The Different Types of Adoption

No two adoptions are alike. Adoption is a legal process to add a child to an adoptive home. Birth parents and adoptive parents have different types of adoption available to them.

Families are unique, as are the options available to expand a family. There is an option for anyone who wants to welcome a child into their home. 

Prospective adoptive parents have several options when pursuing an adoption. They can choose between an independent adoption, or they can use an adoption agency. They can adopt a child from the foster care system or a foreign country. The type of adoption impacts the path prospective adoptive parents take during the adoption process.

Here are a few frequently asked questions about different types of adoption.

What Should I Know About The Adoption Process?

Although adoption laws and legal requirements vary from state to state, most adoptions have similar features. For example, birth parents relinquish their parental rights in all adoptions. All legal adoptions are court-approved. If the prospective adoptive parents decide to use an adoption agency, they must use a licensed adoption agency.

Almost all prospective parents undergo a home study. A social worker gathers information on prospective parents in a home study. They also conduct a home visit. The social worker compiles a report after completing the home study.

Agencies use the home study to match prospective adoptive families with prospective adoptees. An adoption attorney then files a petition for adoption in family court. Once the court approves the adoption, the adoptive parents are the adopted child's legal parents.

Open Adoption

Open adoption is an adoption in which the birth parents and the adoptive parents agree to remain in touch after the adopted child's birth. The parents agree on the terms of their ongoing contact.

In some open adoptions, the agency will prepare biographies of prospective adoptive parents. Then, the birth parents determine which family they are most comfortable with.

Closed Adoption

In closed adoptions, the parents have no contact with each other. Closed adoptions preserve the confidentiality of adoption information. The court will seal the adoption records in most cases.

Most states have a process for the adoptee to unseal their adoption records. This process allows the child, once eligible, to learn about their biological parents and other adoption information.

Independent Adoption

In an independent adoption, the birth parents and the adoptive parents connect without the help of an agency. In most states, both parents receive legal advice from an adoption attorney.

Some states prohibit independent adoptions, and many states regulate them extensively. Check your state's laws before exploring this option.

What Are the Unique Steps in an Independent Adoption?

There is no agency involvement in an independent adoption. Instead, the birth mother and the adoptive parents have an agreement between themselves. If his identity is known, the birth father must relinquish his parental rights.

Facilitators for independent adoption include physicians, adoption attorneys, or clergy members. In many states, all parties must receive legal counsel as part of the adoption process. The purpose of this is to ensure everyone understands their rights and responsibilities.

Private Agency Adoption

In a private adoption, both sets of parents engage a licensed adoption agency to facilitate the adoption of a child. Private adoption agencies charge a fee for their adoption services.

Private agencies are one way for birth families to select their child's adoptive parents. Many infant adoptions go through private adoption. The birth family or birth mother can sign up with an agency during her pregnancy. The biological parents may receive more help through a private agency.

Many adoptive parents provide financial support for the birth mother. This support can include medical expenses and living expenses. Birth fathers may benefit if they are with the birth mother.

Private agencies provide support and counseling. They are also selective about who they represent. They may limit availability to the wealthy or those of a particular faith. They can also specialize in helping marginalized families adopt an infant or child.

Public Agency Adoption

The adoption of children in the foster care system goes through public adoption agencies. This includes foster care adoption, in which foster parents adopt the child in their care.

Foster care adoptions are different from private adoptions in many ways. First, foster children are wards of the state where they live. Second, child welfare agencies are more involved in foster care adoptions.

Public agencies tend to work with older children and children with special needs. Prospective parents may encounter sibling groups in the foster care system. Older children often have relationships with family members or their foster parents. Termination of the biological parent's parental rights occurs before an adoption.

Stepparent Adoption

In stepparent adoptions, the adoptive parent adopts their spouse's child. If a stepparent wants to adopt their stepchild, they usually face less scrutiny than in other adoptive situations.

What Are the Unique Steps in Stepchild Adoption?

