Can I Adopt My Grandchild Without a Lawyer?

Can I adopt my grandchild without a lawyer? Read here to find out if it’s possible to adopt your grandchild without the help of a lawyer.

Your offspring are the middlemen between you and your grandchild. In cases of neglect, abuse, or general parental unfitness, you may see an opportunity to help.

As a grandparent, your relationship with your grandchildren exists in a sort of limbo. If you believe their needs aren’t being met by their parents, you may need to know the answer to one question:

“Can I adopt my grandchild without a lawyer?”

Keep reading to learn the answer.

Seeking To Adopt Your Grandchild

Stepping into the role of an adoptive parent goes far beyond the paperwork.

This is more than a legal process. It’s a testament to the love and commitment you have toward your flesh and blood. As a grandparent, you’re too aware of the unexpected twists and turns that life takes us all on.

It’s a ride and nobody can see the future.

The desire to adopt your grandchild comes from a good place: a place of love and acceptance. Sometimes, it comes from a place of necessity.

Perhaps you’ve watched the circumstances surrounding your grandchild’s life deteriorate in a tragic turn of events. Perhaps you’ve grown to understand over time that yours is the most stable, loving, nurturing environment for your grandchild to thrive in.

When adopting your grandchild, you’re transcending a generational boundary to assume a maternal role once more. You’re making a sacred promise that you can’t go back on.

You’re stepping up to the call of duty when it’s your time to shine.

Can I Adopt My Grandchild Without a Lawyer?

Now, so we arrive at the question looming large in your mind:

“Can I adopt my grandchild without a lawyer?”

Adopting a child involves financial, legal, and emotional boundaries. You may not want to layer the financial burden of legal assistance on top.

In short, the answer is “yes.” You can adopt your grandchild in the state of Maryland, and many other U.S. states, without legal assistance. However, there are many reasons why you’ll want legal counsel by your side.

Let’s take a look.

How the Courts Treat Child Custody

When there are disputes around child custody and visitation, the courts carefully weigh the needs of the child against a parent’s constitutional right to raise their child.

In Maryland, the courts first distinguish between parents (and de facto parents) and third parties:

  • Parents and de facto parents have the right to seek custody of their child
  • De facto parents needn’t necessarily be biological parents
  • Third parties, often grandparents and other family members, do not have the right to seek custody unless special circumstances apply

What’s the difference between a parent and a de facto parent?

In the eyes of the law, nothing. To count as such, a de facto parent must demonstrate that they live (or have lived) together with the child in the same household; that the de facto parent has assumed the responsibilities of parenthood; and that the de facto parent has established a dependent relationship with the child.

When a grandparent seeks child custody — leading up to adoption — the court will treat them as a third party unless they are recognized as a de facto parent. In this case, gaining legal custody is left up to the child’s parents.

Even so, courts always consider the best interests of the child.

Parent Unfitness and Exceptional Circumstance

The general unfitness of the parent or exceptional circumstances can override the parent’s desire or legal status as the child’s guardian.

Criteria for “unfitness” include:

Meanwhile, other “exceptional” circumstances can include:

  • The age of the child when a third party assumed care
  • The period of time between a third party assuming care and a parent seeking custody
  • The nature of the relationship between the child and the third party
  • The stability of the child’s future under the parent’s care

In other words: Every case is unique.

You’ll also notice a lot of overlap between exceptional circumstances and the de facto parent. If, for example, you have been the primary caregiver for a grandchild for several years, the courts will likely recognize you as a de facto parent and not as a third party.

Ultimately, experienced legal counsel can provide expertise and answers to your unanswered questions.

Legal Requirements for Adoption in Maryland

Most adoption laws across the U.S. follow similar mantras.

In Maryland, the court must terminate the parental rights of the birth parents before an adoption agreement can be reached. These laws protect the rights of birth parents, adoptive parents, and children.

Additionally, courts often require post-placement supervision until an adoption is finalized. Adoption can take a hefty toll on the child and a period of supervision helps the child to adjust while offering support if necessary.

Finally, it’s common for background checks and a home study to take place before you can adopt your grandchild. It’s a detailed assessment of your home life and its suitability as an environment to raise a child in.

Don’t worry; the purpose isn’t to intimidate you or put you off. It’s to ensure the child’s best interests are being served.

Typical Background Checks

Background checks will include a criminal history review as well as a request for personal character references.

A criminal review will scrutinize any past encounters with the law, no matter how minor they seem. This may seem unnerving, but remember that not all legal issues will disqualify you from adopting. The focus is on identifying any history that could put the child at risk.

You should identify personal references who can speak to your character, integrity, and abilities as a potential parent. Ideally, choose people who have known you closely for years and who can provide open, honest insights into your interactions with children.

What Sets Grandparent Adoption Apart

Adopting your grandchild is different from more common types of adoption.

Crucially, it’s laden with emotional complexities: You’ll encounter duality in the role of both parent and grandparent. This can be a delicate, difficult balance to maintain as you step into the role of the primary caregiver.

Legally speaking, grandparent adoption can be a smoother process if the birth parents are supportive of the arrangement. Their willingness to consent to the adoption can expedite proceedings and reduce potential conflicts.

However, if the birth parents contest the adoption, you may find yourself in a more complicated legal battle that requires the support of a skilled attorney.

Navigating the Adoption Process

Every adoption process is a journey, wrought with common paths and unknown detours.

Prepare yourself beforehand with as much knowledge as you can, and remember to always stay patient. The needs of your grandchild come before everything else and, frustrating as it may be, the adoption process can be a lengthy one that will take a toll on your nerves.

Broadly, you can expect to encounter three distinct “phases” of adoption:

  1. The filing phase
  2. The waiting phase
  3. The adjustment phase

During the filing phase, you’ll present legal documents to the court. You will outline why you wish to adopt and why the court should grant your request. It’s a foundational step that requires rigid attention to detail to get right.

During the waiting phase, the court will evaluate your request. Background checks are conducted and your home’s suitability for the grandchild is assessed. Your grandchild may begin living with you (if they aren’t already) and both of you will have to adapt to new realities.

Finally, during the adjustment phase, you will need to demonstrate commitment to the adoption. You may need to attend follow-up hearings or engage with social workers and adoption agencies.

Each phase brings you one step closer to finalizing the adoption process.

Counseling and Emotional Support

With so many eyes on the health and well-being of your grandchild, it’s easy to feel left out and lonely.

Yet the road to adoption can (and will) kick a myriad of emotions up in its wake. It’s essential to look inward now and then, to check in with yourself.

Counseling can provide a safe space to explore, appreciate, and analyze your feelings about the experience. It can help with grief and loss, and it can help you process the guilt you may feel (justified or not) at taking over the role of the parent.

For your grandchild, the transition can be equally taxing. They may feel abandoned or confused about the changing family dynamics.

Under the burden of it all, you may not be able to provide them an outlet to express their feelings in a way that they understand.

Seeking counseling is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Answer Your Grandchild’s Call

As you ask yourself, “Can I adopt my grandchild without a lawyer?” you should bear one thing in mind:

You can. Whether you choose to hire legal counsel or go it alone, the ultimate goal doesn’t change. You’re answering your grandchild’s cry for help, providing them with a loving home in which to thrive.

Blattner Family Law Group obsesses over the details with one goal in mind: Getting it right the first time. We help parents in all situations when dealing with family law, custody disputes, and matters of adoption. Your free consultation is only one click away.