State Adoption Information

The path to a successful adoption starts by learning how the adoption process in your state works.

Adoption is a serious matter. Prospective parents have many questions about adopting a child or an adult.

Things to consider include whether you have the time and resources to meet the obligations of adoption and how the adoption will affect family relationships.

This article gives a brief overview of the adoption process and a list of national and state adoption resources and forms.

The Adoption Process

State laws regulate adoptions. So, adoption laws will vary from state to state. But there is a standard structure for the adoption process. After prospective adoptive parents decide the type of adoption to pursue, there are three parts to the adoption process.

The three parts are:

  • Pre-adoption
  • Adoption process
  • Post-adoption

Type of Adoption

Almost all adoptions begin with someone who wants to expand their family through adoption. Single people can adopt. Married couples can adopt. Gay and lesbian couples can adopt.

Once a family decides to adopt, it must choose a type of adoption. The family can choose a private adoption or a public adoption.

Married couples with a stepchild can choose a stepparent adoption. Unmarried couples can choose a second-parent adoption. Grandparents can adopt their grandchild under certain circumstances.

Adult adoptions are a different choice that does not include a minor child. A stepparent, for example, can adopt an adult stepchild. Parental consent is not necessary for adult adoption.

In all circumstances, an adoption is incomplete without a decree of adoption. This document finalizes the adoption.


There are steps before prospective adoptive parents start the adoption process. They should check their state laws to ensure they are qualified to adopt and seek legal advice from an experienced family law attorney.

In many states, prospective adoptive parents must be at least 18 years of age. In other states, they must be 21 years of age. If the prospective parents are married, they must adopt the child jointly.

During the pre-adoption stage, prospective parents should research and determine the type of adoption they want to pursue. Parents will select an adoption agency to help them if necessary.

Private adoption agencies match available children with prospective parents. Public agencies manage the adoption of children in foster care. Independent adoptions sometimes use an agency. A private lawyer may help with independent adoptions.

Home Study

Before prospective parents can look for a child, they must complete a home study. A home study is a vetting process that includes background checks, evidence of good health, financial statements, a home visit, an interview, and recommendations.

If the agency needs more information, it will tell the prospective parents. Social workers compile this information into a report. Public and private agencies use home study reports to make suitable adoptive matches.

Adoption Process

Once the home study is completed, the prospective parents can look for a child to adopt. Some state agencies have websites with profiles of children available for adoption. Some birth parents use child-placing agencies, and others choose independent adoption.

In all cases, the natural parents' parental rights must end before the adoption is complete. Some biological parents give up their rights. In other cases, the court terminates their legal rights after a hearing.

The adoption process begins with filing a petition for adoption. During the adoption proceedings, the court decides if the adoption is in the child's best interests.

If the court finds the adoption is in the child's best interests, the court will issue an order of adoption. This order finalizes the adoption. The adoptive parents are now the legal parents of the adopted child.


Once the court finalizes the adoption, the adoptive parents can apply for a new birth certificate. It is important to document the name change. The local Office of Vital Records is often the place to make this application. They should also request a certified copy for their records.

Courts seal most adoption records after the adoption is complete. Only adopted children, birth parents, and adoptive parents may ask a court to unseal adoption records. A court order to unseal these records is granted if there is good cause. For example, if the adopted child needs to access the records for medical reasons.


Below is a list of national and state adoption resources.










  • Adoption (Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families)

District of Columbia





















New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota






  • Adoption (Virginia Department of Social Services)


  • Adoption (Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families)
  • Steps to Adopt (Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families)
  • Considering Adoption (Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families)

West Virginia

  • Adoption/Foster Parents (West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources)
  • FAQs (West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources)



Get Help

Every state has its process for adopting children. An experienced family law attorney can help you during the adoption process. Learn more by contacting a skilled family law attorney in your area 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