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Germany: Amendments to Adoption Law Enacted

(Mar. 16, 2021) On February 18, 2021, the Act to Improve Support to Families That Are Adopting (Adoption Support Act) was published in the German Federal Law Gazette. The Adoption Support Act aims to modernize adoption law and improve adoption placement procedures to safeguard the best interests of the child. In particular, questions of open adoptions and specialized support to families before, during, and after an adoption are addressed. The act makes several amendments to domestic adoption law and the laws governing international adoptions. The amendments will enter into force on April 1, 2021.

Content of the Adoption Support Act

Support and Consultation

The Adoption Support Act makes several amendments to the Adoption Placement Act. (Adoptionsvermittlungsgesetz, AdVermiG.) It legally defines the suitability test for prospective adoptive parents and codifies a list of non-exhaustive criteria that the adoption placement agencies have to look at, such as personal and family circumstances, health conditions, social environment, reasons for wanting to adopt, and the attributes of children who the prospective parents are willing and able to care for. (Amended version of AdVermiG, § 7, paras. 1, 2.) In addition, it introduces a legal right to support for biological and adoptive families after the adoption placement. (Amended version of § 9.) Furthermore, in cases of stepchild adoption, all participants must attend a mandatory consultation with the adoption placement agency before the adoption becomes final. (Amended version of § 9a.)

Open Adoptions 

In addition, open adoptions are strengthened. The explanatory memorandum to the Adoption Support Act states that new studies have shown that knowing one’s own origins and being open about the fact that the child is adopted contributes to the success of an adoption. (Explanatory memorandum, at 25.) Adoption placement agencies are tasked with encouraging the adoptive parents to share age-appropriate information regarding the adoption with the child. Furthermore, before the adoption, adoption placement agencies must discuss with the biological and the adoptive parents if and how an information exchange or contact between them will take place in the best interest of the child. Consent to such an agreement can be withdrawn at any time. The child must be involved, depending on their level of development. (Amended version of AdVermiG, § 8a.) The rights of biological parents are strengthened by giving them a right to receive general information concerning their child that the adoptive parents have voluntarily provided to the adoption placement agency to pass on to the biological parents. (Amended version of AdVermiG, § 8b.) These rules only apply to domestic adoptions.

International Adoptions

In addition, the Adoption Support Act will make amendments to the Adoption Placement Act and the Act on the Effect of Adoptions According to Foreign Law (Adoptionswirkungsgesetz, AdWirkG) that will only affect international adoptions. One of the aims of the amendments is to prevent international adoptions performed without the help of a competent adoption agency to safeguard the best interests of the child. (Explanatory memorandum, at 2.) The Adoption Support Act therefore prohibits such international adoptions, and adoptions performed without an agency will generally not be recognized in Germany. (Amended version of AdVermiG, § 2b; amended version of AdWirkG, § 4, para. 1, sentence 1.) In addition, the adoptive parents will be required to file a request for recognition of a foreign adoption decision without undue delay with the specialized family court. (Amended version of AdWirkG, § 1, para. 2; amended version of AdWirkG § 5, para. 1, sentence 2.) There is no such duty if the adoptive parents have a conformity certification according to the Hague Adoption Convention. (Amended version of AdWirkG, § 1, para. 2.) For the recognition of foreign adoption decisions that have been initiated prior to April 1, 2021, the previous rules will be applicable. (Amended version of AdWirkG, § 9.)