15 Nov Korea Adoption Timeline
KOREA ADOPTION TIMELINE: THE U.S. SIDE
Timelines, costs, and adoption processes vary widely among countries, agencies, programs, and even between families pursuing the same country through the same program! Some families find their future son or daughter on a waiting child photo listing and then begin the process for bringing that specific child home. Other families (particularly with Korea, as most agencies don’t have a public photo-listing of Korean waiting kiddos) start the process and are then presented with the option of pursuing an “assigned” or “unassigned” referral. For Korea, all families will have at least two agencies – an American agency and a Korean agency, though in the case of Holt they are both “Holt” – but some families, like us, have as many as three!
We’ll cover later how we chose our agency, specifics about the home study, and why we pursued Korea. So for now, let’s just talk about the timeline and process for Korean adoption! Keep in mind these timeframes are nothing more than averages. Every adoption process is different. We have already been delayed twice from our “initial timeline,” and that’s not uncommon for any number of reasons. But it should give you a good idea of what has to happen for an adoption to be finalized!
START THE PROCESS
This is the date you officially start the adoption process! Some families sign the paperwork and then spend weeks or months figuring out what program they’d like to pursue within a given agency. Some families announce they have started the adoption process before they even choose what type of adoption they’d like to pursue. But for us, and for now, we’re calling the “start date” the day we were officially accepted into the Korea program: February 5, 2017. We signed the pre-application on February 4 and were accepted at 12:30 a.m. on February 5. Because our home study agency is awesome like that.
HOME STUDY: 3-6 months (up to 6-12 months)
We had heard horror story after horror story about the home study process. We had been told it takes 6 months, sometimes a year. And for some families (or countries), it does. But to be perfectly honest, a lot of the home study timeline for Korea depends on motivation and availability of both the adoptive family and the home study agency to just get it done! For example, we know a family who was super motivated to get their home study done, but their agency dragged the process along for ten months. We’ve known other families who chose to take their time and spent six months leisurely filling out paperwork.
That wasn’t us or our agency, so we feel very fortunate that we found an agency as motivated as we were! We finished every last appointment and piece of paper in 17 days (February 22)! We waited another 2.5 weeks for the psych evaluation report to come back (March 13), a week for All Blessings to write the Home Study itself (which is insanely fast), and then around a month for the home study to be reviewed by our placement agency for completeness. Our home study was final on April 26, 2017.
HOME STUDY COMPLETE
I’m adding this as a milestone, even though it’s technically part of the home study process. Because the home study window varies so much, it’s easier to visualize the start of the “official wait” this way. 🙂
REFERRAL: 3-4 months (or immediately if “unassigned”)
For this section, I’m going to talk specifically about the process with SWS (our Korean agency), because that’s what we know best. At least with SWS, there are two “paths” for adoptive families pursuing Korea: Assigned Referrals and Unassigned Referrals. In other adoption programs, you’ll hear “matched” instead of “received a referral,” but essentially a referral is being matched with your baby!
Assigned Referrals are the “normal” path, though surprisingly not necessarily the most common (our American agency refers 60% unassigned and 40% assigned).
Assigned Referrals: Immediately following Home Study completion, the completed file for the adoptive family (called a “dossier” – pronounced doss – ee – A) goes to Korea to await a referral. The referral process itself is a mystery, but allegedly, SWS reviews the families currently waiting, the kiddos currently waiting, and then they match them up based on personality, family dynamics, and any medical needs the family listed as acceptable. This process goes in somewhat of a line but does vary based on the family.
For example, depending on the Korean agency, families are required to have 12-18 months between the youngest child in the home and the child to be adopted. A family who has no young children and who is open to more medical needs from the checklist, for example, is likely to get a referral faster than a family who has to wait for their youngest bio child to grow a bit older or who is less open to medical needs. The general wait, however, is about 3-4 months from the time the home study is sent to Korea. Assigned Referrals often come to the American agencies in batches, so often multiple families will get their referral files on the same day!
