Domestic Adoption in U.S: – What Are the Requirements & Process

By Babygest Staff
Last Update: 07/30/2020

Adoption is a child protection measure regulated by law that enables a family to be formed with helpless children who cannot be with their biological parents for various reasons.

First of all, it is important to note that in adoptions, the best interests of the child are of utmost importance, thus adoptive parents must meet certain requirements in order to adopt.

With regard to national adoptions in United States, the competences for adoption and foster care are transferred to each States, so that the people who want to adopt will have to go to the Child Welfare Service in their territory.

Provided below is an index with the 8 points we are going to expand on in this article.

Who may adopt in the United States?

In general, any single adult or a married couple (US citizen) can be eligible to adopt. However, it depends on every States' laws.

Age eligibility

Concerning age eligibility, every States has its own criteria:

  • In approximately seven States (Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, New Jersey, Tennessee, Washington) and Puerto Rico, prospective parents must be 18 years old to be eligible to adopt.
  • Three States (Colorado, Delaware, and Oklahoma) and American Samoa set the age at 21.
  • Georgia and Idaho specify age 25.

Residency eligibility

  • Approximately 17 States (Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands require that petitioners for adoption be State residents. The required period of residency ranges from 60 days to 1 year. There are exceptions to the residency requirement in some of these States. For example, in Indiana and South Carolina, a non-resident can adopt a child with special needs.
  • In Illinois, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Rhode Island, a non-resident may adopt through an agency.
  • Moreover, Four States (Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, and Missouri) prohibit the permanent transfer of legal custody of a child without a court order (which is sometimes referred to as “rehoming”).

Adopt as Step-parents

When a parent's new spouse adopts the parent's child from a different partner, we call it step-parent adoption. The process is easier than traditional adoption when both of the birth parents consent. If one of the parents does not consent or cannot be found, however, it will be necessary to engange an attorney and there is a significant amount of time and paper work involved.

Relative Adoptions

When a child's relative steps forward to adopt the child, we call it relative, or kinship adoptions as it is called in some states. Usually the adoptive parents are grandparents, aunts and uncles, and it generally involves the death or incapacitation of the birth parents. The law favors relatives raising children, and accordingly the process is significantly easier than other types of adoption.

Adoption by Same-Sex Couples

Before various U.S. Supreme Court decisions, adoption laws varied considerably from state to state. While some states granted full adoption rights to same-sex couples, others totally prohibited it or only allowed the partner to adopt the other partner's biological child.

First, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court struck down all prohibitions on same-sex marriage in the United States.

Then, on March 31, 2016, a federal district court overturned adoption ban on same-sex couples in Mississipi.

Finally in June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court overturned a decision of the Arkansas Supreme Court and ordered all states to treat same-sex couples equally with opposite-sex couples regarding the issuance of birth certificates.

These court decisions legalized adoption by same-sex couples in all 50 states.

Now, every married couples that meet the state requirements can adopt jointly in any state. It is more complicated for unmarried (LGBT or heterosexual) couples because in some states, it is not possible to adopt jointly without being married. In order to have the same rights as parents, it is necessary to complete a second-parent adoption.

However, second-parents adoption is only available in these states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Colombia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Even if second-parents adoption is not allowed in your state, it is always possible to provide a degree of legal security through wills or guardianship agreements.

Who may be adopted in United States?

First of all, it is important to say that all States permit the adoption of a child. Still, not every States have the same requirements:

  • Three States (Colorado, Indiana, Rhode Island), American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands specify that the child to be adopted must be under age 18.
  • Five States (Connecticut, Delaware, Montana, Texas, Wisconsin), American Samoa, and Guam specify in statute that the child must be legally free for adoption.
  • Six States (Arizona, Colorado, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming), American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands require that the child to be adopted must be present in the State at the time the petition is filed.
  • Iowa requires that the child must have resided for a minimum of 180 days in the home of the prospective adoptive parents.

From Foster Care

There are two types of Foster Care Adoption:

Direct Foster Care Adoption
when parental right have been terminated, social services seek adoptive families for then and they can be adopted directly.
Foster to Adopt
when children are removed from their biological family due to abuse or neglect, they are placed in Foster Care waiting for healing the birth family. Either they reintegrate their family or they become available for adoption, most often by their foster family.

U.S Newborn

When deciding to adopt a U.S Newborn, there are two options (depending on the States laws):

Agency Adoption
the adoption agency is responsible for the home study, looks for expectant mothers, matches prospective families and expectant mothers. It provides both parties counseling and support, handles the termination of parental rights, and recommends attorneys to finalize adoption.
Adoption Attorney
In independent adoption, the prospective parents look for an expectant mother by advertising. They also have to hire an agency or social worker to conduct their home study. Usually, the adoption attorney will handle all the legal documents, negotiate reimbursement of any expenses to the birth mother, and represent the adopting family in court. Some states also permit attorneys to locate and screen expectant mothers. In independent adoption, the birth parents give their consent for the adoption directly to the adoptive parents.

National Adoption, step by step

Adopting in the United States is allowed in every States, but depending on the type of adoption and the place where it occurs, the requirements may change.

Type of adoption?

