The adoption attorneys at NicholsonPham can assist with many types of adoptions including individual adoption, stepparent adoption, and interstate adoption. We handle adoptions throughout North Carolina and can also assist attorneys in other states that may need a legal representative in North Carolina. Two of our attorneys are fellows with the prestigious American Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys and we work with attorneys all over the United States. We are ready to help make your adoption dreams come true.

In North Carolina the four most common types of adoptions are:

There are different requirements for each type of adoption and a consultation with a knowledgeable adoption attorney is the best way to understand any complications arising from the circumstances of the adoption you are considering. Most adoptions require a home study, called a pre-placement assessment, as well as the consent of either a parent or an agency. Prior to being finalized, your adoption might also require a termination of parental rights, clearance by ICPC offices in two states, and completion of additional notices required by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). NicholsonPham’s adoption attorneys recommend a consultation to discover the most effective way to proceed with your adoption.

In a re-adoption, the adoptive parent re-adopts, in the state of residence, a child already adopted in a foreign country. Some seek a re-adoption to obtain an adoption decree that is written in English as well as a certificate of foreign birth for foreign-born child. Some people want to change the name of their adopted child and can more easily do that through a re-adoption in North Carolina.

In an international adoption, the adoptive parents are attempting to adopt a child in a foreign country. The requirements of the foreign country and state in which the adoptive parents reside must be met. In addition to an attorney to assist with the adoption in both countries, it is recommended the adoptive parents consult with an immigration attorney, as an adoption of a child from a foreign country will not automatically result in US citizenship.

In an interstate adoption, the adoptive parents live in a state different from that in which the child is born and/or lives. The requirements of each state must be met and clearance must be received by the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) Offices of each state prior to any adoption being finalized. In addition to an attorney to assist the adoptive parents, we recommend the adoptive parents hire an attorney to represent the birth parent(s).

An open adoption is an adoption where the adoptive parents know the identity of the birth mother, and perhaps the birth father, and the parties have often had some contact with each other prior to the birth of a child. Most independent adoptions are open adoptions. A closed adoption is an adoption where the adoptive parents and the birth mother are only given some written information about each other and do not meet each other. This often occurs with agency adoptions. In some open adoptions the parties exchange contact information and maintain some form of contact throughout the child’s life. The contact may be as limited or unlimited as both families agree.

There are two primary types of adoption placement: direct independent placement from parent or guardian to the prospective adoptive parents and agency placement to the prospective adoptive parents. It is legal in North Carolina for adoptions to occur without going through an adoption agency. Agencies include private adoption agencies as well as the Department of Social Services. The adoption process will differ depending on the manner in which a child is placed with you for adoption.

Call: (919) 883-4900


I’m a lesbian whose wife gave birth to our child. I’m already on the birth certificate. Why do I need to adopt?

In the ever-changing legal landscape of post marriage-equality, NicholsonPham is counseling our lesbian clients to do a stepparent adoption (or “confirmatory” adoption) of their children, born to married mothers, EVEN IF YOUR NAME IS ALREADY ON THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE

Birth certificates are not the same as legal orders of adoption/parentage:

  • A birth certificate is a document issued through an administrative process and is not a court order.
  • A birth certificate is based on relationship between the spouses only and not the relationship between parent and child.
  • Parentage based solely on having a name on a birth certificate can be challenged in a divorce – and there are several cases out there where that has happened.
  • Parentage based solely on having a name on a birth certificate might not be recognized by all judges/courts.
  • A court in another state is not compelled to recognize parentage based on a birth certificate; but such a court is compelled to recognize an adoption decree based on the full faith and credit clause of the US Constitution.
  • A birth certificate without the name of a sperm donor does not effectively terminate his rights; that can only be done through a termination of rights proceeding or by doing a stepparent adoption.

Parentage based solely on have a name on a birth certificate may notbe sufficient for some inheritance purposes, for social security benefits for a minor, and possibly for claiming a child as a dependent under the tax code.

What do I have to do to adopt a child in North Carolina?

