Adoption Process in the US


What are the Requirements for Adoption?

Those considering adopting a child have many options to consider, and many financial considerations to prepare for. At a minimum, agencies, states, and countries set standards and criteria for adoptions that propose to ensure the welfare of the child in question.

Domestic Adoption

Some 135,000 children are adopted in the United States each year, with about 60 percent from within the foster family system (wards of the state) but a small number are also adopted from birth parents. Requirements vary from state to state, but interstate adoption is facilitated by a legal compact that facilitates the process in the interest of giving children appropriate, lifetime homes and families. Many laws have been streamlined in recent years to speed and assist the process of domestic adoption.

Home Study

A report on the feasibility of an individual adoption is called a home study. These reports are required by most states and some foreign countries to determine if the adoption is “in the best interest of the child” by researching the suitability of the individual or couple interested in adopting. This study includes but is not limited to:

  • whether the individual or couple has the necessary income to support a child;
  • whether the adoptive parent has any circumstances in his background, such as a criminal conviction, that should preclude adoption;
  • whether the child would have access to an education and necessary social services;
  • whether the physical home the adoptive parents offer is appropriate, safe, and a nurturing environment, and
  • whether the prospective adoptive parent or couple has the right motivation for adopting.


An application to adopt may be rejected for a number of reasons, from the applicant being unfit due to a criminal history or to the biological parents changing their mind to a paperwork error. A judicial rejection may be appealed through the court that turned down the application. Each adoption agency may have its own appeals process. Rejection by a foreign government agency is also possible to appeal but likely to be costly (an adoption agency should be able to provide guidance).

Stepchild Adoption

The least-costly method of adoption and the one with the fewest legal hurdles is the adoption of a stepchild, which is the child of one’s spouse. Adopting a stepchild is a legal matter with requirements that vary from state to state, most commonly:

  • permission of the child’s birth parents
  • a time requirement for the adoptive parent’s marriage to the child’s parent, as well as a time requirement (often one year) during which the child and adoptive parent have lived together
  • the permission of the child being adopted (depending on the child’s age), and
  • generally the child may not be above age 16.

Same Sex Parents and Adoption

About 15 states allow the same-sex partner of a biological parent to adopt his or her partner’s child. Many other states, like Kansas and Nebraska, either do not allow unmarried and/or same-sex couples to adopt one another’s children or children in the foster system. Many foreign countries have laws or cultural norms that prevent same-sex adoption. The same issue applies to common law marriages as well.

Adoption Agency Role

Agencies can help prospective parents find the right match with an available child. They will explain the adoption process and the steps involved. In international adoptions an agency specializing in the laws of the child’s home country can offer insight into the process and assist with the process.

International Adoption

American couples adopt about 7,000 children from foreign countries each year, and about 50 percent of them were under 2 years old. The number of countries allowing adoption to the U.S. has declined by more than 50 percent in the past decade, some due to international sanctions (the Russian reaction to the 2012 Magnitsky Act was to prevent American adoption of Russian children) and some due to suspected abuse of adopted children. Many countries have banned international adoptions of children who cannot be certified as orphans. Additional requirements have been implemented by countries seeking to prevent the practice of “rehoming” adopted children, which involves a family other than the sanctioned adoptive parents raising the child.

The U.S. government requires that adoptive parents (residing in the U.S. and adopting from another country) be over age 25 if single and able to meet certain income and residency requirements to provide stability and nurturing for the child. The adoption must also be legally sanctioned by the child’s country of residence.

An international adoption must comply with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Legal adoption requirements extend to specific circumstances of birth and gestation, including invitro fertilization techniques.

Costs Associated with Adoption

Adopting a child can cost up to $40,000 but some of the funds may be reclaimed through grants and tax incentives. Also, if one of the parents of the adoptee is paying a child support, even after adoption the parent may still be obligated to keep going the payments. Domestic adoptions may include monthly financial support or a one-time payment for the child through age 18 that is not more than the cost of the child remaining in foster care. Adoptions within the state foster system are less expensive than independent adoptions.

Costs reflect:

  • fees for legal representation, whether domestic or international;
  • adoption agency fees;
  • time off work;
  • travel costs;
  • paperwork such as birth certificates (for parents) and other documentation not limited to background checks, notarized letters certifying employment status and personal references, and
  • home checks by approved individuals establishing whether an adoptive parent is capable of providing an appropriate environment for the child.


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