How to Adopt

The adoption procedure is intricate, with numerous steps and considerations to keep in mind. This guide aims to provide a concise, general introduction to the adoption process.

Choosing to adopt a child is a significant milestone in one's life. Once the decision to adopt has been made, navigating the initial stages of the adoption process can pose considerable challenges. Prospective adoptive parents must consider multiple factors as they embark on their journey to provide a nurturing home for a child.

Who Can Adopt?

Most people are eligible to adopt, regardless of marital status (single, married, or divorced), age, income, sexual orientation, or disability.

However, different jurisdictions have different restrictions. For example, for adoptions within the United States, family law in many states allows those 18 years of age and older to adopt. Some states, however, set the age limit at 21 years of age, and a few states set the age limit at 25 years of age.

For international adoptions, countries have specific requirements for families who want to adopt from those countries. Some countries impose an age limit. While federal law on international adoptions sets the minimum age to adopt at 25, Chinese law sets the age requirement at 30.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides a number of resources that explain adoption requirements and restrictions.

After determining eligibility to adopt, the next step is to determine which path — public/foster care, agency, independent/non-agency, or international — to take.

Types of Adoption

Adoption is pretty much divided into two types of adoption:

  1. Domestic
  2. International

Each type of adoption has its own advantages and disadvantages.

When the adoption is finalized, adoptive children have the same legal rights and relationship with the parents as biological children. There is no legal distinction between the two.

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of adoption.

Domestic adoptions

There are three main ways to adopt in the United States:

1. Through the state-run foster care system (a public adoption, foster care, or foster parent adoption)

2. With the help of an adoption agency (an agency adoption)

3. Using an adoption attorney (a private adoption or independent adoption)

One of the questions in domestic adoptions is whether it is a "closed adoption" or an "open adoption." If the adoption is closed, the birth mother or birth parents do not want any further contact with the adoptive parents or adoptive child. If the adoption is open, the birth mother or birth parents and, perhaps, other members of the birth family are open to some degree of communication as the adoptee grows up.

Almost all international adoptions are closed. Most of the children in intercountry adoptions are adopted from orphanages. In such instances, the parental rights of the biological parents have been terminated. Family members are rarely involved in the child's life.

International Adoption

Bringing a child home from a country outside the U.S. is an international adoption. Adoption of children from a foreign country is rarely a quick process. It can take anywhere from one to five years. Most international adoptions take about three years. The timeframe depends on the child you select and the country involved in the adoption. Some countries process adoptions faster than others.

Intercountry adoption does not always convey U.S. citizenship to a child. In addition, some countries require that the adoption be finalized in the U.S. This is generally done in a state court proceeding.

Learn the Law

The next step is to become familiar with the laws for the type of adoption you are undertaking. For example, if you are adopting within the United States, state laws will apply. Each state has its own adoption laws, and while there are similarities, the adoption legal process also has some differences. For example, some states impose a waiting period before a birth mother or birth father can give consent to adoption. Some states do not impose a waiting period.

The timeframe for revoking parental consent differs from state to state. In a private adoption, many states allow the birth mother 30 days after consent has been given to revoke the adoption. Some states have a shorter revocation period. Some states do not allow a revocation period unless there are special circumstances.

A study of the rules is also important for international adoptions. You must meet the requirements of two countries – the United States and the country from which you are adopting. For example, if you are adopting from China, you must meet the requirements set by the U.S. government and China. The U.S. requires that one adoptive parent must be a U.S. citizen and that both adoptive parents must be at least 25 years old. The Chinese government requires that both parents be a little older -- between the ages of 30 and 49. So, if you are adopting from China, you have to be at least 30 years old.

China also has a requirement that the body mass index, a measure of body fat based on weight and height, of adoptive parents must be under 40. Most other countries don't have a BMI requirement. Some parents get an exception to this requirement.

With international adoptions, there can be disruptions and policy changes on a regular basis. Prospective adoptive parents may want to check with the U.S. State Department for any restrictions. For example, China suspended its adoption program in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

Prepare Documents

After determining if you are eligible for adoption and which type of adoption you want, you should start to compile the documents needed to complete the process. The most commonly needed forms are:

  • Adoptive child's birth certificate, if available
  • Prospective adoptive parents' birth certificates
  • Certified copy of adoptive parents' marriage certificate
  • Certified copy of parents' divorce decree (when applicable)
  • Criminal background check release for parents
  • Statement from health insurer that adopted child will be covered
  • Child's passport if it's an international adoption

Home Study

Another important step in the adoption process is the home study. A home study is required for both domestic and international adoptions. All adoptive parents must complete a home study. A home study is a review of your home, employment, finances, health, and criminal background. The home study also includes references from friends and family.

