The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on legal issues within the Province of Alberta. The purpose of this topic is to inform you of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic will discuss the private adoption of a child facilitated by a licensed adoption agency or an intermediary.
Adoption Orders in Alberta are issued by the Court of Queen’s Bench. The Court must be satisfied that the adopting parent is capable of assuming and willing to assume the responsibility of being a parent towards the child and that the adoption is in the best interest of the child. This is the test for all adopting parents.
Private adoptions occur when a parent directly places their child for adoption with the adoptive parents. Children who are not wards of Alberta Children’s Services can be placed and adopted through an adoption agency. The adoption of a child who is under the permanent guardianship of the government must be done through the Alberta Children’s Services.
For same-sex parents who are using a donor known to them rather than an anonymous donor, a Parenting Agreement is a good idea if the donor is to have a specific role in the child’s life. This also applies to a heterosexual mother who does not put the name of the known donor on the birth certificate. The Parenting Agreement may provide for support payments for the child by agreement. Generally, a known donor will have more legal rights to a child than an anonymous donor. If the child has been conceived by alternative insemination the donor will have no legal rights to the child. It is best to consult a lawyer in this situation.
Adoption agencies must be licensed. There are adoption agencies that have authority to arrange adoptions in Alberta. Contact your Regional Authority to find out the closest licensed adoption agency in your area. Adoption agencies are monitored by Children’s Services according to the Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act and its Regulations. All parents or guardians who place their children for adoption through an adoption agency must be advised of the counselling services that are available to them and to the child if 12 years and over. The agency cannot place a child who is not a Canadian citizen or has not been lawfully admitted to Canada for permanent residence. No child can be placed for adoption outside Alberta by an agency. In a private adoption where a licensed adoption agency is involved, the documentation is usually done by a lawyer.
Birth parent consents to the adoption of their child may be completed by a lawyer or Ministry Social Worker. The parents or guardians and a child over the age of 12 years must sign consent forms to the adoption. If they refuse, the Court can order that their consent be dispensed with in some circumstances. The situation must be serious for the Court to dispense with the consent of the guardian. For example, where the biological father or mother has abandoned the children or their behavior has a negative effect on the child, the Court may find that consent is not required. Situations of physical or sexual abuse towards the child, no Contact Order with the child by the parent or no financial support of the child is considered serious circumstances where consents will be dispensed with. If the child is 12 years or older, the decision by the Court will be decided on a case-by-case basis on whether to dispense of the consent of that child. Indigenous children cannot be placed for adoption unless a consultation with the Chief and Counsel of the Band to which the child belongs is done before the Court application proceeds.
Any adult whose usual residence is in Alberta may apply to the agency to adopt a child. The licensed adoption agency must provide a written description of the services offered and its fees to the adopting applicant. The agency must also advice the applicant that a child welfare record check and a criminal record check is required. The applicant must also take counselling regarding the adoption process and parenting of the adopted child before approval is made for the adoption by the agency.
A home study will also be done. The study involves a series of interviews with the adopting parents at their home by a social worker or other qualified person. The motivations and reasons for adopting a child are explored. The adopting parent is also questioned on whether they appreciate and accept the serious responsibilities of raising an adopted child. The home assessment report must be made by the agency within 90 days of accepting an application for adoption placement. The agency selects its adoptive families by using the same screening and home assessment requirements as Alberta Children’s Services. A list of approved adoptive families is kept by the agency. The agency can also assist the parent or parents in selecting the adoptive parents to meet the special needs of the child. The agency has authority to approve an application for adoption subject to the Child Youth and Family Enhancement Act and its Regulations. Notice must be sent out no later than 10 days with reasons if the application is denied. An appeal of the decision may be made within 30 days to the Appeal Panel.
Intermediaries may also apply for the adoption of a child. Intermediaries must be adults whose usual residence is in Alberta. In all private adoptions of children, the adopting parent must become a joint guardian of the child. This is required to allow the adoptive parents to act as the parents of the child until the adoption is finalized. The adoptive parents may need to consent to provide medical care or remove the child from the province. The parents placing the child for adoption usually sign a written consent to joint guardianship.
Service of the Court documents for adoption proceedings must be served to the appropriate persons. Notice of the hearing for an Adoption Order must be personally served 30 days before the hearing. Guardians or parents of the child must be served including any child who is 12 years of age and over. A biological father of a child placed for adoption is legally entitled to notice of the adoption application. The Minister must also be served notice
Once the Judge reviews all the documentation and is satisfied that the adoption is in the best interest of the child, an Order will be issued allowing the adoption. The surname of the child will also be changed to that chosen by the adoptive parents. The child’s given name may also be changed upon request to the Court. The child must consent to changing a given name if over the age of 12 years. The adopting parents become the legal parents as if the child was born to them and the child is legitimised. The biological parents become legal strangers to the child. A new birth certificate for the child is issued showing the adoptive parents as the mother and father of the child. The adoption is finalized several months after the child is placed with the adoptive parents. The home study may be done by the adoption agency or a government social worker to ensure that the child is doing well in the adopting family’s home.
Dial-A-Law is a Calgary Legal Guidance public service project funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.