Who May Be Adopted?

The answer to this question depends on where the adoption occurs. Individual states regulate adoptions within their borders. This includes determining who is eligible for adoption. Adoption eligibility generally refers to children under 18 and some adults.

This article overviews the adoption process and adoption eligibility in the United States. 

The Adoption Process

Understanding who is eligible for adoption is part of the adoption process. Adoptions are a legal process. Before the finalization of an adoption, a court must approve the adoption and issue a court order.

Type of Adoption

Determining the type of adoption to pursue is the first step in the adoption process. Adoptive parents can choose between private adoption, independent adoption, or public adoption. These choices help determine if they need a licensed adoption agency.

Prospective adoptive parents can choose between domestic adoption or international adoption, depending on their wishes. Stepparents can adopt their stepchildren. Adult adoption is possible in certain circumstances.

The type of adoption helps determine the choice of an adoption agency. In a private adoption, the options include a private adoption agency or a private adoption attorney. In independent adoptions, the prospective parents and the biological parents agree on future communication. They don't need an adoption agency, but they will need an adoption attorney.

In open adoptions, the birth mother or birth family stays in contact with the adoptive family. This is an agreement between both parties.

Local Departments of Human Services or Social Services handle public adoptions or adopting children in foster care. Some children in foster care have special needs, are older, or have a history of child abuse. Since the state has legal custody of the child, public adoptions go through the state. Often, foster parents decide to adopt the child in their care.

Before the adoption is complete, the birth parents must relinquish their parental rights, or they must be involuntarily terminated after a hearing.

Home Study

Adoption agencies help prospective parents through the home study process. They do so by offering a wide array of adoption services. This includes organizing the home study and making the adoptive placements.

Home studies have a few purposes. They are a tool to vet the prospective adoptive family's background. Social workers or adoption professionals gather information on the adoptive family. They then compile this information in a report. The adoption agency uses the report to match adoptive parents to prospective adoptees.

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a home study is unnecessary for most stepparent adoptions.

Finalizing the Adoption

The adoption begins with an adoption petition filed in probate or family court. Family courts use the "best interests of the child" standard in approving or denying an adoption. Once the court approves the adoption, the adoptive parents become the legal parents of the adopted child. The adopted child's new birth certificate will list the adoptive parents' names.

General Requirements for Adoption

Prospective parents must show that the adoption is in the child's best interests. They must also meet general requirements set forth by their state's adoption laws. Some of those requirements include the following:

  • The child must be legally free for adoption in Connecticut, Montana, and American Samoa. This means the biological parents have relinquished their parental rights, or their rights have been involuntarily terminated.
  • The child must be in the state when the parties file the adoption petition in Arizona, Texas, Wyoming, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, among others.
  • Iowa requires the child to have lived in the prospective adoptive parent's home for at least 180 days. This requirement may be waived where the petitioner is a relative of the child or stepparent.

State Age Requirements

Some states have age requirements. Some examples of age requirements include the following:

  • American Samoa allows parties to petition the court for the adoption of persons over 18 years of age. However, adoptees must also be under 21 years of age. In this situation, laws pertaining to the adoption of a child will apply.
  • The adoptee must be younger than the adoptive parent in Massachusetts and Nevada (by at least ten years unless the adoptive parent and child are related as described in the Code).

Adoption of Adults: State Requirements

Eligibility for adoption does not stop at 18. Adult adoption occurs when one adult adopts another adult with consent. The following are a few examples of adult eligibility for adoption.

  • Ohio permits adult adoption if the person: (1) is totally or permanently disabled (physically or intellectually), or (2) is a stepchild or foster child.
  • In Idaho, the parties must have a sustained parental relationship over a specified period. In Illinois, the adoptee must either be related to the petitioner as described in the code or have resided in the petitioner's home for at least two continuous years before the commencement of the adoption.

Intercountry Adoptions

The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Convention) governs international adoptions. Prospective parents with U.S. Citizenship follow Convention rules.

These rules include using adoption agencies approved by the U.S. Department of State. The prospective parents must also file the appropriate forms with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Get Help

Ensuring a child is eligible for adoption is critical to successful adoption. A local, experienced adoption attorney can answer questions about adoption eligibility.

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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