The process is simple when both birth parents consent, compared to traditional adoption. Children over 10 must consent in some states.

The biggest obstacle is getting consent from the birth parent.  If one of the birth parents disagrees, the process of adoption gets complicated.

The stepparent must petition the court to terminate the non-custodial parent's rights. A court may use evidence of their abandonment of the child or unfitness to end their rights.

Relative Adoption

In a relative or kinship adoption, a child's relative steps forward to adopt them. For example, an aunt adopts her sibling's child if that child is available for adoption.

Can I Adopt My Grandchild?

Yes. This type of adoption is a relative adoption. In a relative adoption, family members adopt a child relative. Typical candidates for this type of adoption are grandparents, aunts, and uncles. This adoption type may follow the birth parent's death or incapacitation.

Domestic Adoption

A domestic adoption refers to any adoption within the United States, including any of the adoption types explained above. State laws regulate domestic adoptions. 

International Adoption

In intercountry adoptions, prospective parents adopt a child from a different country. 

The Hague Adoption Convention regulates international adoptions. The treaty governs the U.S. federal government's oversight of domestic adoption agencies and international adoption policies. This oversight aims to protect children, biological parents, and adoptive parents from unethical adoption practices. These practices include international child abductions and adoption scams.

The U.S. Department of State certifies international adoption agencies. Many adoptive parents use an American agency that specializes in international adoptions. 

Can I Adopt a Child From a Foreign Country?

Anyone meeting the criteria for an intercountry adoption may pursue this type of adoption. To adopt a child who is a citizen of a foreign country, you must satisfy both the laws of the state where you live and the laws of the host country. Parents must also obtain an immigrant visa for the child through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

What Type of Adoption Is Most Common?

Infant adoption is the most common type of adoption. Many prospective adoptive parents want to adopt an infant.

What Is the Least Expensive Type of Adoption?

Compared to other types of adoption, foster care adoption is the least expensive type of adoption.  

The Child Welfare Information Gateway reports costs for each adoption type. Using a private adoption agency ranges from $30,000 to $60,000. Independent adoptions using an adoption attorney range from $25,000 to $45,000. Prospective parents pay between $20,000 and $50,000 for international adoption.

By contrast, adopting a child from the child welfare system is free. Adoptive families that welcome a special needs child often qualify for adoption assistance.

What Is the Difference Between a Public Agency and a Private Agency?

Adoption agencies can be a public agency or a private agency regulated by the state and licensed to place children with prospective adoptive parents.

Public adoption agencies work with children in the foster care system. Children in the foster care system include orphaned children, older children, and child abuse survivors. Most states offer adoption assistance for children with special needs. In contrast, private agencies are more likely to offer infant adoption.

Private adoption agencies charge fees for their services. Adoptions through public adoption agencies are free.

What Is the Difference Between an Open and Closed Adoption?

Open adoptions are more legally transparent than closed adoptions. Confidentiality is a key consideration for choosing an open or closed adoption.

In an open adoption, the biological parents maintain contact after relinquishing their parental rights. In closed adoptions, there is no contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents.

One advantage of open adoption is the adopted child can maintain contact with their birth family. This may help their identity development. Yet, there are circumstances that may lead parents to prefer a closed adoption, sometimes for the child's protection. 

Can I Adopt an Adult?

Adult adoptions are rare, but many states permit them. Typically, there must be at least a ten-year difference between the age of the parent and that of the adult being adopted, and the parties must show why it's in the best interest of the parties to allow the adoption.

The primary reason why people undergo adult adoption is to secure inheritance rights for people of whom they've grown fond, especially when they don't have children of their own. Most states prohibit adult adoptions when caregivers are involved. Such prohibitions are meant to prevent caregivers from taking advantage of their elderly patients.

Get Help With Your Adoption Process

Anyone considering adoption has many choices to make. An experienced, local family law attorney can provide legal advice on choosing a type of adoption and more.

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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.

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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.

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