Unassigned Referrals: Often called “waiting children” in other countries, Unassigned Referrals are kiddos who, for any number of reasons, did not get matched with a family waiting for an Assigned Referral, and whose files may come available at any point during or directly following the home study without “waiting in line.” Unassigned Referrals generally come along with the Assigned Referral batches we talked about above, arriving to the agency at the same time as the files for families who were “matched.” Unlike many other countries, however, children considered “unassigned” in Korea may or may not have significant medical needs. Perhaps the other families currently waiting all had bio children too young for the child being matched. Or perhaps there was a facial birthmark no other waiting family was open to.
Gideon was an Unassigned Referral, and his file was presented to us the day our home study was complete! We saw his face for the first time on April 26, 2017, and we said our unofficial YES on May 1, 2017.
I should note: You don’t have to choose Assigned vs. Unassigned at the beginning of the referral process. Once your home study has been completed, you’ll be placed in line for an Assigned Referral, and at any point an Unassigned Referral matches the criteria your family has chosen, you can choose to review that kiddo’s file without losing your “place in line.”
ACCEPTANCE TO KOREA (ATK): 1 week to 2 months
The Assigned Referral vs. Unassigned Referral paths continue to be different until Acceptance to Korea (in Korea adoption circles, you’ll hear this abbreviated ATK). With an Assigned Referral, Korea reviews your dossier and then presents a file to you (via the American agency) to be reviewed and accepted. The adoptive family says “yes” or “no” to the referral. With an Unassigned Referral, you review a file that was not assigned to any family, and then you submit your verbal yes to Korea. Korea then says “yes” or “no” to your family adopting that particular child.
In both cases, there is official paperwork that must be signed saying you are formally and officially accepting the child in the file. In the case of Assigned Referrals, this acceptance paperwork comes immediately following the referral paperwork, so for those families, Referral to ATK is about 1-2 weeks, depending on if the family wants an international adoption specialist to review the file and how quickly they can get about 80 documents notarized. For Unassigned Referrals, you must wait for Korea to review your dossier and say “yes” (in the form of sending acceptance paperwork) or “no.” It took about 7 weeks between us saying a verbal “yes” to Gideon and Korea sending us the acceptance paperwork, stating they approved us to adopt Gideon specifically. Those were 7 of the most agonizing weeks of my life. We had Gideon’s acceptance paperwork signed and back in Korea on June 29, 2017!
KOREA ADOPTION TIMELINE: THE KOREA SIDE
At this point, your part in the paperwork process is basically done! You can breathe again! There is one more United States process for Immigration that is finalized during the wait for EP Submission or Approval, but it’s super easy (it’s called I600 for non-Hague countries or I800 for Hague countries). It consists of signing about 10 blanks and mailing the forms back to the USCIS headquarters in Texas. They then forward everything to Seoul. We signed our “legals” and I600 paperwork on November 15, 2017.
EP SUBMISSION: 2-4 months
The Korean side of the process, though, really begins with Exit Permit Submission. The Exit Permit (sometimes called Emigration Permit, or, most often, simply “EP”) grants your child legal permission to leave the country and officially starts the ball rolling to custody. EP Submission means our “family file” (i.e. Gideon’s paperwork and ours, this is not an official word but the one I’ll use for short) is submitted to the Ministry of Health (or just “the Ministry”) for review so that Gideon can be “approved” to receive his Exit Permit and leave the country.
EP Submission speed used to be based on a quota of 3 domestic adoptions to 2 international adoptions. In other words, Korea would allow 2 kiddos through to the next stage of being adopted internationally for every 3 domestic adoptions in Korea. But the quota was recently changed and, to the best of my knowledge, no one knows what the quota is at the moment. The Ministry informs each of the 3 Korean agencies when they can “submit” the next batch of EP requests, and usually the agencies go “round robin.” We were FINALLY EP Submitted on November 10, 2017 and were notified on November 15, 2017!
EP APPROVAL: 1-3 months
EP Approval means that the Ministry has reviewed the “family file” and has given the child their Exit Permit to leave the country. This usually happens about 1-2 months after EP Submission, but it can take up to 3 months (or more, if there is a backlog). Updated 3/28/18: We were finally EP approved on January 15, 2018!
