The following describes the adoption process for the traditional "stranger" adoption process; either done privately or with the assistance of the Iowa Department of Human Services. Step-parent and relative adoption is discussed elsewhere.

  1. The pre-placement home study is completed.
  2. A suitable child is located
  3. The parental rights are terminated and the appeals period has passed.

Steps 1, 2 and 3 do not have to occur in this order. Often, the child to be adopted is known to the adoptive parents before the pre-placement home study is even considered. The adoptive parents realize they want to adopt the child and everything flows from there.

4. The child is placed in the adoptive parents' home.

The child can be placed in the home before the termination of parental rights has been completed; however, I strongly advise against this. If the termination of parental rights does not go through, for whatever reason, the child will be returned to the birth parent(s); or, at least, reunification will, once again, be the goal of the juvenile court system. The emotional toll on both the adoptive parents and, potentially, the child, is such, that I think it is better to avoid the risk.

If the child lives in another state, there is an additional step that must be accomplished. The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPA) requires that the state where the child lives and the state where the adoptive parents live must each approve placing the child in the adoptive parents' home. This approval, from both states, must be given before the child can be placed in the adoptive parent's home. There is a standardized set of forms that must be filled out and information that must be provided. Adoptive parents can expect an additional delay of several weeks.

5. After the child has been in the adoptive parents' home for 180 days, the adoption can be finalized. Sometimes the adoption petition is filed before the 180 days has elapsed and some time not until after the 180 days has elapsed.

a. Attached to the adoption petition is the child's birth certificate, a copy of the court order terminating parental rights, the consent of the custodian of the child to the adoption, a copy of the expenses paid by the adoptive parents leading up to the time the adoption petition is filed and the pre-placement home study plus any updates to the home study.

6. The post-placement home study is completed.

7. The adoption hearing is held and the adoption approved by the court. The adoption decree establishes the adoptive parents as legal parents of the child and gives the child the name the adoptive parents want the child to have.


The step parent and relative adoption process are essentially the same as the "traditional" adoption with two (2) major differences:

  1. In a step parent adoption, the biological parent who is losing their parental rights, if that parent agrees and signs a written consent to the termination of their parental rights, the termination of parental rights hearing and the adoption hearing take place all at the same time, with only one court petition and only one court hearing.
  2. In a step parent and relative adoption, the Judge has the authority, and often does, waive the need for a pre-placement and post placement home study. The relatives must be fairly closely related to the child being adopted, generally siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. The technical term is "4th degree of consanguinity", but that really means family.


An open adoption is where family members from the adoptive child's former family maintain some kind of contact with the child. This contact can range from the adoptive child's new parents sending pictures and a brief note to face to face contact between the child and the former family members.

Open adoption is not legally recognized in Iowa. Even if there is a written agreement to allow some sort of open adoption, the agreement is not enforceable and the Iowa courts will not legally recognize such an agreement. Once the adoption is final, the adoptive parents have the final say on who the child has contact with and on what terms, regardless of any agreement or promise made before the adoption.