Contested Adoption: Important Things to Know

Updated April 23, 2024
8 min read
Title "What Is Contested Adoption?", scales, papers, LAW

Bringing a new member into your family is a beautiful process. Families who choose to adopt provide an opportunity for love and family to those who might not have it. However, not all adoption processes go smoothly. You might find yourself in a situation where you initiate an adoption process but it is now turning into a contested adoption by the other biological parent. In these situations, there are steps you can take.

Different Types of Adoption

Adoption is a legal process where you assume the parenting of another person. In many cases that other person is a newborn baby. This process means the child will not be raised by their birth parents and they will instead become permanent, legal members of your family.

When families adopt, there are many situations in which all parties can find themselves:

Independent adoption

The process for an adoptive family to become the parent for an infant for example can take place independently as a direct arrangement between the birth mother and birth father as well as the adoptive parents. This type of adoption most commonly allows for what is considered an open adoption, where the biological parents still have a relationship with their child.

Adoption through identification

Adoption through identification is an adoption process where adoptive parents look over information from biological parents who are putting their child up for adoption. In these arrangements, both parties might meet with each other regularly, undergo interviews, a home study, and analysis to determine if they are a good fit. With this type of adoption, the biological parents get the final say but the prospective parents have greater control over the child they choose to enter into their home.

Adoption through an agency

Using an agency regulated by the state or by a private agency typically handles children who are orphaned, older children, or children who have been abandoned. Private adoption agencies are often run by social services or charities.

International adoption

Some parents adopt children from overseas, finding children who have been abandoned because of their gender or displaced because of war.

Step-parent and relative adoption

When a new spouse enters into the family and becomes the parent for their partner’s child, that step-parent might consider formal adoption. This process is most similar to contested adoption because it requires consent from both parties and if it is not given, the legal means for winning step-parent adoption are the same as winning a contested adoption.

What Is a Contested Adoption?

Contested adoptions are any of the above situations where one of the biological parents contests your right to adopt. You could initiate an adoption through an agency or independently with the biological mother and then hear from your lawyer that the biological father is contesting it.

What Happens When Adoption Is Contested?

When adoption is consented, typically by the biological father, it initiates a consent hearing in court prior to any adoption hearing. In these cases, attorneys draft a consent form relevant to adoption and meet on behalf of the parties involved. However, the judge will listen to both sides and make a ruling pertaining to custody based on the arguments.

If, for example, the biological father is contesting, they will present information as to why the potential adoptive parents are not a good fit.

With a birth parent’s consent to adoption, there are plenty of situations where only one parent agrees to adoption and the other does not. These are usually situations where the biological father did not find out about the child until the adoption process was initiated and in these situations, the law stipulates the biological father can present evidence that he did not know about the child but is now willing to take custody of the child. 

How to Win a Contested Adoption

Winning a contested adoption requires that you or your lawyer prove the contesting party is either not fit to raise the child, has legally abandoned the child, or is not the biological parent. Consider hiring an attorney to help you not only with the adoption process but with the legal requirements to fight and win a contested adoption.

1. Unfit parent

One way to win a contested adoption is to prove that the contesting party is an unfit parent. This is a very serious legal step. Proving that a biological mother or biological father is unfit to be a parent will legally strip them of their parental rights. This is not something that can be reinstated so if you choose to move forward with this, and you are successful, the biological parent will no longer have any rights to custody, visitation, or decisions about the child’s life.

To prove the parent is unfit, you must show:

  • They have a substance addiction;
  • They are currently incarcerated;
  • They are negligent or reckless;
  • They are abusive toward their family or the child;
  • They have a history of domestic violence.

2. Paternity challenge

If the non-consenting party is not actually the biological father, a paternity test can invalidate their contestation and allow you to move forward with the adoption process.

3. Abandonment

Different state laws vary as to the specifications for abandonment, and they vary slightly based on the age of the child to be adopted.

If you are adopting a newborn, in general, they require that you prove one party abandoned the child after birth for a minimum of 6 months or 1 year. You must prove they have also made no effort to support the child since the child was born or communicate with the child. In states like Kansas, you must prove that the biological father failed to meaningfully support the mother for the last six months of her pregnancy.


If you are adopting an older child you must prove that one party abandoned their child for the previous 6 months or 1 year based on state laws and prove that during that time they have made no effort to communicate with their child nor have they paid any child support.

  • In Florida and Idaho and California, the minimum is having no contact and having paid no child support for one year.
  • In New York, North Dakota, and Main the minimum is 6 months.
  • In Oregon and Kansas, the minimum is 4 months for abandonment. 

If you can do this at a hearing, the parental rights of the biological father can be stripped in which case they can no longer interfere with the adoption process. From there, a stepparent can move forward with an adoption certificate as long as the biological mother approves, and the child if they are old enough.

Regardless of age, proving abandonment from the biological parent who is contesting the adoption legally qualifies the potential adoptive parents to proceed with the adoption hearing.

Final Thoughts

No matter your situation, you can fight to adopt a child into your home with the help of a qualified attorney. If you initiated the adoption process but now it is turning into a contested adoption because of the other biological parent, an attorney can help prepare you for the consent hearing, and prepare the best defense for ensuring you are able to go through with the adoption. Having an attorney can better prepare you for the legal footwork of a contested adoption.

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