An adoption agency or a social worker can perform the study. You can talk to the case worker before the home study to get more information about the process.

At the end of the home study, the social worker provides a written report which includes the caseworker's recommendation of the children you and your partner (if any) can best parent. For example, the caseworker might approve you to adopt two children under the age of nine. While in another instance, a potential adoptive parent might be approved to adopt one child under the age of five.

Home studies generally take between three and six months to complete.

Home studies for public adoptions are generally free or very low cost. You might have to pay for the criminal background check, but that fee is often reimbursable after you have completed the adoption.

If you're working with a private agency or a social worker, the cost of the home study is often between $1,000 to $3,000.

Petitioning the Court for Adoption

Although details may vary greatly, domestic adoption and some international adoptions require a petition to the appropriate court, generally a family court, for the finalization of the adoption.

The petition typically identifies all parties, requests termination of the birth parents' parental rights and asks that the adoptive parents be granted custody of the child.

If everything goes well, a court order is issued declaring that the adoptive parents are the legal parents of the adopted child.

Adoption Costs

Adoption costs can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.

Adoptions from foster care are the least expensive.

An agency adoption can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $40,000. Expenses for this type of adoption include social work services involved in matching a child to a prospective adoptive family, adoptive parent preparation and training, birth parent counseling, an agency fee, and the home study.

An independent adoption can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $40,000. The average is $10,000 to $15,000. Expenses include advertising fees to locate a child, attorneys' fees, medical expenses for the birth mother, and legal fees for both the adoptive and birth parents.

Intercountry adoption costs range from $20,000 to $50,000. These fees generally include agency fees, dossier, immigration processing, a required stipend to the child's foreign orphanage and court and travel costs. The fees vary depending on the country.

Some adoption service providers offer reduced fees for adopting special needs children. This often occurs in agency adoption or international adoptions.

Adoption Cost Assistance

Adoptive parents can reduce the expenses associated with adopting by taking advantage of financial assistance. There are several ways for parents to reduce the cost of adoption such as:

  • Adoption tax credits. The federal government and many states offer adoption tax credits. The federal adoption tax credit for 2022 is $14,890. That credit will increase to $15,950 in 2023. State adoption benefits vary.
  • Adoption subsidy. Many employers, including the U.S. military, offer a subsidy for adoption. The amount varies from $500 to $25,300.
  • Adoption grants. Several organizations offer grants to help with adoption funding. The grants range from $500 to $15,000. Financial assistance is available for domestic and international adoptions.

The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides additional information on how to obtain help with adoption costs. Local social services agencies may also have additional information on reimbursement for adoption costs as well as Medicaid eligibility.

Post-Adoption Support

Post-adoption support can be found in several places. Post-adoption services are available to adoptive families and adopted children, especially those with special needs or histories of child abuse or neglect.

The services may include education, information, referral, support groups, respite care, advocacy, behavioral interventions, and financial and medical support. Many states have a human services agency that can provide support for the parents and the child after the adoption has been completed. Some adoption agencies provide post-adoption support.


Some describe surrogacy as a form of adoption. However, surrogacy and adoption are different processes with different legal and ethical considerations.

Surrogacy, which is contracting to have someone bear a child on your behalf, can help ensure a genetic relationship between the adoptive parent and child, although surrogates are also used in circumstances where the child has no biological relationship with either of the adoptive parents. See the Findlaw guide on surrogacy for more details.

Similarly, this section does not cover information on adoption cases such as adult adoptions and stepparent adoption. Adult adoption occurs when the court creates a legal parent relationship between an adult and a person over the age of 18. Once the court grants the petition to adopt, a new birth certificate is issued for the adult adoptee and there is a permanent connection.

Stepparent adoption involves the adoption of a stepchild. You can learn more about adult adoption and stepparent adoption in Findlaw's Types of Adoption section.

Get Legal Help With an Adoption

The process of adopting can be daunting. Proceedings and petitions may be quite complicated. Rules can vary greatly between jurisdictions and are usually fairly complicated. Retaining an agency, attorney, or both may be necessary to assist in representation.

Adoption law attorneys can help provide valuable legal advice and give you adoption assistance. They can also connect you to important resources and adoption services, and they can help you navigate adoption costs.

Speak to an experienced adoption law attorney today.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • It is a good idea to have an attorney for complex adoptions
  • An attorney can ensure you meet all legal requirements and that your adoption is finalized appropriately
  • An attorney can help protect the best interests of adoptive children, adoptive families, and birth parents
  • For simple adoptions, you may be able to do the paperwork on your own or by using an agency

Get tailored advice at any point in the adoption process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

 Find a local attorney

Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Adopting a child is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

Start Planning