The probate division handles several different kinds of adoptions, as shown below. All adoption cases are confidential.

Adult Adoption

In the case of an adult adoption, the adoptee (person adopted) is over the age of 18 or is an emancipated minor. Unlike other adoptions, an adult adoption is the decision of the adoptee and the adopting parent, without any involvement of additional parties. As in an adoption involving a minor, though, a legal parent-child relationship is created. Since the adoptee in an adult adoption is legally an adult and able to make their own legal decisions, the adult adoption process is simpler than that involving a minor.

Process

An adult adoption requires only two forms. These forms are at the bottom of this page and are also available from the probate division during business hours.

  • Both the adopting parent and the adoptee must complete the Adult Adoption Petition.
  • Certified copies of the birth certificates of both the adoptee and the adopter must be filed with the petition.
  • If the adopting parent is married, the spouse must complete the Consent of Spouse of Prospective Adoptive Parent form.
  • A fee is due at the time of filing.
  • When the adoption is final, the biological parents and any children of the adoptee as well as any children of the adopting parent receive notice, as their inheritance rights might be affected.
Near-Relative Adoption

Near-relative adoptions involve some biological or legal relationship between the adopting parent and the adoptee. Like all types of adoption, a near-relative adoption creates a legal parent-child relationship, with all the rights and responsibilities that would exist if the child had been born to the adopting parent. The court treats near-relative adoptions similarly to stepparent adoptions. The court is less involved than in nonrelative adoptions because of the preexisting relationship between the adopting parent and the adoptee. Stepparent adoption forms are often used in near-relative adoptions.

Process

  • Begin by filing a Petition to Adopt, available here: You may also pick up the form at the probate division during business hours. You must complete the petition and sign it in front of a notary public.
  • You must also file a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate, a certified copy of your own birth certificate, and, if applicable, certified copies of your marriage certificate, any divorce or custody orders, pre-placement evaluation, and any subsidy agreements. Please include the filing fee as well.
  • When all required documentation is complete and filed, a hearing date is set. The court sends notice of the hearing to all interested parties.

Before the date of the hearing, you must complete several other forms and perform certain duties. You must submit to a criminal record check and fingerprinting at a police station or sheriff’s office. A fee is due to cover the cost of an FBI fingerprint record check. The FBI processing takes about 8 to 10 weeks. The court may also require an evaluation to make sure the adoption conditions are suitable.

Before an adoption can proceed, the court must address the parental rights and responsibilities of the biological parents. If the biological parents agree to terminate parental rights, a hearing date can be set for them to consent to the adoption. Before the hearing, the biological parents must file with the court a Statement on Disclosure of Identifying Information and Information About Birth Family form:

The first form states whether the parents would like their identity disclosed to the adoptee later in life. The second provides information to the adoptee that might be useful later in life. Biological parents can terminate rights by completing a Consent of Parent form in the presence of the judge or someone approved by the court.

The consenting parent whose rights will terminate has a right to legal counsel when they sign the consent. If they choose not to exercise this right, they must sign a Waiver of Counsel at the same time.

If a biological parent whose rights will be terminated by the adoption does not voluntarily consent, you may file a Motion for Termination of Parental Rights and have it served on the parent. Termination of legal rights is a complex procedure, and the court recommends that all parties in such a case have legal counsel. The court will appoint a lawyer for a biological parent who is unable to afford one.

If the child to be adopted is 14 years old or older, they must sign a Consent of Minor in Adoption form in the presence of the judge at the final adoption hearing.

If the child is under legal guardianship of someone other than the biological parents or was relinquished to an agency, the legal guardian or the agency must sign a Consent of Guardian or Agency in Adoption form in the presence of the judge at the final adoption hearing.

Nonrelative Adoption

The adoption of an unrelated child involves the creation of a parent-child relationship between two parties who have no previous family ties. This is sometimes referred to as "stranger adoption." When someone goes through an adoption agency to adopt a child who has been surrendered to the agency, this is a nonrelative adoption. This is the type of adoption people tend to think of when they hear the term.

The role of the probate division comes at the end of what is sometimes a long adoption process. The prospective adopting parent has usually already met with an adoption agency or other child placement organization. The child placement organization and/or an adoption lawyer can walk the adopting parent through the first steps of the adoption process.

The probate division then examines the documentation and considers the evaluation of the caseworker who has overseen a six-month trial custody. If the court finds the information satisfactory, the adoption is set for a finalization hearing. At the finalization hearing, the court determines that all material has been filed and that the legal prerequisites to the adoption have been met. The decree of adoption is then signed. It is at this time that the new parent-child relationship becomes official.

