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:
- Adoption process
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.
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.
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 (Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- AdoptUSkids (Working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
- Finding a Fit that Will Last a Lifetime: A Guide to Connecting Adoptive Families with Waiting Children [PDF]
- The Cherokee Nation Adoption Services
- North American Council on Adoptable Children
- MedlinePlus: Parenting (U.S. National Library of Medicine)
- Introduction to Adoption (Alabama Department of Human Resources)
- Adoption FAQs (Alabama Department of Human Resources)
- Adoption Information (Alabama Department of Public Health)
- Alaska Waiting Children | Adoption Tips (Northwest Adoption Exchange)
- Alaska Center for Resource Families and Adoption Support Services Center
- Adoption (Arizona Department of Child Safety)
- The Children's Heart Gallery (Arizona Department of Child Safety)
- Arkansas Heart Gallery (Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Children and Family Services)
- Frequently Asked Questions About Adoption (California Dept. of Social Services)
- Adoption Services (California Dept. of Social Services)
- California Kids Connection (working with the California Department of Social Services and Family Builders)
- Relinquishment & Adoption Brochure [PDF] (Colorado State Judiciary)
- Adopt Colorado Kids (Colorado Kids Belong)
- Raise the Future
- Connecticut Foster Care & Adoption (Connecticut Department of Children and Families)
- Connecticut Alliance of Foster and Adoptive Families
- Adoption (Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families)
District of Columbia
- Become a Foster or Adoptive Parent (D.C. Child and Family Services Agency)
- Overview of Washington, D.C., Adoption Law (Adoptions Together)
- Explore Adoption (Florida Department of Children and Families)
- Adoption In Florida (The Florida Bar)
- Adoption (Georgia Division of Family and Children Services)
- Atlanta Wednesday's Child (Georgia Division of Family & Children Services)
- It's My Turn Now Inc. (a public-private partnership with the Georgia Department of Human Services)
- Adoption Procedures and Forms (Hawaii Judiciary)
- Foster and Adoptive Care (Hawaii Department of Human Services)
- About Adoption through Foster Care (Idaho Department of Health and Welfare)
- Idaho Wednesday's Child (working with Idaho Department of Health and Welfare)
- Adopting a Child (Illinois Legal Aid Online)
- Adoption (Illinois Department of Children and Family Services)
- Indiana Adoption Program (Indiana Department of Child Services)
- Adoption FAQs (Indiana Department of Child Services)
- Adoption Information - The Legal Process (Indiana State Department of Child Services)
- Foster Care and Adoption (Iowa Dept. of Human Services)
- Additional Resources for Adoption (Iowa Foster & Adoptive Parents Association)
- Adoption Search | Adoption Search Brochure (Kansas Children's Service League)
- Adoption Program (Kansas Dept. for Children and Families)
- How to Become a Resource or Adoptive Parent (Maine Department of Health and Human Services)
- Adoption (Maryland Department of Human Services)
- Adoption & Foster Care Services (Maryland Department of Human Services)
- Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange
- Adoption (Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services)
- Becoming a Foster Parent (Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services)
- Adoption in Michigan (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services)
- Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange
- Answers to Your Questions about Adoption (Minnesota Department of Human Services)
- Adoption (Dakota County Probate Division)
- Foster Adopt Minnesota
- Meet the Kids (Foster Adopt Minnesota)
- Learn More About Adopting a Child (Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services)
- Mississippi Heart Gallery (Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services)
- Missouri Adoption Services (Missouri Department of Social Services)
- Missouri Heart Gallery (Missouri Department of Social Services)
- Adoption pamphlet (Missouri Legal Services)
- Adoption in Montana (Department of Public Health and Human Services)
- Adoption (Montana Judicial Branch)
- Adoption (Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services)
- Children Available for Adoption (Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services)
- Nebraska Foster and Adoptive Parents Association
- Adoption (Nevada Division of Child & Family Services)
- Guide to Adoption in Nevada - Post Adoption Services (Nevada Division of Child & Family Services)
- Guide to Adoption in Nevada - Adoption Exchanges: Locating Families for Special Needs Children (Nevada Division of Child & Family Services)
- New Hampshire Adoption (New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services)
- N.H. Adoption Help Center
- The Path to Adoption (New Jersey Department of Children and Families)
- New Jersey Adoption Resource Clearinghouse (New Jersey Department of Human Services and the Division of Youth and Family Services)
- Adoption Registry (New Jersey Department of Children and Families)
- Foster and Adoptive Family Services
- The Adoption Process (Office of Children and Family Services)
- Become a Foster or Adoptive Parent (New York City Administration for Children's Services)
- About Adoption (New York State Unified Court System)
- Adoption and Foster Care (N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services)
- Meet the Children (N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services)
- Adoption Services (The Village Family Service Center of North Dakota)
- Adoption Program (North Dakota Department of Health and Human Services)
- Adoption Information (Oklahoma Department of Human Services)
- Who May Adopt, Be Adopted, or Place a Child for Adoption? (Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- Oregon's Waiting Children (Northwest Adoption Exchange)
- Adoption Branch Information Packet (Family Court of Philadelphia)
- Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange (Pennsylvania Department of Human Services)
- Three Rivers Adoption Council
- Adoption - How Do I Go About It? (Rhode Island Bar Association)
- Adoption Placement (Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth, and Families)
- Adoption Rhode Island
- Adoption (South Carolina Department of Social Services)
- South Carolina Foster Care and Adoption Guidelines (AdoptUSKids)
- Adoption Services (South Dakota Department of Social Services)
- South Dakota Foster Care and Adoption Guidelines (AdoptUSKids)
- Adoption FAQ (Tennessee Department of Children's Services)
- How to Adopt (Tennessee Department of Children's Services)
- Heart Gallery of Tennessee
- Utah DCFS (Utah Division of Child and Family Services)
- Adoption (Utah State Courts)
- Utah Foster Care and Adoption Guidelines (AdoptUSKids)
- Adoption & Foster Care (Vermont Department for Children and Families)
- Adopt a Child in DCF Custody (Vermont Department for Children and Families)
- 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)
- Adoption/Foster Parents (West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources)
- FAQs (West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources)
- Adoption in Wisconsin (Wisconsin Department of Children and Families)
- Adoption Assistance (Wisconsin Department of Children and Families)
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.
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.
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.