When to Expect a Court Investigation and How to Prepare for It?

Georgia adoption laws underwent the first significant overhaul in approximately 28 years in September 2018, resulting in changes aimed at making the adoption process more efficient for hopeful parents. However, adoption still requires a comprehensive review of prospective adoptive parents, their homes, their families, and their day-to-day lives so that the courts can determine if the home is the right fit for a child. It isn’t impossible, but you have to be prepared. Here is an overview of the current state of the law and some helpful tips for putting your best foot forward during adoption investigations.

There are two main types of fact-finding efforts led by the courts during the adoption process, known as “home studies” and “court investigations or “home investigations.” Home studies are the more thorough of the two. They include rounds of interviews between the prospective adoptive parents and a social worker or child placement agency, criminal background checks, a home inspection where an agent will enter the home, gauge the resources available to take in an additional member, review financial records, medical records, drivers’ licenses, rabies vaccinations for pets, and records related to the care of other children in  the home, if any. This comprehensive review has the goal of ascertaining the suitability, general cleanliness, safety and security of the home. In other words, a home study is determining if the home is a good “fit” for a child in need of placement.

A court investigation, on the other hand, is much more focused. The court investigation is additional to the home study. The court investigation is ordered by the court, and undertaken by an agent, who is charged with verifying specific allegations in the petition for adoption. The agent may be the Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Family and Children Services (the “department”), a child placement agency, an evaluator, or an individual the court determines to be qualified. The cost of the investigation is born by the prospective adoptive parents and set at $250. However, the agent’s fee can be higher. If the agent’s fee is higher than $250, the prospective adoptive parents may submit another option of an agent who will conduct the investigation at a more affordable cost.

Certain adoption scenarios may bypass the court investigation. For example, if the department or child placement agency has consented to the adoption, an investigation is not required. When the adoption has been filed by a stepparent or relative, the court is authorized to order an investigation, but is not required to do so.  

Regardless to whether a court investigation is ordered, a criminal records review is part of every adoption process. Under the new adoption law, the court must inform the prospective adoptive parents or their attorney if the prospective adoptive parent’s criminal history reveals something that is going to be a reason for denying the adoption at least five (5) days before the adoption hearing. This gives the prospective adoptive parent a chance to present mitigating evidence to the court at the hearing.

In order to be prepared for the court investigation, here are some tips to follow:

·      Cooperate with the adoption investigator by returning phone calls, e-mails, or letters promptly;

·      Make sure that your home is clean and that you have healthy food in your refrigerator and pantry;

·      Make sure the child has their own living quarters, i.e. bed, crib etc.;

·      Be prepared to discuss anything that is in your criminal background report truthfully and in detail;

·      Any adults living in the home will also have to cooperate in this process, so make sure they are aware, supportive and willing to follow through on background checks, home visits, or health check-ups;

·      If you have young infants, make sure you have diapers and formula, car seats, and that your house is appropriately baby-proofed;

·      Remember to be cooperative, pleasant, professional and timely and follow through on the investigator’s requests, as they will be making a recommendation to the court;

·      Request that three individuals in your life (one family member, two other unrelated adults) provide personal, written references returned to both you and/or the investigator in a sealed envelope (or as requested by the adoption investigator).

For more information regarding adoption investigations, please contact the Campbell Law Practice, LLC at (404) 981-5257.