In North Carolina, as in many states, the process of adoption is complicated and can be lengthy. Having an experienced attorney to guide you through the process is imperative to ensure that the adoption is granted and is final. The lawyers at NicholsonPham has successfully handled hundreds of adoptions - and Sharon Thompson, Of Counsel to our firm, was invited to become a member of the   American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, a national organization of approximately only 340 attorneys who are experts in the complexities of state adoption laws, as well as interstate and international adoption laws and regulations.

To adopt a minor child, you’ll need some or all of the following things:

  1. The consent of the minor child’s birth and/or legal mother
  2. The consent of the minor child’s birth and/or legal father
  3. A preplacement assessment or “home study” that shows that your family is appropriate to adopt a child
  4. Information about the biological mother and father of the child
  5. A postplacement assessment or “report to the court” that shows that the child is doing well in your home and that the adoption is in the “best interest” of the child.
Can I adopt my grandchild/niece/nephew?

Family members can adopt each other, although you still may have to have the consent of the minor child’s birth/legal parents. Family members that adopt each other might not be required to have a home study or report to court. This can save hundreds of dollars. A consultation with NicholsonPham can help you determine what requirements will be waived for your family adoption.

How can I get the consent of the parent to adopt if I can’t find the child’s parent?

These cases can be challenging. If the child’s parent has abandoned the child, it may be possible to terminate their parental rights. Or, if they can’t be located to get their consent, we may be able to publish a notice in the local newspaper. Either way, the court is going to want to know where the child’s birth/legal parents are. Our lawyers work with the facts of your particular case to determine the best way to move forward.

How can I find a child to adopt?

There are many agencies and websites that can help prospective parents prepare for an adoption and find children that might be available for adoption.  One good resource is

Can you help me find a child to adopt?

No. Due to the ethical rules governing attorneys, as well North Carolina law, attorneys in this state are not allowed to assist clients with finding and placing children for adoption.  Only licensed agencies can do that.

What happens if the birth father  won’t consent?

It depends. Sometimes, the consent of a birth father isn’t required. However, that is a determination which is made by the Clerk of Court or a judge.  In other situations, it may be necessary to terminate the Parental Rights of a birth/legal parent. NicholsonPham has experience in these type of District Court proceedings and we can advise you whether a TPR petition will be necessary before you can adopt a child.

How much will an adoption cost?

It depends. Fees for adoptions can be divided in four categories:

  • Fees for the attorney who files the adoption. This fee can vary, depending on the complexity of the case. When you come in to NicholsonPham for a consultation, we’ll discuss the facts of your particular case and quote you a fee for legal services.
  • A fee to the court for the filing and any additional documents, such as a criminal background check. The court currently charges $120 for an adoption filing. Background checks can run anywhere from $25 to $100, depending on how quickly you want them done.
  • A fee to the agency that performs the preplacement assessment and report to the court. These fees also vary, depending on the agency, and can run anywhere from $300 - $2000. Private agencies will typically charge more than the local Department of Social Services.
  • Expenses for the birth and/or legal parents. We also recommend that there be an attorney to represent the birth and/or legal parents of the child so that they understand the process and sign the necessary documents properly.
Can my spouse adopt my child?

Your spouse may be able to adopt your child.  If there is another legal parent to the child, that person must consent to an adoption by your spouse or their rights must be terminated before your spouse can adopt.  Stepparent adoptions are common in North Carolina. In these types of adoptions, you will not need a preplacement assessment or “home study” but you may still be required to file  a postplacement report with the court.

Stepparent adoptions are highly recommended for lesbian couples, where one wife gave birth to the child. That stepparent adoption will give full, legal status to the second mother as a legal parent.

What is  ICPC?

Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) is the law which requires that a child who is born in a state other than the state you reside in becomes eligible or “placeable” for adoption. Each state has an ICPC office and prior to the adoption of any child that is subject to the Compact, you will have to “clear” ICPC in both states.  For example, if a child is born in Texas but you live in North Carolina and want to adopt here, then you will need an attorney who is very familiar with the ICPC adoption rules in order to bring the child to North Carolina for adoption.

Can I get a federal tax credit for an adoption?

Yes, unless you adopt your stepchild. Adoptions of children, except stepparent adoptions, may be eligible for a federal tax credit under the current rules. This tax credit can help save you thousands of dollars. NicholsonPham always recommends that you speak with a tax advisor to determine your eligibility.