The first thing to do when considering adoption is to select the type of adoption:

Open Adoption
allows Adoptive Parents, and often the adopted child, to interact directly with Birth Parents. This type of adoption can help children and parents minimize and resolve the change or loss of relationships (according to
Semi-Open Adoption
Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents share non-identifying information and communication is handled by their adoption agency or professional.
Closed Adoption
Adoptive Parents and Birth Parents do not share any information or contact.

Agence or Private Adoption?

In the adoption process, most prospective parents have to choose between independent or agency adoption. Adoption is for the most part, controlled and authorized by States laws, aspects of Agence or Independent Adoption vary from State to State.

Agence and Department Adoption
Sometimes, like in Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia, States require all adoptive placements be made by the States' departments of human or social services or child-placing agencies. Adoption Agencies help parents through every stage of the process. The attorney plays a limited role because when a child is placed, Birth Parents relinquish custody to the agency. Of course, there are costs and conditions associated with these services.
Independent Adoption
also known as private adoption, the prospective parents decide where and how locate an expected mother and deal directly with her. The attorney plays the most significant role because he has to obtain the TPC, sometimes the ICPC. This type of adoption is controlled by the States, for example in Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, parents who wish to make private placements must notify the department or obtain the approval of the department or the court.
Adopting Through Identification
it is a combination between independent and agency adoptions. Usually, the adoptive parents find a mother wanting to put a child for adoption, and then both biological and prospective parents ask an adoption agency to control the rest of the process. The advantage is that there is no wait list for the adoptive parents. Prospective parents can also choose easily the child they adopt, and still benefit from the counseling and professional services afforded by an agency.

Home study

This step is required to ensure that you are fit to becomes parents. It consists in:

  • Providing State and Federal Criminal Backgrounds Checks
  • Producing financial Informations,
  • Giving medical informations;
  • Going through interviews,
  • Allowing Home Inspections.

Waiting for an adoption opportunity

Once completed the home study comes the moment to wait for an adoption opportunity.

  • In the case of Independent Adoption, the prospectives parents are advised by an adoption attorney.
  • In the case of Agence or Department Adoption, the prospectives parents are advised by the Agency or the States' departments of human or social services.

Bring the child home

After that, depending on the circonstances of adoption, the prospective parents will:

  • in case of interstate adoption: wait until Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) paperworks clear (between 8 to 14 days)
  • ask for Petition to Adopt

The Post Adoption Supervisory Report

It usually lasts between 1 and 18 months depending on legal state. This is a very detailed review of the child's health, development, and a review of adoption in general.

Final Court Hearing

It legally completes the adoption process. The proceeding lasts about 10 to 30 minutes. At this hearing, the Adoptive Parents obtain permanent legal custody of the adopted child.

Post Adoption Contact Agreements

A Post Adoption Contact Agreement (PACA) is an agreement that allows for certain, specified contact between the Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents. Laws on PACAs will vary from state to state. Some states will enforce them so long as they serve the best interest of the child and other states will either prohibit or not enforce them.

Adoption costs

Adoption cost depends on the type of adoption:

Foster Care Adoption
between $0 to $2,811 (According to Adoptive Families Magazine in 2014/2015).
US New Born Adoption
an average cost of $41,532 via Adoption Agency and $34,594 via Independent Adoption (According to Adoptive Families Magazine in 2014/2015).

So, depending on if you choose to adopt through an Agency or independently, costs may vary. However, cost is not the only factor you have to consider when adopting, because it is necessary to consider all the adoption process to make your choice.

Situation of Adoption in the United States

According to the data of US Department of Health and Human Services about Adoption and Foster Care:

  • in 2008, on 750,000 children in the Foster Care, 125,000 had been waiting for adoption and 55,300 were adopted.
  • in 2014, on 650,000 children in the Foster Care, 107,000 had been waiting for adoption and 50,700 were adopted.
  • in 2017, on 691,000 children in the Foster Care, 123,000 had been waiting for adoption and 59,300 were adopted.

As we can see, the number of Domestic Adoption is increasing after a fall in 2014.

FAQs from users

Is it possible to adopt a child in a different State?

By Natalia Álvarez (project manager).

Yes. Thanks to the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) that requires state agencies to speed up a child's move from foster care to adoption. The law also delete geographic boundaries to adoption by requiring that states not delay or deny a placement if an approved family is available outside the state.

How much does it cost adoption from foster care?

By Natalia Álvarez (project manager).

Usually, adoptions from US foster care are free. The minimal costs that may be linked with them are often reimbursable.

Suggested for you

If you are interested in adopting a minor and would like more information, we recommend you consult the following post: Adopting a Child in United States: - How does it work?

On the other hand, in Spain it is also possible to foster a minor, although adoption and fostering are not the same thing. If you are interested in this topic, we encourage you to read more here: What is foster care?

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Adoption Laws State by State: [here]

Statistics for Adoption and Foster Care from the US Department of Health and Human Services: [here]

About Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) from Child Welfare Information Gateway (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)

Adoption Guide by Adoptive Families: [here]

About adoption requirement and process on the Child Welfare Information Gateway: [here]

Adoption Options: Where Do I Start? by Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Who May Adopt, Be Adopted, or Place a Child for Adoption? by Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Adoption types [here]

FAQs from users: 'Is it possible to adopt a child in a different State?' and 'How much does it cost adoption from foster care?'.

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