What Happens When an Adoption is Contested?

Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
May 6, 2020

In this article, we discuss contested adoptions, why contested adoptions happen, the contested adoption hearing, tips for preventing a contested adoption, and how to win a contested adoption in Illinois or Iowa.

Adoption can be a long, emotionally taxing, but extremely rewarding process. Adoptive parents hope the process will proceed quickly and without any issues. Unfortunately, while parents can hope for the best they need to prepare themselves for the worst-case scenario: a disrupted or contested adoption. It’s better to be prepared than to rush forward through the adoption process, blindly optimistic. The first step is securing a qualified adoption attorney; your family’s success during the adoption process will hinge on those around you, guiding you through the ups and downs of adopting.

Contested Adoptions in Illinois or Iowa

A contested adoption is when another party—most often the biological father or another biological family member—seeks to claim parental rights of the child, disputing the placement of the child with the adoptive parents. A contested adoption is different from a disruptive adoption. A disruptive adoption is when the biological parents change their minds about placing the child with the adoptive parents before ever signing off on any official consent papers. Most often, the contested adoption occurs after the child has been placed with the adoptive parents. The biological father, or another individual, comes forward contesting the adoption before it is completed and the case closed in court.

Rarely is a hearing avoided in contested adoption cases. The adoptive family must be prepared to go to court for a contested adoption hearing and defend their belief that it is in the adopted child’s best interest to stay with them. 

Why Do Contested Adoptions Happen?

The two most common reasons for contested adoptions include 1) the biological father is unaware of the child before the adoption and decides he wants parental rights, 2) the noncustodial parent disagrees with a stepparent adoption and refuses to relinquish parental rights so that the stepparent can become a legal parent and 3) the birth father disagrees with the mother’s decision to place the child up for adoption. Rarely, adoptive parents contest the adoption from an adoption agency, citing some misrepresentation of the adoption agency.

What Happens at a Contested Adoption Hearing?

All parties must attend a consent hearing in court, at which the judge reviews the evidence and listens to arguments from both sides. For example, a noncustodial biological father decides he is willing and able to assume legal responsibility for the child and denies consent to the adoption. He must provide evidence of his actions before and after the pregnancy, such as pictures, text messages, or phone calls of how he was involved to some degree in the child’s life. The less evidence the father has of his willingness and ability to be the child’s legal parent the less likely the adoption will be successfully contested. If the contesting parent in Illinois has had zero contact with the child beyond one year the parent can lose their right to contest adoption based on child abandonment.

There are ultimately three outcomes from the contested adoption hearing:

  1. The contesting individual is awarded parental rights and the adoption process is stopped.
  2. The contesting individual is denied parental rights and the adoption process is allowed to continue.
  3. The judge orders a “best interest” hearing during which the two parties will have another chance to present additional evidence and arguments.

Preventing a Contested Adoption

Contested adoptions can be complicated and emotionally exhausting for everyone involved. The best way to avoid a contested adoption is to make sure the likelihood of it happening is as low as possible. Often, the biological mother may not want to disclose information about the birth father for a number of reasons. This may lead to the biological father not finding out about the adoption until later in the process and increasing the chance of a contested adoption. Notifying the father, if possible, is an important step in obtaining his consent to the adoption or allowing him to exercise his rights as a parent. Even if the father appears to be not involved in the child’s life, or if the biological mother states the father is “not involved” or she doesn’t know who the father is, an important part of avoiding a contested adoption is making a reasonable effort to identify and notify the father.

The adoptive parents can help in locating the father if the mother is unwilling. However, this may cause the birth mother to back away from the adoption process. Ultimately, it is very important for all parties to be transparent and honest about their situation. Getting everything out in the open before the adoption moves too far forward can significantly decrease the potential of a contested adoption.

Winning a Contested Adoption In Illinois or Iowa

Every contested adoption case is different. The specifics of the case, the involvement of the birth parents, the specific laws protecting the adoptive parents and the birth parents, and the legitimacy of the contesting individual as a parent are all factors that will be considered by the court when determining the best and most legally sound option for the child.

Parents seeking to adopt should assume that the adoption will be contested and face potential litigation. With this mindset, finding the right adoption attorney who is comfortable with litigation is the most important step in winning a contested adoption case. And if the adoption is not contested the parents can rest easy knowing they did everything possible.

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