COURT SUBMISSION: 1 day to 1 week
Generally the Ministry hands the “family file” off to the Family Court in Seoul the same day as EP Approval, but sometimes it takes up to a week (or more). This is when Gideon will be assigned to a specific Family Court judge, who will begin to review our information. Each family gets either the “Thursday judge” or the “Friday judge.” As of March 2018, Thursday judge is male and Friday judge is female, though they switch out every 1-2 years. Much like our legal system here, the speed of the judge is all dependent on the judge’s preferences. 🙂 Updated 3/28/18: We were court submitted on January 17, 2018.
COURT DATE GRANTED: 1-4 months
The judge generally spends 2-4 months reviewing the family file, but lately it’s been a little faster. The judge will contact birth mother to notify her of the pending adoption. At this point (or really any time, but at this point formal paperwork is delivered to birth mother), birth mother can contest the adoption or sign another consent for adoption. Most of the time, notice is delivered to birth mom, notice is confirmed received, and then the judge moves on with the process. If birth mom cannot be found (less common with SWS than Holt/Eastern from what we’ve seen), the judge will issue a public notice that lasts 14 days and will then move on with the process. If, as in our case, birth mom signs consent, it’s likely this is the last contact she will receive from Seoul Family Court. Other than birth mom notice, the Family Court judge is essentially looking to see if he or she believes the family and child are a good match, and that all paperwork is in order. Updated 3/28/18: We were issued a court expedite due to Gideon’s diagnosis. The expedite request was submitted February 7, and the judge gave us a court date on February 8!
COURT DATE/PRELIMINARY APPROVAL: 2-4 weeks
This is when you’ll travel to Korea for the first time! The judges usually give 2-4 weeks’ notice of the upcoming court date to make travel plans, and then both adoptive parents are required to travel to Korea. You’ll meet your new son or daughter and then appear in court, where the judge will ask you questions about whether or not you’ll love your child and carry on their Korean heritage forever. The whole court hearing usually lasts just a few minutes, as it’s an uncontested hearing. Updated 3/28/18: Our court date was March 8. We spent about four minutes with the judge, and most of that time was him talking to our social worker about our expedite. The judge then issued “preliminary approval,” which approved us to be Gideon’s parents, on March 9.
FINAL APPROVAL: 15 days to 6 weeks
Before the adoption can be finalized, however, birth mother gets notified one last time with the opportunity to contest the adoption (unless she already signed the consent pre-court-date, in which case she’s generally not contacted again). In many cases, there is confirmation of the notice being delivered, and then 15 days goes by without a response, at which point custody is granted. In other cases, birth mom cannot be found, in which case the judge makes a personal call. Most judges – if public notice was already fulfilled pre-court-date – will send the case to public notice for just one day. Other judges will reissue the 14-day public notice period, and Preliminary Approval will be granted after public notice. Once Preliminary Approval is issued and the notice is received by the Korean agency, the 15-day clock starts ticking. After 15 days, Final Approval is granted to the adoptive family and the decision cannot be reversed. Updated 3/28/18: We were issued Preliminary Approval on March 9, and our birth mama was not contacted again, as she had already signed and returned the consent form pre-court-date.
15 days after Preliminary Approval notice is received by the Korean agency, the judge grants final custody. At this point, your son or daughter is legally yours and you’re given the go-ahead to fly to Korea and pick them up! You then stay in country about a week waiting for your United States Visa appointment. This interview process will grant Gideon his visa and a passport, and he will legally become an American citizen when we land on US soil! Updated 3/28/18: SWS received notice of our preliminary approval on March 14, and on March 15, we were given our Visa appointment date of April 5! We were told our “legal custody” or “Final Approval” date would be March 29, and custody would be whatever date worked for foster mom between March 29 and April 5. Once we submitted our itinerary, we were granted an April 2 “transfer date”! That said, the Eastern families who went to court with us did not find out their custody dates until Final Approval had been issued. And the Holt families who went to court with us did not receive custody dates until a week after we did, with custody a week later than us. Both are just differences in how the Korean agencies operate.
And if you want to know why the wait feels exhausting, that’s why, haha.