Adoption proceedings in Iowa are governed by Iowa Code Chapter 600. An adoption is a legal process whereby a parent-child relationship is established. This article addresses the adoption process in Iowa.
Before an adoption proceeding can be filed, the parental rights must first be terminated except in cases of step-parent adoptions where the biological parent consents to termination of parental rights and adoption in the same proceeding or in cases of adult adoptions. Iowa does not recognize open adoptions, which means that when parental rights are terminated the biological parent has no legal right to contact the child or visit the child.
The following persons may petition the court to adopt a child: an unmarried adult, a husband and wife together, and a husband and wife separately if the adopting spouse is the step-parent of the adopted person, other spouse has abandoned the adopting spouse, and the other spouse is absent, unavailable, incapacitated, or unreasonably refuses to join the petition.
The petition must contain the child’s name, residence, and domicile, the child’s date of birth and place of birth, any new name requested for the child, the name, residence, and domicile of the child’s guardian, custodian, guardian ad litem, petitioner, and child’s parents, the petitioner’s qualifications to adopt, the petitioner’s criminal history and existence of founded child abuse reports, and other information mandated by Iowa law. Certain documents must also be attached to an adoption petition in Iowa. The petition can be filed in juvenile or district court in the county in which the guardian, the petitioner, or an adult person to be adopted resides.
An adoption hearing will be set after the petition is filed. Notice of the adoption hearing and a copy of the petition must be served at least twenty days before the hearing on the child’s guardian, the child’s guardian ad litem, the child’s custodian, the adoption investigator, a child over fourteen-years-old, a grandparent who has been granted grandparent visitation rights, and to persons ordered to pay child support or a post secondary education subsidy.
Before a final adoption decree can be granted, there is a one hundred eighty day waiting period, whereby the child must live with the prospective adoptive parents. This requirement can be waived for step-parent adoptions and relatives within the fourth degree of consanguinity or shortened for good cause.
In addition, the petitioner must file a written report detailing all expenditures that were made in connection with the adoption. Only certain types of expenses are allowable.
Moreover, unless the adoptive petitioner is a step-parent or relative within the fourth degree of consanguinity, preplacement and postplacement reports are required. Adoption investigators, typically with the Department of Human Services, prepare the preplacement and postplacement reports. The purpose of the preplacement report is to determine the suitability of the home for the child, how the prospective adoptive parent’s emotional maturity, finances, health, relationships, and other factors affect parental ability, and the presence of criminal or child abuse history. A prospective adoptive parent will be disqualified if convicted of a felony drug offense in the last five years, felony child endangerment or neglect or abandonment of a dependent person, felony domestic abuse, felony crime against a child, and a forcible felony. Founded child abuse reports may result in disqualification. Substance abuse that prevents the prospective parent from caring for the child can result in disqualification. The Department of Human Services has discretion to approve an adoptive placement even if the adoptive parent is disqualified. The purpose of the postplacement report is to verify the allegations in the petition and attachments, evaluate the placement’s progress, and recommend whether adoption is in the child’s best interests. The adoption investigator also prepares a background information report, detailing a complete medical history of the biological family and the child.
At the conclusion of the adoption hearing, the court can issue a final adoption decree or dismiss the petition if the requirements have not been met or if adoption is not in the best interest of the child. Adoption records are confidential and are sealed. There are a number of exceptions to the confidentiality and sealing of adoption records.