Who Is Eligible To Be Adopted?

The answer to this question depends on where the adoption occurs. Individual states regulate who is eligible for adoptions within their borders. State laws define adoptable children and adults differently across the country.

Children and adults can be adopted if they meet legal requirements. The type of adoption affects the adoption process, including whether someone is eligible to be adopted. This article describes adoption eligibility in the United States.

State laws also have requirements for the other side of the adoption equation. Read about adoptive parent eligibility to learn whether you can adopt someone in your state.

General Requirements for an Adopted Child

The state's adoption laws set requirements like the following examples:

  • The child must be legally free for adoption (as defined below) in Connecticut, Montana, and American Samoa.
  • 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.

Prospective parents must show that the adoption is in the best interests of the child.

What Does “Legally Free for Adoption” Mean?

This legal phrase means the biological parents have relinquished their parental rights or their rights have been involuntarily terminated. If a child’s birth parents no longer have legal rights and custody of the child, someone else can seek those rights through a court process. Often, that person is a foster parent who wants to adopt once the child becomes legally free for adoption.

State Age Requirements for Adoptive Children

All states allow adults to adopt minor children (under 18 years of age). Some states have specific 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.
  • In Nevada, the adoptee must be at least 10 years younger than the adoptive parent unless the adoptive parent and child are related as described in the Code.

Is a Child Adoptable as Long as the Birth Parent Consents?

Parental consent can sometimes be a factor, but it does not guarantee an adoption by itself. You can only adopt a child by completing the legal adoption process. Regardless of the biological parents’ permission, adoptive parents must also prove their own eligibility. Also, note that the birth parent’s consent is irrelevant if they no longer have parental rights.

Do Foreign Children Need a Visa for Intercountry Adoptions?

Yes, but a child who doesn’t yet have a U.S. visa may receive one through the adoption process. Children don’t need a preexisting visa because international adoptions involve specific immigration processes.

Adopting a child from a foreign country is more complicated than a domestic adoption. There are two types of international adoptions: Hague adoptions and orphan adoptions. Each type has different child eligibility requirements.

The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Convention) governs most 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.

Eligible prospective parents fill out Form I-800 with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to verify that the child is eligible to be adopted in the United States. The visa application process for the child can begin after getting Form I-800 approval.

Can an Abused Child Be Adopted?

Yes, if the abuse report and investigation lead to the child’s permanent removal from their home, they might qualify for adoption. Not all child abuse cases lead to a permanent adoption. Some cases only require temporary foster care or placement with a relative.

Which Factors Don’t Influence an Adoptee’s Eligibility?

A child’s legal eligibility for adoption does not depend on their behavioral background, the origin/birth family’s economic status, their special needs, or other such personal factors. Those factors do not exclude a child from finding a home. Yet, some of those factors may indicate the best adoptive placement for the child.

Minor adoptees face much less scrutiny than prospective parents in the adoption process. States aim to give every child a home, regardless of their background and needs. States use rigorous home studies and other checks to ensure the future home is suitable and safe.

How To Find an Eligible Child To Adopt

If you want to add a member to your family, adoption services can help you match with an eligible adoptee. The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a resource from the federal government, can help you locate an agency and social worker who can assist with placement.

Independent adoptions are another option. These private adoptions do not involve an adoption agency. However, finding an eligible child, sometimes even before birth, may be more difficult. Some states ban the use of advertising to find a child independently. Adoptive and biological parents also need to take special steps — without the help of adoption services — to ensure the child is legally eligible.

Can Adults Be Adopted?

Yes. Eligibility for adoption does not stop at 18. Adult adoption occurs when one adult adopts another adult with consent or other qualifying circumstances.

Adoptive parents must meet state requirements to adopt an adult. These requirements usually differ from those for the adoption of children. For example, West Virginia and Wisconsin require the adoptive parent of an adult to be a resident of the state.

Can Only Disabled Adults Be Adopted?

No, some states allow adult adoptions in other cases. An adult’s eligibility depends on the specific state laws.

For example, Ohio permits adult adoption if the person is totally or permanently disabled or determined to have an intellectual disability. An adult can also be adopted in Ohio if, as a minor, they were a stepchild or foster child of their adoptive parent and they consent.

In Texas, an adult who seeks to adopt another adult must be a resident of the state.  If they are married, then both spouses must join in the petition to adopt. The adoptee must consent to the adoption.

Forming an Adoptive Relationship With an Adult

Some states only allow adult adoptions if a familial relationship exists between the adoptee and the adoptive family. This type of relationship must be distinct from a romantic or sexual relationship under the law.

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 more than two continuous years before the commencement of the adoption.​

Guidance for the Legal Process of Adoption

Ensuring a child or adult is eligible for adoption is critical to a successful adoption. A local, experienced adoption attorney can answer questions about eligibility. They can also give you legal advice for the adoption process and related family law issues.

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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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