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What is Adoption?

Adoption is the social, emotional, and legal process in which children become full and permanent legal members of another family.  Adoption may be an option for stepparents, relatives, or same-sex couples who want to create a more unified family unit.

Adoption law in North Carolina is complex and can be found in Chapter 48 of the North Carolina General Statutes. Each adoption situation has unique circumstances, but there are general rules and processes that apply in all adoption cases under North Carolina law.

Types of Adoption

There are several different types of adoption in North Carolina, and the process is somewhat different in each case. For some types of adoption, the process is much more complex than others. Some types include:

  • Same-sex couple adoption
  • Foster care adoption
  • Agency adoption
  • Independent or private adoption
  • Stepparent Adoption
  • Relative placement and adoption
  • Surrogacy adoption
  • Foreign adoption

Some types of adoptions require pre-placement procedures and assessments (or home studies). Typically, a private agency conducts those assessments. Other types of adoption, including relative adoptions, may not require a home study.

All adoptions require the filing of a Petition for Adoption and the necessary parental consents or relinquishments. The Petition is filed with the district court.  Various documents are required to be filed with the Petition, including the child’s birth certificate and any custody order in place with regard to the child.

If the Petition is not opposed, generally a hearing is not required. If the Petition is opposed, the court will hold a hearing and determine whether the adoption is in the best interest of the child.


In most cases, the court will set a date for a hearing or disposition no later than 90 days after the Petition has been filed. By statute, the hearing or disposition must be completed no later than six months after the Petition is filed, unless the court extends the time for good cause. 

Who Can Adopt?

Any adult over the age of 18 may adopt any individual, except for their spouse.  To file a Petition, the Petitioner has to meet one of two requirements:

  • The Petitioner has lived in North Carolina for six consecutive months prior to the filing of the Petition; or
  • The Petitioner is domiciled in North Carolina and is adopting a child who has lived in the state from birth or for six consecutive months prior to the filing of the Petition

Generally, spouses can adopt jointly. However, North Carolina allows one spouse to adopt if the other spouse consents. If a person is unmarried, only that person may file the adoption Petition.

Who Can Be Adopted?

Anyone of any age can be adopted. However, consent is required if the person being adopted is an adult or a child over the age of 12.

Parental Consent to Adoption

The consent of both biological parents is required for an adoption, except that consent of a biological parent is not required if one of the following conditions apply:

  • A guardian has been appointed for the child;
  • A parent’s rights have been terminated by the court;
  • The putative father has executed a notarized, written affidavit denying paternity;
  • The child is over 12 years of age and there is a finding by the court that it is not in the best interests of the child to require consent; or
  • A guardian or placement agency determines that consent is being unreasonably withheld.

If a biological parent does not respond after service of notice of the adoption proceeding in a timely manner after proper service, the court may waive the consent requirement.

The biological father may give written consent to the adoption at any time before or after the child’s birth. However, the biological mother may not legally give consent until after the child’s birth. Biological parents under the age of 18 may give consent.

A parental written consent for adoption may be revoked by written notice. If the child is over three months old, consent may be revoked within seven days of the execution of the written consent. If the child is less than three months old, consent may be revoked within 21 days after the consent is signed. The seven days begin on the day following the execution of the relinquishment or consent.

A consent vests legal and physical custody of the child in the adoptive parents and authorizes them to file an adoption petition for the child. The parent is still liable for child support until the final adoption decree, and all parental rights are not terminated until that time.

Adoption Assistance

There are federal tax credits available to adoptive parents. Adoptive parents should check with their tax adviser. Monthly adoption assistance benefits are only available for special needs children who are adopted from the custody of a county DSS or licensed child placing agency.

Our experienced family law attorneys can guide you through the adoption process to the goal of the united family, regardless of the adoption type.

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Stott, Hollowell, Windham & Stancil, PLLC

Stott, Hollowell, Windham & Stancil, PLLC offers legal knowledge and experience spanning over 40 years to provide quality legal services to the greater Gaston and Charlotte regions.

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