The adoption process is when an individual or a couple obtains legal and physical custody of a child for whom they are not the biological parents. Adoption usually involves a child who is an orphan or has been given up for adoption by their biological parents. In some instances, the child may be in the care of a certified foster care agency.
In the U.S., there are four main ways to adopt a child who is a newborn infant. It can be done through an adoption agency or a private attorney. If the adoption is accomplished through a private attorney, it may be referred to as an “independent” or “private” adoption.
A person can also adopt a child through the foster care system, but the child would likely not be a newborn infant. An adoption through the foster care system is essentially free of charge. In addition, the foster care agency would provide the prospective parents with support. However, the prospective parents would want to be confident that they are capable of handling possible special challenges that an older child might present.
Finally, many people have adopted children born in foreign countries. While this is reportedly now done less often, thousands of people still become parents in this way. Nonetheless, an accredited adoption agency or professional private adoption attorney can help with the international adoption process.
Special considerations apply to foreign adoption. Some nations restrict who can adopt based on marital status, sexual orientation, or age. The U.S. Department of State has a webpage that addresses international adoption. It shows the adoption laws of the individual countries where it is possible to adopt. Experts recommend that prospective parents consult an accredited provider for guidance with international adoption.
Many adoptions today involve some degree of contact between birth parents and the adoptive parents. The amount of contact is usually determined by negotiation between the parties.
In general, the adoption process involves the following steps:
- Appropriate Match: Parents want to find the appropriate child who is available for adoption: Parents may want to consider whether they want a newborn or are open to adopting an older child. They might also consider whether they could accept and accommodate a child with special needs.
- Other factors that prospective parents might consider are whether they would be a good match for a child of another ethnicity or background. Also, they want to think about the amount of contact they would be comfortable having with the birth family of the child they adopt.
- Home Study: Social workers or the employees of various state agencies that handle adoption services would complete a home study. A good home study consists of two parts, one part evaluation of the prospective parents and the other education of them. A case worker completes the study and should assess the fitness of the prospective parents to adopt and provide them with resources as well.
- A home study can take 3 to 6 months. It will likely involve a few visits to the prospective parents’ home by a caseworker. A caseworker also requires health exams, proof of income, health insurance, and the names of several references from people who know the prospective parents.
- Background Checks: Background checks would be made of the prospective parents.
- Court Approval: The prospective parents would file a petition seeking court approval of the adoption in the appropriate court.
- Fees and Costs: The prospective parents would have to pay any necessary fees and costs, including attorney’s fees and court filing fees. An agency adoption costs from $20,000 to $45,000. An independent adoption may cost from $15,000 to $40,000. International adoption may cost from $20,000 to $50,000.
A court, typically a family law court, must approve an adoption. Approval of adoption occurs during a legal proceeding known as an adoption hearing, in which the court decides whether or not to approve a particular adoption. The approval of the court finalizes the adoption process. The court’s decision is based on various factors, the most important being that the adoption is in the best interest of the child.
Once a child has been adopted officially, it establishes a legal parent-child relationship. As far as legal issues are concerned, such as inheritance rights or child custody disputes, should the parents separate or divorce, the adopted child is viewed just as the law would view the biological child of the parents.