How can I get a social security number for my adopted child?

If you are adopting a child, we recommend that you ask the agency and/or the birth parents whether anyone has applied for a social security number already. If your child doesn’t already have a social security number, then you can request one while the adoption is pending. The Internal Revenue Service offers an ATIN – an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number which serves as a temporary ID number so that you can claim the child as your dependent or claim the child care credit. This number is only good for two years. Once the adoption is finalized, you can take a certified copy of the adoption decree to your local Social Security office and request a social security number, if your child doesn’t already have one. Or, you can ask the Social Security office to issue a new social security number.

I was adopted. How can I find out about my birth parent(s)?

Adoptions in North Carolina are confidential and not a public record. Our adoption laws do permit the release of certain non-identifying information and if information is given to a court or adoption agency that may affect the health of an adoptee or the adoptee’s children, a reasonable effort may be made to contact and forward such information to an adult adoptee or the adoptee’s adoptive parents.  Our laws prohibit the release of identifying information. However, an adoptee can file a legal proceeding to try and obtain a court order to open an adoption file and find out any identifying or medical information. These types of proceedings are rare and are only done if you can prove to the Court that there’s a very good reason you need to know this information. Unfortunately, North Carolina does not presently have a registry system whereby birth parents and adoptees can be informed if someone is searching for them.



  • Department of Social Services
  • Non-Profit Adoption Agency

  • Private Adoption Agency

In an agency adoption, the birth parent or parents relinquish their rights and surrender the child to a licensed child-placing agency or to the local DSS. The agency then places the child with the adoptive parents who must file a petition to adopt. Sometimes the adoptive parents have already been chosen at the time of the relinquishment; sometimes that happens later.

The birth parents still have seven days to revoke their relinquishment after they sign the paperwork.


I’m working with an adoption agency now. Will the agency take care of all the necessary paperwork?

Ask your adoption agency what services their contract will cover. Typically, you will need:

  • Preparation of relinquishment paperwork
  • Preparation and completion of background health history paperwork
  • Preparation and completion of birth mother affidavits as to parentage
  • A home study and report to court
  • Possible termination of parental rights of the father
  • Filing the adoption petition and all necessary attachments
What is an adoption agency?

In North Carolina, a child-placing agency is an agency that has been given a license by the NC Division of Social Services.

Can you work with my adoption agency?

Absolutely. The attorneys at NicholsonPham work with many adoption agencies, both in North Carolina and outside the state.

How can I tell if my adoption agency is a good one?

We recommend that the potential adoptive parent(s) meet with the agency to make sure it’s a good fit. For example, some agencies will not work with gay parents or with parents who don’t practice Christianity.

A full list of NC licensed adoption agencies can be found here:



  • Biological / Legal Parent
  • Prior Adoptive Parent
  • Guardian

In an independent adoption, a parent or guardian places their child with another individual(s) for adoption that they have personally chosen. No agency is involved, although sometimes, the birth parent finds the adoptive parent through a match making website or national database.

When a parent places their child for adoption, a consent to adopt and various paperwork must be prepared and filed. Making sure that paperwork is correct is one of the most important tasks of an adoption attorney.


Must the birth parents have their own attorney?

It’s not required, but it’s a good idea and we strongly recommend it in order to minimize the possibility of challenges to the validity of the adoption in the future.

I have located an adoptive family to take my child. Can NicholsonPham represent me?

Yes. The attorneys at NicholsonPham have experience representing adoptive parents and birth parents.

I have a co worker/friend/relative that knows a woman about to give birth who wants to give up her child. I want to adopt the child. What are my first steps?

An initial consultation as soon as possible is an excellent way to meet the attorneys at NicholsonPham, and get answers to your questions about the process of an independent adoption. We will review the steps to an adoption, the costs, the possible pitfalls and the timeline.

Do I pay the birth parent in an adoption?

North Carolina prohibits paying for a child. However, it is permissible to pay for the expenses of a birth parent. Often those expenses are attorney fees, transportation costs, medical costs and other expenses incurred during the time the birth mother is pregnant.