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Families are formed in many ways, including biology, marriage, and romantic relationships, just to name a few.  Sometimes, though a family may have formed organically, a family requires legal recognition of the bond between them, which can include an adoption proceeding, where a court orders that an adult becomes a child’s parent legally.  These proceedings permit individuals who are not biological parents of a child to step into the shoes of the child’s biological parent and receive the rights, duties, and responsibilities that the biological parent had by way of the genetic tie with the child.

 

In West Virginia, there are two methods that can be used to adopt a child — a contested/non-consented adoption and a consented adoption.  A contested/non-consented adoption typically occurs in the context of a stepparent or other relative seeking to adopt the minor child or children, and an adoption can be contested/non-consented either because the parent refuses to execute a consent to adoption or because the parent cannot be located to execute the consent for adoption.  In this instance, the person or persons seeking to adopt the child or children must prove to the court that the parent contesting/not consenting to the adoption has abandoned the child, meaning, generally, that the parent has failed to emotionally and financially support the child when physically and financially able and when the parent has not been prevented from doing so.

 

A consented adoption is when the parent of the child, or the DHHR if the child’s parents’ parental rights have been terminated in a child abuse and neglect proceeding, consents to transferring the legal rights, duties, and responsibilities for the child to another person.  To be legally binding, there are timing requirements for the execution of the consent, as well as requirements for the content of the consent and certain information that must be provided to the parent before execution.  However, if the requirements for the consent have been met, then a court can use the consent to sever the parent’s rights, duties, and responsibilities for the child without taking testimony from the parent or providing notice of the hearing or decision to the parent.

 

Importantly, whether the adoption is contested/non-consented or consented, there are other requirements that must be met for a court to order the adoption — the child must reside with the adoptive parent for a continuous period of six months before the hearing, there must be a forty-five day period between the filing of the petition for adoption and the final hearing, the prospective adoptive parent must be fit to adopt the child, and the adoption must ultimately serve the child’s best interests — the polar star for the court.  If all of these requirements are met and the court grants the adoption, the adoptive parent becomes the child’s parent for all intents and purposes — government documentation, including the child’s birth certificate, is changed to reflect the adoption; the adoptive parent is vested with all of the duties, responsibilities, and rights that the biological parent would have had, which also divests the biological parent of those same rights; and, the child’s name can be changed, meaning that the child can have the adoptive parent’s last name or even an entirely new name, if so desired.

 

When considering whether to adopt a child, it is important to retain counsel for the proceeding because of the constitutional rights involved in the case.  Mistakes in notice, consent, and order provisions can have very costly effects and create hassles for months, if not years, down the road.

 

If you have any questions regarding an adoption or desire to discuss an adoption proceeding, please contact Allison S. McClure at asmcclure@wvlawyers.com or (304) 626-1106.  Allison has the experience to answer your questions and guide you through the process, as she focuses much of her practice on family law, including stepparent adoptions, relative adoptions, and DHHR adoptions arising out of child abuse and neglect cases, and won an appeal before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in a contested adoption proceeding.

This article is written for information purposes only and not intended to constitute legal advice or create any form or legal representation or relationship.

Who We Are

McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner, L.C. has been providing legal representation throughout the State of West Virginia since its inception in 1913. Not only has the firm met the needs of its diverse clientele, but we continue to exceed expectations in all aspects of our legal representation.

What We Do

The firm is a full service law firm with talented attorneys focused on all areas of law. For over 100 years, McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner, L.C. has been serving the legal needs of West Virginians. With this strong history of exceptional legal work, the firm continues to maintain a competitive edge in the legal market. Our cadre of impressive legal minds is able to keep us on the cutting edge of the law. The firm currently, as well as historically, continues to maintain an AV rating by Martindale Hubbell.

Where We Are

We have expanded our legal services over the years to meet the demands of our clientele and are able to service our clients in and throughout the State of West Virginia, as well as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio. Currently, the firm has four offices strategically located throughout West Virginia. In addition to the Clarksburg law office which continues to be the firm’s central location, we have offices in Parkersburg, and Kingwood.

Why Us?

It is important for us to provide the highest quality of legal representation to our clients. We also want to serve our communities so that we have better places in which to live and work. McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner built its reputation on trust, service and relationships in an ever-changing world. These values continue to be the cornerstone of the firm as we enter our second century of service.

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“McNeer, Highland, McMunn & Varner LC is well-known for meeting the challenges of its clientele in a very straightforward manner while maintaining a close attorney-client relationship. The attorneys on staff provide dedication to detail and professionalism to each client in a variety of practice areas. We are large enough to handle all your legal needs, and small enough to care.”

– James N. Riley (Director/President)