Who May Adopt: Overview
Welcoming a new child into your family is a joyous and exciting occasion. But if you expand your family through adoption, it also can be a lengthy and confusing process.
Prospective parents must meet specific requirements before a state allows them to adopt. Below is a brief overview explaining basic guidelines for who may adopt a child.
Who May Adopt: General Requirements
It doesn't matter if you're a single adult or a married couple, either can adopt. A stepparent may also adopt the birth child of their spouse. In some states, you can adopt alone if you're married but legally separated from your spouse. You may also be able to adopt if your spouse is legally incompetent. Approximately 17 states and the District of Columbia don't specify any extra conditions.
In these six states, you must be at least 18 years old to adopt:
- New Jersey
These four states set the age at 21:
You must be at least 25 in Idaho.
A few states allow you to adopt under certain circumstances if you're a minor. For example, when you're a minor married to an adult adoptive parent. You may also adopt as a minor if you are the unmarried birth parent of the child.
Some states say you must be a certain number of years older than the adopted child. In the following six states, you must be at least ten years older than the child:
- New Jersey
- South Dakota
In Puerto Rico, you must be at least 14 years older. In Idaho, you must be at least 15 years older.
You must be a state resident to adopt in approximately 17 states. Your legal residence is the location of your permanent or primary home. States vary on how long you must be a resident before you can adopt. The required residency period ranges from 60 days to one year, depending on the state.
Some states have exceptions to the residency rules. For example, a nonresident in South Carolina and Indiana may adopt a child with special needs.
Selected State Adoption Laws
Determining whether you can adopt starts with understanding your state's adoption laws. Your age and residency are critical criteria no matter where you live. But other requirements and restrictions may apply. The following is a sampling of state adoption requirements:
In California, you must be ten years older than the child. But this rule doesn't apply if you're one of the following:
- First cousin
The court must also find that the adoption is in the child's best interest.
You can adopt if you're an unmarried adult in Florida. If you're married, your spouse must join in the adoption. But this requirement doesn't apply if your spouse is the child's parent and consents. The court can also excuse your spouse's failure to join in the adoption.
To adopt in Ohio, you can be any of the following:
- Unmarried adult
- Unmarried minor parent of the child
- Husband and wife (at least one of whom is adult), unless legally separated or under certain other circumstances
Anyone may adopt in Pennsylvania.
Any adult may adopt in Texas. If you're married, your spouse must join unless one of you is the child's parent.
Gay and Lesbian Adoption
Before 2017, most state laws were silent on the issue of adoption by gay and lesbian individuals. But with the Supreme Court ruling in Pavan v. Smith, all states had to treat same-sex couples the same as opposite-sex couples in issuing birth certificates.
Before the Pavan ruling, Florida and Mississippi prohibited adoption by homosexuals. Utah barred adoption by persons who were cohabiting but not legally married. But Pavan overruled the laws in those states.
Can You Adopt a Child? Let an Attorney Help Your Family
State adoption laws vary. So, understanding who may adopt can be complicated and confusing. Before you can finalize your adoption, there may be other requirements, such as a home study period. Don't go it alone. Get help from a family law attorney to clarify your state's adoption process and requirements.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.