The Different Types of Adoption
By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Nicole Prebeck, Esq. | Last reviewed November 14, 2022
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Adoption is a major life-changing event when you welcome a child to your family. While the financial and legal responsibilities of parenthood end when the child reaches the age of majority (typically 18), adopting a child is a lifetime commitment. Therefore, it's important to do your research before you start the adoption process.
There are several different types of adoption, which you may want to consider as you think about growing your family. Read on to learn more about the most common types of adoption.
Adopting Through an 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 typically handle children who are wards of the state, often because they've been abandoned, orphaned or abused, or are older children.
Private adoption agencies are often run by charities and social service organizations. They typically place children who have been brought to the agency by parents or expectant parents seeking to give their child up for adoption.
One of the other types of adoption involves a direct arrangement between birth mother and adoptive parents. Occasionally, the birth father will be involved. From time to time, independent adoptions also involve use of a a go-between, which may be a doctor or member of the clergy. Because of the delicate nature of independent adoption, it's probably a good idea for the adoptive parents to hire an attorney to handle the paperwork. Not all states allow independent adoptions, and many states regulate them extensively. So, check your state's laws before exploring this option.
One variety of independent adoption is often referred to as "open adoption," where the biological parents maintain some form of limited contact even after adoption. In such an adoption, however, all parental rights stay with the adoptive parents.
Adopting Through Identification
Identified adoptions are a combination of independent and agency adoptions. Usually, the adoptive parents find a mother wanting to put a child up for adoption, and then both sets of parents ask an adoption agency to control the rest of the process. This process often includes a home study, questions, interviews, and careful analysis.
The advantage to this variety of adoption is that there is no "waitlist" for the adoptive parents. Prospective parents can also have greater control over choosing the child they adopt and still benefit from the counseling and professional services afforded by an agency.
Adopting internationally is the most complicated of all the different types 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, as well as the laws of the host country. Parents must also obtain an immigrant visa for the child through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If approved, the child will be granted U.S. citizenship automatically upon entering the U.S.
Note also that, as of April 1, 2008, international adoptions are regulated through the Hague Adoption Convention. The treaty governs U.S. federal government oversight of domestic adoption agencies and international adoption policies. This oversight is intended to protect children, biological parents, and adoptive parents from unethical adoption practices, including international child abductions and adoption scams.
Agencies dealing in international adoption must now be certified by the State Department. Adopting parents must prove the following to the State Department:
- the foreign adoption agency has provided counseling for biological parents
- the foreign adoption agency has secured legal consent from the biological parents
- the foreign adoption agency has considered local placement of the child
- the child has been properly cleared for adoption in the U.S.
You could try to adopt internationally without an agency. However, because of the complexity of the process, most adoptive parents choose to use the services of a U.S. agency specializing in international adoptions.
Adopt as Stepparents
A stepparent adoption occurs when a parent's new spouse adopts the parent's child from a different partner. The process is simple compared to traditional adoption if the birth parents both consent. However, if one of the parents does not consent or cannot be found, an attorney will need to be involved. In such cases, the process of adopting usually become far more time-consuming. Under such circumstances, you should also expect a lot of additional paperwork, as well.
Adopting as a Same-Sex Couple
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned an Arkansas law banning same-sex couples from adoption on June 26, 2017, effectively legalizing same-sex adoption in all U.S. states. Prior to that ruling, however, some states explicitly banned gay and lesbian couples from adopting children, including Florida and Mississippi. However, faith-based adoption agencies may decline a same-sex couple's adoption application for "religious reasons."
Relative adoptions, also known as kinship adoptions in some states, occur when a child's relative steps forward to adopt the child. Typical candidates for this type of adoption are grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Other non-nuclear family members can also be party to this type of adoption, as well. Generally speaking, such adoptions occur following the birth parents' death or incapacitation. Because the law favors relatives raising children, this process process is significantly easier than other types of adoption.
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 an adult adoption is to secure inheritance rights for people of which 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.
Not Sure How to Choose Between the Different Types of Adoption? Talk to an Attorney
Every family's needs are different, and there are a variety of reasons for choosing any one of the different adoption methods. By contacting an experienced adoption lawyer, you can find out which type of adoption will work best for you and get legal help through the adoption process.
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Contact a qualified attorney specializing in adoptions.