Adoption Law

Adoption Overview

Adoption is the legal process where a person becomes the lawful parent of a child who is not their biological child. In adoption, the parental rights are transferred from the biological parents (or natural parents) to the adoptive parentsAdoption law is determined at the state level, so it varies based on where you live. If you have legal questions about adopting, it is best to get a free consultation with an adoption lawyer in your state.

What Is Adoption?

The adoption process is intended to make a permanent change in parental status, compared to temporary guardianship or fostering a child.

Adoption can involve relatives or family members. For example, if a parent is no longer able to provide adequate care for their child (perhaps because of illness, disability, death, or substance abuse problems), then a family member (such as the grandparents, aunts or uncles, stepparent, or older siblings) may step in to care for the child. The relatives still need to go through the legal process of adoption to become the legal guardian of the child.

Other adoptions can involve unrelated individuals. Families may want to adopt a child because they cannot have children or have health concerns about pregnancy and birth. Single parents or same-sex couples may also use adoption to have a family. Other families may want to adopt an orphan because they want to give a child a loving home.

Modern Adoptions

Adoptions today are more formal and require state approval. They sometimes even have open communication between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. Some families choose to adopt through private adoption arrangements. Charities and for-profit organizations can help organize adoption to bring together prospective adoptive parents with a child in need. 

Private adoptions can be more expensive, with legal fees, adoption fees, costs of travel, and adoption agency expenses. Some adoption expenses are eligible for federal adoption tax deductions or credits. Adoption assistance benefits can offset the cost of taking in children for adoption.

Adoptions can be domestic or international. Domestic adoption often involves children in the same state or in another state. International adoption can involve children located around the world. International adoptions can be more complicated, with parents often having to legally adopt the child under the child’s home country and in the U.S.

Foster Care to Adoption

Some families end up adopting a child after the child is in foster care and are the foster parent to the child. A foster parent temporarily cares for the child until the child can find a permanent home. However, fostering can also be a way for the family to try out what adoption might be like without committing to a permanent relationship with the foster child.

Open Adoption or Closed Adoption

Some adoptions may allow for some communication between the adoptive family and the birth family. This is known as an open adoption. There can be different degrees of openness and types of communication in an open adoption. In some cases, the birth mother may have regular in-person contact with the prospective adoptive parents before birth, after delivery, with continued in-person visits and communication as the child grows. Other open adoptions may limit communication to video chats, emails, sending letters, or going through a third party.

In contrast, a closed adoption is usually a confidential process. In a closed adoption, the biological parents may not know who is adopting the child and do not communicate with the adoptive parents before or after the child is born. In some cases, the child may not even have access to information about the biological mother until they reach a certain age. There are pros and cons of both types of adoption and some people can choose the middle ground with a limited semi-open adoption. If you have questions about which type of adoption is right for you, talk to your adoption lawyer for advice.

Can You Adopt an Adult?

Most adoptions involve adoption of children, but adults can also be adopted. There are various reasons you may want to adopt someone over the age of 18, such inheritance reasons, or to formalize a child-parent relationship. Adults with disabilities or adults with special needs may also be adopted by someone who is able to provide care and support.

For example, if a stepparent or other relative was responsible for raising a child but was never able to legally adopt the child because of refusal by the birth parent, the child may be able to be formally adopted after they become an adult. A legal adoption can allow the adoptee to inherit as a child under intestacy laws.

State laws on adult adoption can be highly regulated. Some states have restrictions on the age difference between the adult to be adopted and the adoptive parent, requiring the adult to be adopted be younger than the adoptive parent by a number of years.

Was this helpful?