What Is Adoption Law?

Understanding the legal process

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on January 27, 2023

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Adding a child to your family through the process of adoption can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. For the biological parent of a child who is being adopted, it can be emotional, uncertain, and perhaps rewarding. In either case, the more information you have, the more equipped you will be to handle the situation. Adoptions take many forms and can address parenting needs for many situations. For example, stepparents can adopt the biological children of their new spouse, foster parents can adopt the children in their care through foster care adoption, and new parents can adopt a child in their home city or another country. Individuals who are considering adoption may use private agencies or state adoption services, or pursue an independent adoption.


The adoption of children is a legal process through which an adult formally assumes the rights and responsibilities of being a child’s parent. The process of adoption creates a legal relationship between the adoptive parent and the adopted child and terminates any legal rights between the child and their biological or birth parents.

Open or Closed Adoption

Most private adoptions are at least semi-open, which means there is some level of contact between biological parents and adoptive parents. The amount of information exchanged in an open adoption can vary. In a closed adoption, information about the birth mother is concealed, which may offer more protection for adoptive parents. Regardless of whether you’re the biological parent or the adoptive parent, you will want to consider the level of openness you’re comfortable with.

International Adoption and Domestic Adoption

If you are a prospective adoptive parent hoping to adopt a child from another country, you will need to make sure you are following the requirements created by any international treaty or agreement. For example, someone from the United States hoping to adopt a child from a country that is party to the Hague Adoption Convention will need to comply with the requirements of the agreement to successfully bring their child to the United States. In the cases of international or intercountry adoption, you will also need to consider any relevant state statutes or federal laws, including immigration laws. Domestic or national adoption is also governed by federal and state laws, including the Interstate Compact on Placement of Children (ICPC). The ICPC ensures that children who are placed for adoption anywhere in the United States receive protection and support throughout the adoption process. It will be especially important for adoptive parents to speak with an experienced attorney to make sure there are no delays in bringing their child home.

Stepparent Adoption

Stepparent adoptions require many of the same things other adoptions require. However, in a stepparent adoption, only the parental rights of one biological parent are terminated. You will want to speak with a lawyer to make sure this process is handled appropriately, and everyone’s rights are protected.

Foster Parent Adoption

Finally, foster parents can adopt the children in their foster care. These adoptions are generally handled through state agencies, and foster parents should speak with an attorney to understand the specific requirements of their state and adoptive placement.

Common Questions

The below are some questions you might want to consider when meeting with your attorney for the first time.
  1. What are the different types of adoption, and which one is right for me?
  2. How does the adoption process work?
  3. Do I need to use an adoption agency?
  4. Can an adoption be undone once it is finalized?
  5. What is the termination of parental rights?
  6. If I am giving up a child for adoption, do I have to tell the child’s other biological parent?
  7. Can I prevent a biological parent from placing our child for adoption?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is important to approach the right adoption attorney so you hire someone who can help you through the entire case. To do so, search the Super Lawyers directory, using the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location. To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for an attorney who specializes in family law and works specifically on adoption cases. If you are a biological father and want to know your rights, a good place to start is a family law attorney who specializes in father’s rights.

Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

Even simple cases are fact-specific, meaning there is rarely a one-size-fits all solution to handling your case. An experienced lawyer will be able to help you understand how the laws in your state apply to your situation. A lawyer will also be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them. They may even be able to help you avoid potential problems altogether, and can keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies, giving you one less thing to worry about.

What do I do next?

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