Adoption day. You won’t experience contractions before your adoption hearing but that doesn’t mean that the final step in becoming a forever family is entirely painless. Many clients get nervous before going into court partly because they don’t know what to expect, but judges, attorneys and caseworkers will tell you that adoption hearings are almost always casual, happy occasions. So here is why you should just relax and enjoy adoption day:
Visualize the win. Don’t worry that your judge is going to change his or her mind about allowing you to adopt on the hearing date. That rarely happens. If the judge has a legal concern with the adoption, the court will typically extend or continue the hearing date weeks before the date to give your attorney more time to fix the legal issue. So, if your adoption date is around the corner, you can almost count on a “win” in adoption court.
Surprise questions rarely happen. Juvenile Court Procedure Rule 84 requires that the adoptive parent(s) and child(ren) attend a hearing so the judge can take formal testimony. Your attorney will ask you a series of questions about your home, your family and the adoptive child. If you are nervous about this step, just ask your attorney to review the questions with you before the hearing.
The answers are easy. But that doesn’t mean that anyone expects you to be perfect. Many clients fumble their home address or forget their date of marriage once they’ve been sworn-in and the judge is staring at them. Mistakes are nothing to worry about; however, it is very important to be truthful under oath. If you have concerns about a question, discuss your answer with your attorney before you testify.
Be prepared for a crowd. You should be at the court 15 minutes before your hearing time. You may be surprised by the amount of chaos crowded into the halls. This is because the courtrooms are not open to the public, so everyone (parents, kids, caseworkers, attorneys, witnesses) must wait in the hall until their case is called. Once you’re in the courtroom, the adopting family sits at the table toward the front of the courtroom. Family and friends are welcome to observe from the benches in the back of the room.
The hearing lasts about 15 minutes. There may be some variation but typically the clerk will begin the hearing by asking the parent(s) and child(ren) over 12 to raise their right hand and administer the oath (to tell the truth and nothing but). After that, the Judge will read the case number and ask the parents, caseworkers and attorneys to “enter their appearance” which is court code for “say your names aloud.” A parent will usually state their name and the name of the child(ren) seated at the front table. The judge will then usually ask the parent’s attorney to begin taking their client’s testimony. If the parties are married and jointly adopting, the second parent usually gets much fewer questions (IE: did you hear your wife’s answers? If you were asked the same questions, would your answers be substantially the same?). If a child is 12 or older, the Judge will likely ask whether he or she wishes to be adopted by the parent(s). The Judge may ask a few more questions; otherwise, the judge will “make findings” about whether the adoption is appropriate and in the child’s best interest. Adoptions hearing last fewer than 15 minutes and the Judge will usually invite the family to take pictures. Your attorney can also double as your photographer.
Certified adoption orders cost $27 and don’t remove the staple. If you have adopted a foster child, the court will typically waive the cost of one certified order. After your hearing you will need to go directly to the clerk of court to obtain certified adoption orders. Most people request one or two certified orders. The clerk will likely remind you to never remove the staple from the certified order. You will need a certified order when you submit your request for an amended birth certificate from the Office of Vital Records http://www.azdhs.gov/licensing/vital-records/index.php#adoption-amend-birth-certificate (if the child was born in Arizona). You may also be asked for one when you request a new social security number at the Social Security Office https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10023.pdf. Take care of the birth certificate and social security number as soon as possible because you will need them to file your personal taxes, apply for the child’s passport, register the child for school or add the child to your health insurance benefits.
Focus on the significance of the hearing. It’s never easy to take your kids into an administrative setting but everyone in the juvenile court is accustomed to little people. The security guards are typically friendly and can help you manage the diaper bag while you carry the baby through the metal detectors. The water fountain is always an exciting destination while you await your hearing. Some of the courtrooms have coloring books or objects on the tables for entertainment purposes. Make a conscience decision to appreciate the commotion your child may cause because it is expected at the juvenile court. If you or your child has special needs, be sure to tell your attorney if accommodations are needed to help make the experience better. Try your best to focus on the significance of the moment and enjoy the ceremonial importance of the day.