Adoption in Panama
Prospective adoptive parents are advised to fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services.
For U.S. based agencies, it is suggested that prospective adoptive parents contact the Better Business Bureau and licensing office of the Department of Health and Family Services in the state where the agency islocated.
This is a general guide for U.S. citizens who are interested in adopting a child in Panama and subsequently applying for an immigrant visa for the child to live in the United States. This process involves satisfying often complex Panamanian and U.S. legal requirements. U.S. consular officers are required to consider each application on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the legal requirements of both the U.S. and Panama have been met.
This diligence is for the protection of the prospective adoptive parent(s), the biological parents(s) and the child. Interested U.S. citizens are strongly encouraged to contact the Visa Branch of the U.S. Embassy in Panama City before formalizing an adoption or making other commitments to ensure that appropriate procedures have been followed.
Availability of Children for Adoption
Panama has not been a major source of children for international adoption. Immigrant visa statistics show that in the last five to six years, only 32 immigrant visas were granted to Panamanian orphans.
Panamanian Adoption Authority
Panama is a signatory to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions. Panama's central authority under the convention is the Dirección Nacional de Adopciones (DNA), which is the office in charge of the receipt and review of the administrative processes for local and international adoptions. The DNA also functions as a liaison between Panama and foreign central authorities in adoption matters. The DNA will submit a request for an adoption to one of two courts, the Juzgado de la Niñez y Adolescencia (Children and Minors' Court) or the Juzgados Seccionales de Familia (Family Courts.)
The Juzgado de la Niñez y Adolescencia has jurisdiction over adoption cases of abandoned children, wards of the court and orphans. The Juzgado de la Niñez y Adolescencia grants adoptions in cases involving orphan adoptions in Panama. The courts generally require proof from the U.S. government such as approval of an I-600A petition, that the parent(s) are eligible for adoption.
The Juzgados Seccionales de Familia have jurisdiction over adoption cases where the child has been placed under adoption by written consent of the child's birth parent(s).
Panamanian Adoption Guidelines
Panamanian courts do allow international adoptions, but give adoption preference to Panamanian citizens. Under the current Panamanian law, an adopted child need not be an orphan, though the natural parent(s) must have legally abandoned the child. Most adoptions of Panamanian children by U.S. parents take place in Panama. Less frequently, Panamanian Courts may grant the U.S. citizens guardianship, allowing adoption following the family's return to the United States. Though guardianship is a legal option, the two Panamanian court systems discourage this practice.
Panamanian law requires that prospective adoptive parent(s) fall within the following categories:
Married couples must have been married for at least five years.
The man's age can be no older than forty-five years, the woman's age no older than forty years.
Single persons may now adopt children of either sex.
No adoptions of children related to the adopting persons.
The courts do not separate siblings. All siblings must be adopted.
There must be an eighteen-year age difference between the prospective adoptive parent and the child.
Homosexuals may not adopt children.
Panama Adoption Procedures
To begin the adoption process, a Panamanian attorney must present the necessary paperwork in the form of a demanda, a petition for the courts to review. Usually, the adoptive parents and their attorney will communicate with the judge's staff until the petition is ready for review. If the judge approves the petition, the judge will forward the documents to the Registro Civil de Panama (Panamanian Civil Registry). The adoption is not final until it is published in the Civil Register and the judge has signed a final decree. Both courts have similar processes for international adoption:
The prospective parent(s) and the lawyer must submit the "demanda", or petition, to the courts. For the "Juzgados Seccionales de Familia", the adoptive parent(s) must have the birth parent(s) sign a document that "irrevocably" grants custody to release the child for adoption and immigration to the adoptive parent(s) or adoption agency.
In adoption cases where prospective adoptive parent(s) are granted legal guardianship of a child in order to adopt the child in the United States, a Panamanian judge must interview the adoptive parent(s) and determine that an adoption outside of Panama is in the best interests of the child. This often includes a psychological evaluation of the parent(s) by a social worker. This evaluation can be performed by a comparable agency in the United States. The "Juzgado Seccional de Familia" requires a special investigation by a court- appointed agency to certify that the child is an orphan.
A judge must approve the departure of a child from Panama if the child is leaving without the child's natural parent(s) or legal guardian. The judge will grant the prospective parents guardianship for a trial period. If the judge determines that the child's adjustment has been successful, the adoption is finalized under Panamanian law. If the judge is concerned about the child's welfare, the judge may extend the trial period or cancel the process altogether.
Parents Medical Examination
In addition to a medical examination of the child to be adopted, the courts may request a psychological evaluation of the prospective adoptive parent(s). This evaluation includes an extensive question and answer session with Panamanian doctors and an assessment of the prospective adoptive parent(s)' temporary home in Panama. The parent(s) attorney may collaborate with the Panamanian legal systems and a U.S. social service agency equivalent to the Panamanian social services agency to have this procedure completed in the United States. The medical evaluation documents must be fully translated from English to Spanish for use by Panamanian courts.
The following are additional documents necessary for processing an adoption in Panama. All of the following documents must be translated into English and Spanish for the Panamanian and United States agencies. Prospective adoptive parent(s) must also have notarized copies of the documents readily available in the event that a judge may need to keep these documents for future use:
Birth Certificate of each adoptive parent
Marriage Certificate and Death or Divorce Certificate of each adoptive parent (Death/Divorce certificates only required if either adoptive parent was previously married)
Health Certificate from a comparable social services agency to the Panamanian social services certifying good mental and physical health of each parent
Certificate of Good Conduct from local police in adoptive parent(s)' state of residence
Letter from employer stating position and salary
2 photographs, passport size of each parent
2 reference letters from a person who can attest adoptive parents' character, financial situation and living conditions
Sociological home study report conducted by U.S. social worker or a U.S. certified investigative agency approved by Panamanian court systems
Psychological evaluation conducted by authorized medical officer in Panama or U.S. certified medical official approved by Panamanian courts. If evaluated in the United States, this evaluation should be certified by an agency equivalent to the Panamanian social services.