unmarried biological fathers to enter their information and try to protect their rights. A more general term is “putative father registry.” In South Carolina, it is called the Responsible Father Registry.
If a father files a claim of paternity with the Registry, it does not establish paternity by itself, but it should ensure that he is put on notice if any adoption proceedings are filed. If the unmarried biological father does not file a claim, then it could be an implied irrevocable waiver of the father’s right to notice of any proceeding that would terminate his parental rights or result in the adoption of the child. If a father registers and later moves, but fails to update his address, it’s the same as not registering.
The registry is not available to the public, through the Freedom of Information Act or otherwise. We only access this information when we are filing a case for termination of parental rights or adoption. If the search comes back negative for any paternity claims, the “certificate of diligence search” will get filed with the court. A claim of paternity is revocable, which means if a potential father files, he can later change his mind and take himself off. It is a crime to falsely file a claim of paternity.
Other Frequently Asked Questions about Adoption in South Carolina
Who Can Adopt a Child in South Carolina? Any SC resident can petition to adopt a child in SC. There are certain limitations that could apply to adoptive parents outside of SC, and compliance with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children is required.
How Much Does it Cost to Adopt a Child in SC? The answer is that the cost of adoption varies depending on how complex the adoption may be, whether biological parents challenge the adoption and other factors. Overall, an adoption in South Carolina may several thousand dollars or tens of thousands of dollars. There are several fees to consider when determining the cost of adoption. The most common fees include but might not limited to:
- Attorney’s fees
- Guardian ad Litem fees
- Home study/Preplacement and postplacement investigations
- The cost of the attorney or other authorized person who will be witnessing the consent or relinquishment
- Court filing fees
- Administrative costs and service of process fees
We cannot offer a flat “one-size-fits-all” fee for adoption cases, as the amount of work is based on numerous factors, the biggest of which is whether we have consent from any biological parents who are giving up their parental rights.
What are the Requirements to Adopt in South Carolina?
- Age: Generally, any person who is at least 21 years old may adopt. Single people, as well as married couples, can adopt.
- Home Study: All prospective adoptive families in South Carolina must undergo a home study. This is a thorough review that evaluates the prospective adoptive home and includes interviews, home visits, background checks, references, and reviews of financial stability.
- Background Check: State and federal criminal background checks are required for prospective adoptive parents and any other adults residing in the home.
- Residency: While South Carolina does not have a specific residency requirement for adoption, it might be easier for residents due to familiarity with local laws and procedures.
- Health: Prospective adoptive parents must generally be in good health. Some agencies may require a physical examination.
- Financial Stability: While you don’t need to be wealthy to adopt, you should have a stable income and be able to provide for the child’s needs.
- Marital Status: Singles, as well as married couples, can adopt in South Carolina. If married, the couple usually needs to adopt jointly unless specific circumstances apply. Some agencies might have requirements related to the length of the marriage.
- Adoption Education and Training: Most agencies and adoption programs will require prospective adoptive parents to undergo a certain number of hours of adoption education or training.
- Consent: Consent to adoption is typically required from the child’s biological parents unless their rights have been terminated. Children 14 years or older must also provide their own consent unless the court finds it in the child’s best interest to dispense with this requirement.
- Other Requirements: Some agencies might have additional requirements, such as stipulations about religious affiliations, lifestyle, or sexual orientation.
How Long is the Adoption Process in South Carolina? The length of the adoption process in South Carolina can vary widely based on several factors. Here are some general timeframes, but keep in mind that each adoption situation is unique:
- Home Study: The home study process, which includes background checks, interviews, home visits, and gathering documents, can take anywhere from 2 to 6 months. The speed of this process often depends on how quickly the prospective adoptive parents can provide necessary documentation and how busy the agency conducting the home study is.
- Waiting for a Match: After the home study is completed, the waiting period to be matched with a child can vary significantly. For families looking to adopt an infant domestically, the wait can be a few months to several years. Factors that can influence this wait time include the preferences set by the adoptive family (e.g., regarding the child’s age, health, or race) and the birth mother’s preferences. Families looking to adopt from foster care might find that the wait time is shorter, especially if they are open to adopting older children, sibling groups, or children with special needs.
- Post-Placement Supervision: Once a child is placed in the home, South Carolina generally requires a post-placement supervision period of at least 90 days, during which there will be visits from an approved investigator (oftentimes a social worker) to ensure that the adoption is progressing well.
- Finalization: After the post-placement supervision period, the adoption can be finalized in court. This can take a few weeks to a year or more, depending on court availability and any potential complications.
- International Adoptions: If you’re considering an international adoption, the timeline can be significantly different and often longer. The process could take anywhere from 1 to 5 years or more, depending on the country of origin, its adoption process, and the particulars of the case.
- Is There a Revocation Period for an Adoption in SC? No. Once consent or relinquishment is given, it cannot be withdrawn, unless the court finds that the withdrawal is in the best interest of the child and that the consent was given involuntarily or by duress or coercion. When the family court judge signs the final Decree of Adoption, it renders any consent or relinquishment irrevocable, which provides closure for the families and child. There may still be ways a biological parent can challenge an adoption through a post-trial motion or appeal, but our job as adoption attorneys is to make sure that would prevail in any appeal.
Can You Change the Child’s Name in a SC Adoption? Yes, you can. Sometimes the child being adopted was given the father’s name at birth. In an adoption case, we can include the name change request and do not have to file a separate case. If desired, we can normally change the minor child’s name to take the name of the mother or adoptive parents. For more information on name changes in South Carolina, click here to read our article.
Can You Amend a Child’s Birth Certificate in a South Carolina Adoption? Yes, you can amend the birth certificate too. After the Decree of Adoption is issued, there is a simple procedure of submitting an application to the Department of Health and Environmental Services (DHEC). It normally takes a couple of months to complete this last step of the process.
What About SC DSS Adoption/Foster Care Adoption? Sometimes children are subject to abuse and neglect, and the Department of Social Services (DSS) steps in to investigate. In some of these cases, the kids are removed from the home of one or both parents. If there is not a family member suitable and able to take custody of the children, the children are placed in foster care. If the parents do not fix their problems, they may have their parental rights terminated. In these cases, the foster parents may wish to adopt. For more information about DSS abuse and neglect cases in South Carolina, please click here to read our article.
What About an Agency Adoption in South Carolina? Sometimes, parents with an unplanned pregnancy make a responsible choice and agree to give a child up for adoption at birth through an agency. The adoptive parents work closely with adoption agencies in South Carolina and pay certain fees, but they will ultimately need to obtain a Decree of Adoption just as in any other adoption case. Click here to see a list of some South Carolina Adoption Agencies.
Schedule a Consultation with a Charleston, South Carolina Adoption Lawyer
If you are adopting a baby in South Carolina or a child of any age, then it is important to consult with a lawyer about the adoption procedure. The best way to determine whether adoption is right for your family and to learn more about the process and the costs is to contact the family court adoption attorneys at Futeral & Nelson and schedule a consultation.