Changes to Iowa's Adoption Statute
Iowa Code Chapter 600
Many children who enter into the child welfare system (as governed by Iowa Code Chapter 232) are separated from their siblings. It can make it hard for siblings to maintain a relationship with each other. The 2022 Iowa legislature passed HF 2252 which was signed by Governor Reynolds on May 24, 2022 and was effective July 1, 2022. The intention behind the law was to help siblings stay connected.
HF 2252 has created some unanticipated legal barriers for adoptive families and adoption attorneys. Here is a brief explanation of the new challenges and potential solutions to assist adoptive families and adoption attorneys navigate these barriers.
(1) Additional Findings in Termination of Parental Rights Order Required. The new law requires a juvenile court when issuing an order terminating parental rights in a child welfare proceeding (Chapter 232) to make findings pursuant to Iowa Code Section 232.117(4)(2022) to assess whether or not siblings who are not placed together have an existing relationship for purposes of visitation.
If such findings are not included in the termination or parental rights order, then the county attorney who handled the termination hearing should file a motion and proposed order to have the court make such a finding as it is unlikely the adoptive parents are legal parties to the termination matter. The Iowa Dept. of Health and Human Services worker (DHHS) may be asked to complete an affidavit to provide the evidence to support said motion and order.
(2) Additional Information Required in Petition to Adopt. Iowa Code 600.5(9A) adds the requirement that in cases where a termination of parental rights occurred pursuant to chapter 232, the adoption petition “shall include the names of any known siblings placed separately from the child to be adopted and include the juvenile court's finding [as newly required in Iowa Code section 232.117(4)] if ongoing contact between the siblings is or is not in the best interest of each sibling.
An additional barrier is determining who "knows" if there are siblings to the adoptive child. The intent was to place this burden on DHHS workers. However, adoption workers typically did not conduct the initial child abuse investigations nor did they typically handle the social work-case management aspect of the child's case prior to parental rights being terminated. An additional complication is that the DHHS Adoption worker may not know of any siblings, but DHHS should be aware of siblings. Often times the adoptive child's juvenile court judge, attorney and/or Guardian ad Litem will also be aware of the adoptive child's siblings. It is prudent to ask the family adopting, the department and the child's Guardian ad Litem.
(3) Notice of Adoption to Siblings. Iowa Code Section 600.11(2)(a)(7)(2022) is ambiguous and subject to interpretation as to if any siblings are to be given notice or if the statute meant to limit the notice to siblings that (A) the juvenile court found there is ongoing relationship between the child to be adopted and the child's siblings or (B) the juvenile court found the adoptive child and siblings' parents parental rights were terminated pursuant to chapter 232 while they were minors and the juvenile court found that contact was in all of the minor children's best interest.
Adoption attorneys should discuss with their clients the new code requirements and made a determination on an individual basis as to which siblings should or should not be given notice of the Adoption petition as required in Iowa Code section 600.11(2022)
Iowa Code Section 600.11(2)(a)(7)(2022) states, “[a]ny siblings of the person to be adopted due to either an ongoing relationship or a court finding that ongoing contact with the person to be adopted is in the best interest of each sibling if the person to be adopted was a minor child when the minor child's parents had their parental rights terminated pursuant to chapter 232 and the person to be adopted and the person's siblings were not placed together.”
(4) Notice to Sibling-Petition and Attachments. Proper notice under this new law requires a copy of the adoption petition and its attachments to be provided to an adoptive child's siblings (see discussion in paragraph (3) above) For many adoptive parents, this is upsetting due to the personal and confidential information contained in those home studies. Adoptive parents can file a motion with the court requesting the court to enter a protective order that would prohibit the home studies from being disseminated and to remain confidential court documents. It will be up to each individual judge to determine whether or not they will be willing to enter this protective order.
(5) Costs of Service on Siblings. Many families may not be able to afford the cost of serving an adoptive child's siblings. These vary by the process server hired and by the travel required to serve a sibling. If your family is unable to bear the additional costs, your adoption attorney can seek an "Exception to Policy" to have these additional costs paid for by Iowa DHHS. Adoption Costs include the following:
Payable to the County Clerk of Court:
Court Reporter Fee-$40.00
Certified Copy of the Adoption Decree-1 Free ($20/copy plus 20 cents/page for each additional copy)
Payable to Iowa Dept. of Vital Records:
Processing Fee for New Birth Certificate-$15
Certified Copy of New Birth Certificate-$15 (and $15 for each additional copy)
*Any costs of service on siblings or others entitled to notice are an additional cost to those listed above.