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Adoption Law

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International Adoption

International adoption or inter-country adoption can give children opportunities they would not otherwise have in the country of their birth, including being part of a permanent family. It can also give persons who are unable to have their own biological children the child they always wanted. Overseas adoptions can help children in need and provide prospective parents with a child to add to their family. Because this process can be long and complicated, it's best to consult an experienced adoption attorney to assist you in your adoption journey.

Inter-Country Adoptions

It is important to note that all international adoptions are considered private adoptions. This means that an adoptive family does not go through the state's foster care system to adopt the child. It is best to go through an accredited adoption agency, which knows the adoption rules and adoption eligibility requirements for both adoptive parents and children who may be adopted (such as orphaned children), in the foreign country from which the family seeks to adopt.

International Adoption Statistics

According to the U.S. State Department, there has been a significant decrease in inter-country child adoption rates since the peak in 2004. In 2004, adoption rates reached over 22,986 inter-country child adoptions by adoptive parents in the U.S. In 2021, adoption rates drastically down, with only 1,785 international adoptions.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected international adoption rates, as persons willing to embark on an overseas adoption journey declined. However, there has been a steady decline in adoptive families looking into country-to-country adoptions via international adoption programs and intercountry adoption providers. Unfortunately, the number of children for adoption has not declined.

States with the highest number of country-to-country adoptions include CaliforniaTexasIllinoisNew York, and Pennsylvania.

Children are adopted from countries all over the world through many adoption programs, including Africa, Asia, and Central America. China has the most adoptions from Asian countries, with more than 82,000 children adopted, over 80% of which are female. However, as of late 2022, China has been closed to inter-country adoptions since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic began, despite many other countries resuming inter-country adoptions.

According to Department of State adoption statistics, the most country-to-country adoptions involve children from the following countries:

  • China
  • Ethiopia
  • Bulgaria
  • Guatemala
  • Russia
  • South Korea
  • Ukraine

Adoptions Finalized Abroad or After Arrival

International adoptions can be categorized based on whether the adoption was finalized abroad or not. When an adoption is finalized abroad, the new parents may have to take measures to complete the adoption under U.S. adoption laws. An international adoption requires the new parents to comply with foreign adoption laws, U.S. immigration laws, such as ensuring they have the IH-4 or IR-4 visa, and the state adoption laws of the adoptive parents.

Adoptive parents have to know the adoption rules, adoption eligibility requirements, and what governmental authority authorizes adoptions in the country where they plan to adopt a child. Under federal law, U.S. citizens who want to adopt a child abroad to immigrate to the U.S. must work with an accredited body like an approved adoption agency/private agency or approved adoption service provider during the international adoption process.

Under the Hague Convention, a Hague-accredited international adoption agency should be able to help the adoptive family comply with the foreign country's adoption of children laws. If your family's adoption decision includes inter-country adoption, you should familiarize yourself with the Hague Conference on Private International Law, the Hague Convention, and Hague Convention countries.

A foreign child adoption has to be completed in the parents' state of residence. Parents should refer to the state adoption requirements for more information, or talk to their adoption attorney.

If the child's adoption is not finalized abroad, the child may not be able to get citizenship until the adoption is completed according to the state adoption law. In these situations, parents may have to get a visa (like the IH-4 or IR-4 visa) to admit the child as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) to get a green card. After the adoption is finalized, the parents can apply for citizenship for the child.

U.S. Citizenship for the Adopted Child

It is important to make sure the adoptive child born in another country becomes a U.S. citizen to have the full opportunities and privileges that come with citizenship. Benefits of U.S. citizenship may include the right to vote, work in the U.S., and get college scholarships. Generally, the adoptive family should seek to obtain citizenship sooner rather than later.