Process

Before you can start the adoption process, please remember that you must have standing to petition. Standing to petition means that you have already had the child living with you in your home for six months and you have received a good pre-placement evaluation from a qualified evaluator.

If you have this standing, you will need to complete and notarize the Petition to Adopt:

You have 45 days from the date the child was placed in your home to file the petition, unless the court has extended your filing period.

You must file a certified copy of the adoptee’s birth certificate, a copy of your own birth certificate, and, if applicable, a certified copy of your marriage certificate, certified copies of any divorce or custody orders, certified death certificates of biological parents, and any orders concerning parental rights and responsibilities or child support. Please include the filing fee as well.

When all required documentation is complete, a hearing date is set. The court sends notice of the hearing to all interested parties. If you have any questions, the best resource is the child placement agency or adoption lawyer you are working with. The probate division is happy to help with any questions but is unable to advise you about other aspects of the adoption.

Stepparent/Partner Adoption

Stepparent/partner adoptions occur when a stepparent or partner legally adopts their stepchild or the child of their partner, creating a parent-child relationship between them. The term "partner" is not defined in the Vermont Adoption Act but is generally understood to include those who are part of a civil union. Adoption of a child by a stepparent/partner does not impact the legal relationship between the child and the biological parent married to/in a civil union with that person. This type of adoption can also allow for continued visitation or communication between the child and the former parent.

A stepparent/partner can petition the court to adopt the biological child of their spouse/partner if the child is in the custody of that parent. The adoption can be finalized only if the noncustodial parent consents to the adoption or rights are terminated.

Process

If you wish to adopt your stepchild or the child of your partner, you must file a Petition to Adopt Minor by Stepparent, available here and at the probate division:

You must also file a certified copy of the adoptee’s birth certificate, a certified copy of your own birth certificate, a certified copy of your certificate of marriage to the child's parent, and, if applicable, certified copies of any divorce or custody orders, certified death certificates of biological parents, and any orders concerning parental rights and responsibilities or child support. Please include the filing fee as well.

Both you and your spouse/partner must sign the petition in front of a notary public. Once the court staff determines that all necessary paperwork is filed, a final adoption hearing is scheduled. The court sends notice of the hearing to all interested parties.

Before the date of the hearing, you must complete several other forms and perform certain duties. You must submit to a criminal record check and fingerprinting at a police station or sheriff’s office. A fee is due to cover the cost of the FBI fingerprint record check. The FBI processing takes about 8 to 10 weeks. The court may also require an evaluation to make sure the adoption conditions are suitable. You may ask to waive the evaluation. Grandparents must be notified if possible.

The biological parent who is married to or in a civil union with the stepparent or partner must complete and sign the Consent of Stepparent’s Spouse form in the presence of the probate judge or someone approved by the court:

The child's other biological parent must consent to the adoption and surrender parental rights. The noncustodial parent consents by completing the Consent of Parent Who Is Not Stepparent’s Spouse and signing it in the presence of the judge or someone approved by the court:

The biological parent whose parental rights will terminate has a right to legal counsel when they sign the consent. If the parent chooses not to exercise this right, they must sign a Waiver of Counsel as well. They must also provide the court with a Statement on Disclosure of Identifying Information and Information About Birth Family. The first form states whether the noncustodial parent would like their identity disclosed to the adoptee later in life. The second form provides information to the adoptee that might be useful later in life.

If the biological parent whose rights will terminate by the adoption does not voluntarily consent, you must file a Petition for Termination of Parental Rights and have it served on the opposing parent.

If the noncustodial parent is absent, you must do your best to find the parent. If the parent cannot be served with the Petition for Termination of Parental Rights, then you will likely have to publish a notice to them upon court order.

Termination of legal rights is a complex procedure, and the court recommends that all parties have legal counsel in such a case. The court will appoint a lawyer for an objecting party who is unable to afford one.

If the child to be adopted is 14 years old or older, they must sign a Consent of Minor in Stepparent Adoption form in the presence of the judge at the final adoption hearing:

If the minor child is under legal guardianship of someone other than a biological parent or has been relinquished to an agency, the legal guardian or the agency must sign a Consent of Guardian or Agency in Stepparent Adoption form in the presence of the judge before the final adoption hearing:

Additional documents must be filed with the court prior to the hearing per 15 VSA section 3-305.