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As we go through this section, I refer to “parents” and “child”. This is only done for ease of usage. A single person can adopt. More than one child can be adopted at a time (my record is four (4) children adopted at once!). Parents can be one or both birth parents or one or both adoptive parents as the case may be.

There are several ways a child can be adopted in Iowa. The first is the traditional “stranger” adoption, so called because the adopting parents are not related to the child. Stranger adoptions include adoptions using the services of an adoption agency, an independent adoption or an adoption through the Iowa Department of Human Services.

The second is the “step-parent” adoption, where one spouse wishes to adopt the other spouse’s child so that the child will legally be the child of both of them.

Finally, there is the relative adoptions, where the child to be adopted is related to at least one of the adoptive parents. Each of these adoptions have basically the same procedures and requirements with some slight, but significant, differences.


In all stranger adoptions, having a completed home study is the first step in the adoption process; generally before a child is identified as a potentially adoptable child. The process cannot proceed until the home study is completed and the parents are qualified to adopt, even if the adoptive parents have a specific child they would like to adopt.


Before any adoption can be finalized, the parental rights of the birth mother and father must be terminated. In a step-parent adoption, only one of the parents will have their rights terminated. Termination can be accomplished in several ways. The easiest is if the birth parents consent to the termination of their parental rights. There are very specific legal requirements that must be met before the Court will accept a voluntary termination of parental rights. If any step is not completed correctly, the court will not terminate parental rights; or, in the absolute worse cases, reverse the termination and adoption and return the child to the birth parent who’s rights were violated. (the “Baby Jessica” case). A court hearing is still required but, assuming the consents to termination are in order, the Judge will order the termination to occur.

The other method of termination of parental rights is contested. A case is contested if one or both of the birth parents object or if one or both of the birth parents cannot be located or even if one of them is not known. In this case a petition for termination of parental rights is filed by the potential adoptive parents. Generally the petition will allege the birth parents have abandoned the child by failing to have contact with the child for a set period of time or for failing to pay court ordered support. Notice of the petition is served on the birth parents preferably in person or by publication if they cannot be found and a trial date set. At trial, if the birth parents fail to appear, the potential adoptive parents win by default. Otherwise, the potential adoptive parents will have to prove their case to the Judge.

If the adoption is through the Department of Human Services, the termination of parental rights will haves already taken place before the child is considered eligible to be adopted.


After the adoption hearing, the adoptive parents, now the parents of the child will receive a certified copy of the final decree of adoption. This can be used as a birth certificate until the new birth certificate arrives. In two (2) to six (6) weeks, a new birth certificate will arrive from the state where the child was born showing the adoptive parents as the birth parents and showing the child’s new, legal, name.

With the certified decree of adoption and new birth certificate, you can go to your local social security office, change the child’s name for social security purposes and, if you fear the child’s social security number is known by other people and are afraid of identity theft or the social security number being used to track the child down, you can request a new social security number.