In this special article, Serbian family lawyer Marija N Jovanovic explains the adoption process in her native country.
What could be more natural and normal for a child than growing up within one’s own family? Sadly, as we all know, this is not always possible and when the problems within certain families reach a crisis point, the state has a duty to step in and help vulnerable children grow up in as happy and stable an environment as possible.
The vital importance of state intervention in the protection of children has been recognized by the international community in a number of international acts and treaties, including the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Adoption is one of the most basic and important ways of protecting children without parents able to look after them properly. At its most fundamental, the process of adoption creates a new parental bond to replace the broken one.
Here in Serbia, the procedure for adoption is set down the Family Law Act. The process can be divided into several phases: initiation, finding and assessing adopters, establishing eligibility, setting out the legal consequences of adoption, and finally completion and special registration.
The Serbian guardianship authority conducts the adoption process, while the Adoption Registry in the Ministry for Family Protection holds the records of potential adopters and children requiring adoption.
The Family Law Act sets out a number of very specific legal requirements for both adoptees and adopters.
Adoptees must be:
- A child who has already been born – it is not possible to arrange adoption before birth.
- A child for whom adoption is the best choice in their circumstances.
- A child with either no living parents; parents who are believed to be dead, unknown or missing; parents who lack legal capacity; parents who have lost their parental rights; or with parents who consent to adoption. In the absence of the latter the child’s legal guardian can consent. In some circumstances even the child themselves can consent.
Meanwhile, adopters must:
- be persons of full legal capacity.
- no less than 18 older than the adopted child but not more than 45 years older than them.
- be people the authorities are confident will look after the children properly.
- be married or in a cohabiting relationship.
- be prepared for the adoption.
- have, as a rule, Serbian citizenship. Foreign citizens are sometimes allowed to adopt, but only if no suitable Serbian citizens can be found after the child has been listed on the Adoption Registry for one year. A special permit is required in those circumstances.
It is sometimes possible for single people to adopt, but this also requires a permit from the minister in charge of family protection.
Adopters, by contrast, cannot be someone lacking legal capacity, suffering from a disease that could harm an adopted child, or someone who has been convicted of certain crimes and sexual offences.
Adoption proceeding are performed by Serbian Centre for Social Work – the guardianship authority – in the area where the child to be adopted lives.
After the guardianship authority had determines that the potential adopters meet all the required conditions it will inform the Ministry for Family Protection and information about potential adopters will be entered into the Adoption Registry. Potential adopters will receive a certificate stating that they are eligible for adoption.
When the guardianship authority has a child for adoption it asks the Ministry for a list of potential adopters. It then invites these in for an interview which will be conducted by an expert team consisting of a social worker, a teacher, a psychologist and a lawyer. At the end of this process, when all the potential adoptive parents for a particular child have been interviewed, the guardianship authority will choose the couple or individual they believe to be the best fit. Then the guardianship authority meets the potential adopters and the child will go to live with them for an adaptation period which may last up to six months.
If this period is deemed a success, the authority will at that point begin the process of concluding the adoption. This process includes a special ceremony attended by the expert team, the child, the child’s legal guardian and adopters. Once the formalities have been concluded and decisions made about the child’s new name, the adopters are officially registered as the child’s parents at the registry office in their municipality. At that point, the adoptive parents attain a status completely equal to biological parents in Serbian law.
The Family Law Act of the Republic of Serbia, adopted in 2006, incorporated the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into our legal system. It provides for full adoption only.