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Understanding Contested Adoption Cases in Virginia

Adopting is a valid and honorable way to grow your family and secure your parental rights. However, the adoption process becomes more complex when faced with a contested adoption case—a scenario where a biological parent (or individual with current parental rights) decides to challenge the adoption process.

This situation introduces many emotional, legal, and ethical challenges for prospective parents, transforming what is meant to be a joyful journey into one bound by legal obstacles. Virginia law, specifically under Code of Virginia § 63.2-1200, et seq., outlines the rights and obligations of all parties involved, including scenarios where a contesting parent’s consent might not be required. The purpose is to safeguard the child’s interest by ensuring they are placed in a stable and loving home, even during disputes. 

How & Why Adoptions Can Be Contested

When one parent remarries, the new spouse may wish to adopt; if a child has been in the custodial care of a close relative rather than the parents’ care, that close relative may wish to adopt, parents might voluntarily place their child for adoption for all sorts of valid reasons. And in some of those scenarios, the other biological parent—the contesting parent— might choose to step in and contest the adoption.

The law stipulates conditions under which a contesting parent’s consent for adoption is not required. These include situations where the parent under oath denies paternity or maternity, which becomes irrevocable after ten days, cases where the parent is convicted of certain crimes, and when a parent has, without just cause, neither visited nor contacted the child for a period of six months prior to the adoption filing.

What Happens When An Adoption Is Contested

The parent whose rights could be terminated due to the adoption of the child by another individual has the right to notice of the proceeding. Once provided notice, a hearing is held on whether or not the contesting parent’s consent is required and if so, whether his/her consent is validly withheld; and of course, whether the adoption is in the child’s best intersets.  In very limited scenarios, the contesting parent may be entitled to counsel, but usually the contesting parent must hire counsel if he/she wants to be represented. 

An adoption terminates the parental rights of one (or sometimes both) of the parents. This means that neither that parent nor any of that parent’s family has a right to time with the child once the adoption order is entered. (Terminating a parent’s rights can also occur in a case where the Department of Social Services has removed a child from a parent’s home; but that is a different issue than today’s blog.) Termination is taken very seriously by the courts and court’s exercise caution during contested adoptions so as to preserve, if possible and if in the child’s best interests, the contesting parent’s constitutional rights as a parent. However, if the prospective adoptive parent is able to prove that consent is being withheld against the child’s best interest, or that the parent has been unreasonably absent from the child’s life, courts are likely to order the adoption.

Strategies for Adopting Parents

If you are an individual looking to adopt and are faced with a parent contesting the adoption,   the best strategy is proactive involvement. Hiring a knowledgeable and assertive family law attorney can help you successfully navigate the situation and the courts.

If you are involved in a contested adoption in Virginia and seek guidance or representation, contact us for a consultation. Understanding your rights is a prerequisite, and then you (and your attorney) can discuss your legal options. 

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