How to Adopt a Child
An overview of the steps to legally adopt a child
on August 19, 2022
Updated on January 9, 2023
Adoption is a process that terminates the parental rights of a biological or birth parent and transfers those rights to new adoptive parents. When adoption is finalized, adoptive parents have all the rights and responsibilities of parenthood over the adopted child.
Adoption can be a complex and lengthy process depending on the child you want to adopt and the adoption procedures you have to follow in your state.
Given the legal complexities of adoption, it’s a very good idea to consult with a lawyer at the beginning of the process to ensure it will go as smoothly as possible.
Is Adoption the Right Option for You?
Adopting a child is a significant life event. The decision is also a weighty one for biological parents who choose to place their child for adoption.
Minnesota family law attorney Jason C. Brown shares some points for potential adoptive and biological parents to consider before entering the adoption process.
Potential Adoptive Parents
“If you’re the adopting parent,” he says, “like anyone who’s thinking of becoming a parent, it’s important to consider whether you have the time and resources to care for a young child adequately.”
Brown gives some pointers for different types of adoption:
- International adoption. “If a parent is going to be involved in international adoption, says Brown, “they probably need to be prepared for questions about the situation, such as diversity and family, or questions from the adopted child’s birth parents about why the adoption is happening.”
- Open adoption. “In an open adoption, the concern is whether the adoptive parents want to have a relationship with the biological parent. Some will say, ‘Yes, absolutely’; others will take a more autonomous approach,” he says.
- Stepparent adoption. “With stepparent adoption,” says Brown, “the primary concern is making sure there’s an understanding of what it means to adopt a child–the rights and obligations of parenthood–and making sure it’s done in a way that the adoptive children are pleased about. Often, children already consider the stepparent to be their mom or dad because the stepparent has stood in the place of their biological mother or father.”
“For a parent considering giving up a child,” he says, “it’s a deeply personal question. But there might be concerns about the legitimacy and transparency of the adoption process and who is adopting.”
“It’s important for the biological parent to completely understand what it means to have their parental rights terminated.”
Placing a child for adoption “is a big decision that probably should occur in conjunction with conversations with trusted individuals in their life, whether family or friends,” says Brown.
Questions to Ask Yourself if You Want to Adopt
The decision to adopt is highly personal and depends on the person’s situation. However, here are some questions to ask oneself to get the process started:
- How many children would you like to adopt? Are you interested in adopting a single child or a sibling group?
- Do you have any preferences regarding a younger or older child?
- Would you like to care for a child with special needs?
- Do you want to adopt domestically or internationally?
- What adoption services are available in your state?
- How will you financially handle the costs of adoption? Are there any adoption tax credit or adoption assistance programs in your state?
Types of Adoption
There are a few different types of adoption you may want to consider depending on your situation and adoption goals.
One general distinction in types of adoption is between closed and open adoption:
- Closed adoption. In a closed adoption, there’s no contact between birth parents and prospective adoptive parents.
- Open adoption. The birth family and adoptive family meet throughout the adoption process and often stay in touch after it’s concluded.
When it comes to the pros and cons of closed versus open adoption, “I think it rests with the individuals themselves… The benefit of open adoption is having some sort of relationship over time between the biological parent and the child,” says Brown.
“The con would be the impact that this relationship might have on the child. For example, how will the child respond to the fact that they were placed for adoption, and what will the child think about the individual who is their biological parent continuing to have a relationship with them?” he asks.
“I’ve seen it play out in both a positive and a negative way.”
Going Through an Adoption Agency
Many people who are interested in adoption go through an adoption agency. There are two general kinds of adoption agencies:
- Public adoption agencies. Public agencies care for and help place children who are in the temporary custody of the state–for example, due to being orphaned, abandoned, or the victims of child abuse. Public agencies often work with state social services or departments of children and families to place children.
- Private adoption agencies. Private agencies are typically run by nonprofit charitable or religious organizations that help place children whose biological parents want them to be adopted.
Public agencies are directly operated by the state, while the state licenses private agencies to assist with the care and placement of children into loving homes.
