You have decided to pursue adoption — congratulations! Your head is likely filled with visions of holding your child and swarming with unanswered questions. The road to adoption can be lengthy, but here’s what you can expect from a general standpoint.*

Month One: So, what should you do first? Meet with an adoption attorney! Choosing the attorney who will help you build your family is a very personal decision — especially if you are a same-sex couple. Not only should you choose an attorney with whom you are comfortable, but he or she should also be someone with passion for this type of work and experience with navigating the adoption process for members of the LGBTQ community.

Month Two: You’ve now selected an attorney and feel very comfortable with that person. Your initial meetings will likely focus on answering questions — How quickly does everything happen? What are some typical delays? Who does what in the process?

A lot will depend on whether you are pursuing a private adoption or working through an agency. If you are going through an agency, your attorney will work with your adoption team to ensure all of your questions are answered. It is also important to consider the financial aspects of adopting very early on in the process. Do you have the necessary funds? Are there programs for which you can apply? Your attorney can give you guidance in this arena as well.

Month Three: This period is full of paperwork and getting your ducks in a row. From financial information to background details, your attorney can help guide you through exactly what needs to be completed and when it needs to be completed by.

An important consideration for same-sex couples: some states, like North Carolina, have different hurdles to jump for second-parent adoptions if the intended parents are unmarried. Be sure to check with your attorney on your options.

It is also essential that everyone involved in the adoption process receives notice of your intentions. Addressing this from the outset will help prevent future challenges to adoption. For example, if the biological father is not properly identified and specific procedures are not followed, he could potentially challenge the adoption later on.

Month Four: At this point you may be meeting with the birth parents or learning more about them. Depending on your situation, you may be entitled to certain information about the biological parents’ background and health. Your attorney can help explain what you can reasonably expect.

It is also around this time that you may be considering your new child’s name. Whatever name you select will be recorded on the child’s birth certificate. Until recently, same-sex couples could not have both parents’ names on or added to a birth certificate. With marriage equality, however, this process has been significantly streamlined, making it easier to include both parents on the child’s birth certificate regardless of the intended parents’ genders.

Month Five: Assuming you have completed the initial paperwork to everyone’s satisfaction, you are now at the assessment stage. There are exceptions to this, but most prospective parents participate in an assessment designed to evaluate your current home, life and family, and reassure the biological parents and everyone else involved that this is a good placement for the child.

You may have to meet on more than one occasion with the person performing the assessment. Don’t worry— this is normal, and while you are probably going to be nervous, make sure to relax. No one is perfect, and the assessor is not expecting that. They truly want to see what day-to-day life is like in your home.

Month Six: You are well on your way and likely in the waiting stages. You may be waiting on approval from the agency. You may be waiting on documents to be completed by your attorney. You may be waiting to actually be selected as parents.

Take this time to work on some of the non-legal aspects — buying supplies, taking parenting classes, etc. This is also the time to look out for any “red flags.” If you have concerns about your level of communication with the birth parents or comments they have made, share those with your attorney. Your attorney can help determine if action needs to be taken to address those concerns (and when and how) and what you can to do mitigate any risks.

Month Seven: More waiting.

Month Eight: Even more waiting.

Month Nine: You’re almost there! Things are coming along. All the paperwork is complete, a child has been identified, and now you are waiting on confirmation that nothing further is needed. Once all of that is done and the child has been placed with you, in North Carolina, the birth mother will have seven days to revoke her consent — check with your attorney for the laws in other states. While not unheard of, revoking consent is not by any means routine.

Due Date: It’s the big day! You wrap your sweet child in your arms and put behind you every minute of hard work, worry and planning that has brought you here! You are no longer “prospective parents” — you are the real deal. Get ready for the sleepless nights, teaching lessons, and most of all, making memories!

*All timelines are approximate and designed to explain various stages rather than state specific time frames.

info: Penelope L. Hefner is a Family Law attorney and Principal at Sodoma Law Union, in Monroe, NC. She is also a trained Parenting Coordinator and has served as a Guardian ad litem. In addition to her practice, Hefner serves as a pro bono volunteer attorney for Safe Alliance’s Legal Representation Project.