A child who comes to the U.S. as the adopted child of a U.S. citizen is automatically considered a U.S. citizen. The requirements for U.S. citizenship are:

  • At least one of the child's parents is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization
  • The child is under the age of 18
  • The child resides in the U.S. under the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent

Parents can get documentation of the child's citizenship by getting a U.S. passport or a Certificate of Citizenship from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Reporting Obligations After a Foreign Adoption

Child adoption laws in some countries require post-adoption reports (PARs) or post-placement reports (PPR). The governmental authorities of the adoptive child's home country want adoptive parents to provide a report on the child's progress, health, and welfare after the child's adoption.

Depending on the country, PARs can be provided by the adoptive parents, the child adoption agency, or a licensed social worker. Some countries' adoption rules require a PPR before granting final approval for the adoption of children from another country.

After the family or adoption agency submits periodic PPRs, and the country of origin finds the child's adoption is in the child's best interest, the country's governmental authority may then grant final approval of the adoption. If you have questions about post-adoption reporting requirements for a specific country, you can talk to your adoption attorney for legal advice.

Evidence and Documentation After an International Adoption

The adoptive parents may be required to show proof of the international adoption for the adoption to be recognized under state law. Documentation may include:

  • Copy of the child's birth certificate
  • Copies of the consent of the adoption by the birth parents or biological parents
  • Final decree of guardianship
  • Certified translations of documents not in English
  • Copies of placement reports
  • Copies of medical forms or the child's medical history

Federal Home Studies for Adoption

Inter-country adoptions may require a home study of the prospective parents. A home study is an investigation that looks at whether the parents are suitable to adopt a child abroad. There are specific requirements for an inter-country adoption home study, with factors for consideration including:

  • Criminal history
  • Inquiry about a history of abuse or violence
  • Financial resources and income
  • At least one interview in person with a home visit
  • At least one interview with each adult member of the household
  • Child abuse registry search
  • Physical, mental, and emotional health of the applicant and family members
  • Living accommodations
  • Special needs of the child

Federal regulations also require the approved child adoption service provider to monitor and supervise the child's placement, including conducting home visits as required. Post-placement home visits will evaluate the level of integration and adjustment of the adoptive child. Monitoring and supervision generally last for six months to a year before the inter-country adoption process can be finalized.

Differences Between the Intercountry Adoption Process and Domestic Child Adoption

Adoption has some similar processes when the prospective family is adopting a child internationally or domestically (within the United States). For instance, a home study is usually required in both international and domestic adoptions.

The parental rights of birth parents are also terminated in both types of adoption. Both processes also permit private adoption. Some key differences between international adoptions and domestic adoptions are:

  • The cost of adopting a child internationally will be higher than adopting domestically.
  • To adopt internationally, an adoptive family must use a private adoption agency/intercountry adoption provider, which should be approved by the governing body in the country where the family is seeking to adopt. When adopting within the United States, public adoptions involve a foster parent adopting a child through the state's social services agency.
  • A child adopted outside of the United States must obtain citizenship through the immigration process.
  • A foreign country may have restrictions on whether single parents or same-sex parents can adopt. Public domestic adoption providers are not bound by the same adoption rules.
  • The home study process could be free if adopting in the United States through foster care. However, in overseas adoptions, adoptive parents must pay to have a home study completed and may have to find a private study services provider if their adoption agency does not provide those services.
  • Most country-to-country adoptions are closed, meaning the children placed for adoption will not have ongoing contact with their original family (birth family). In most cases, it is unlikely the child will ever meet their biological extended family. In the U.S., adoption can be open, with the biological parent maintaining some level of contact with their biological child.
  • Adoption eligibility requirements can vary vastly between countries. Some countries may permit private adoption by same-sex couples while other countries may bar same-sex couples from private adoption. In the United States, same-sex couples are permitted to adopt in all 50 states, with exceptions for private faith/religious-based groups.

Adoption decisions are some of the biggest decisions a prospective parent can make. People looking to adopt should investigate and learn about all the available adoption programs. The intercountry adoption process can be more complicated than domestic adoption. Consult with an experienced adoption attorney in your area to learn more about this complex area of law.