Individuals who want to adopt can deal directly with the biological mother. Since this option doesn’t involve an adoption agency, it’s called independent adoption.
Even though private adoptions don’t involve an agency, lawyers or other professionals often serve as an intermediary between the sets of parents and ensure the process goes smoothly.
Identified adoption combines aspects of private adoption and agency adoption.
Generally, prospective adoptive parents find and connect with a biological mother who wants to put their child up for adoption. A variety of methods are used, including social media.
Once the prospective parents meet with the birth parents, they connect with an adoption agency to handle the adoption procedures from there.
Domestic and International Adoption
Domestic adoption is adoption that takes place within the United States. Even though it’s entirely in the United States, domestic adoption often involves children being placed from one state to another.
For example, an adoptive family in Oregon might want to adopt a child in Idaho. The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children ensures children’s welfare and safety throughout adoption procedures across state lines.
International adoption is, in many ways, the most complex type of adoption since it involves multiple sources of law:
- U.S. law, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) governing visas and passports
- Foreign laws of the country from which prospective parents want to adopt
- International agreements, including the Hague Adoption Convention
If you’re considering overseas adoption, it’s an excellent idea to speak with an adoption lawyer to ensure all the process’s legal aspects are met.
Foster Care Adoption
Many individuals who are interested in adoption will first serve as foster parents. This allows individuals or couples to get experience caring for children of different ages and to see if adoption is the right option for them. Additionally, foster care training is mandatory in many states and is valuable for those who choose to adopt later on.
“Quite often, the foster relationship develops from being more than a stand-in in a moment of crisis to becoming a lot like a parent-child relationship,” says Brown.
However, “it’s important for foster parents to understand that the biological parents have an interest as well–one that is actually more significant than the interests of the foster parents,” he says.
“The biological parents typically have the right to have the county or state work with them to construct a plan that will improve the conditions that led to the child being placed in foster care.”
“Only after the biological parents have had this opportunity and failed at it can their parental rights be terminated involuntarily,” says Brown.
Parental rights aren’t always terminated involuntarily.
There can be “other situations where the parent will agree that adoption should take place after realizing they can’t provide an adequate home for a child,” says Brown.
In any event, the interests of the foster parents and the interests of the biological parents “have to be balanced against each other,” he says.
The Adoption Process
There are several steps to the adoption process, from finding a child who is available to adopt to the court hearing finalizing the adoption. The typical adoption process will involve:
- Decide on the type of adoption you want to pursue. Think through the questions presented above and evaluate your situation. Get more adoption information by speaking with adoption professionals or connecting with parent support groups.
- File an adoption petition with the local adoption court. The petition makes the case to the court for why you want to adopt. Among other things, it will give your personal information and explain why adoption is in the best interests of the child you want to adopt.
- Give notice. You will need to give notice of the adoption hearing to all interested parties, including the biological parents and the child (if they are a certain age, typically 12 or 14). Getting the birth parents’ consent to the termination of their parental rights so that the adoption can be finalized is essential.
- Complete an adoption home study. The home study is an in-depth investigation of the prospective parents’ fitness and readiness to be parents. Social workers often conduct the investigation over the course of several weeks. The home study report is used by the adoption court to assess whether adoption is in the child’s best interests.
- Attend the adoption court hearing. Adoptive placement will be finalized through the hearing, transferring parental rights to the new adoptive parents.
You can learn more about the legal process of adoption by reading this article. It’s a great idea to speak with a qualified adoption attorney in your area to get detailed information and guidance on your specific case.
Questions for an Adoption Attorney
Fortunately, many adoption attorneys provide free consultations. These consultations allow the attorney to hear about your case and for you to determine if the attorney meets your needs. To see whether an attorney or law firm is a good fit, ask informed questions such as:
- What are your attorneys’ fees?
- What billing options do you offer?
- What legal services do you offer?
- What is your experience handling adoption cases?
- How long could it take before the finalization of the adoption?
You can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.
Look for an adoption lawyer in the Super Lawyers directory.