If an unmarried couple jointly adopts a child, or if one partner decides to legally adopt the biological child of the other, both parents are considered to be the legal parents of that adopted child. This means that both have equal legal responsibilities to raise and support the child. Unmarried couples may adopt jointly or through a procedure known as a single-parent adoption.

In general, you need to expect to do extra work to prove that your home is a stable and healthy environment for raising children. A local social service agency will conduct a home study and interview both partners and then report to the court. The court then shares this report with the specific adoption agency, who then approves it for the certain adoption case. You may have a longer wait for a child, or you may have to broaden your ideas about the age and type of child you want to adopt.

However, if the couple decides to separate, each has the right to request the court for custody of (or visitation with) the child, and then each has a legal obligation to provide child support.

A point to keep in mind is that adoption is primarily governed by state law. As a general rule, any adult who is determined to be a “fit parent” can adopt a child as long as the child is available for adoption. Usually a valid consent is required.

What are Stepparent and Second-Parent Adoptions?

In a stepparent adoption, a parent marries someone other than his or her child’s other parent, and then the new spouse adopts the child. These adoptions usually are not costly and may not require a home study by a social worker. However, the equivalent process for unmarried couples is called “second-parent adoption.”

When the adopting couple is unmarried, the cost is higher and a social worker home study is usually required. Most states prefer the couple to be married for second-parent adoptions. A child cannot legally be adopted without the consent of both parents. But, if a parent has failed to establish a parent-child relationship with the child or has abandoned the child then a valid consent is not mandated.

If the noncustodial parent is the father, the social service agency will determine whether his consent is needed before a stepparent or second-parent adoption can occur. A father who signs a paternity statement, provides financial support and works to maintain a relationship with his child, can most likely prevent the child from being adopted by someone else especially if the child is a baby.

Furthermore, if the father has had less time to support or visit the child and has been prevented from doing so by the mother. It is generally a case by case analysis but the father may be able to prevent the stepparent or second-parent adoption by petitioning the court to obtain visitation. But, if the noncustodial parent is the mother, the social service agency will need to obtain her consent or advice that her parental rights be terminated.

Unmarried mothers without custody have to pay support if they can afford to and visit the child. If they fail to do so, they can face losing the child to a stepparent or second-parent adoption. It is important to keep in mind that once a couple does properly adopt a child through the formal process of adoption, they have all the legal rights and responsibilities of a biological parent.

What are the Requirements for Child Adoption?

In general, any adult who can show that he or she or a couple jointly is a “fit parent” may adopt a child. However, in considering individual applications for adoption, the courts are guided by some factors or criteria’s of what is considered to be “in the best interest of the child.” States will vary on the particular qualifications and characteristics. Some of these factors include age, marital status and financial status.

Most adoptive parents are typically between 25 and 50 years old. However, age requirements differ among the states and often can be flexible depending on the age of the child.

For example, while six states (Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Washington) require adoptive parents to be at least 18 years old, three states (Colorado, Delaware, and Oklahoma) set the age requirement at 21. Georgia and Idaho set the age requirement for adoption at age 25. Similarly, six states (California, Georgia, Nevada, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Utah) and the Northern Mariana Islands specify that adoptive parents must be at least 10 years older than the child, while Idaho requires that the parent be at least 15 years older than the child. Puerto Rico requires the adopting parent be at least 14 years older than the child.

Another important factor that comes into play is marital status. Although most states do not have requirements setting forth the marital status of adoptive parents, married couples typically find the broadest selection of adoption alternatives available. This is usually because many agencies “reserve” healthy infants and younger children for two-parent families. Also, the birth parents themselves often specify that they desire their children to be placed in a two-parent household.

Nevertheless, many single people also adopt successfully and some agencies openly consider single men and women as well as couples, who are in a committed unmarried relationship. In many cases, a previous divorce will not prevent a person from adopting, and a stepparent can still adopt the natural child of his or her spouse. In about 17 states and the District of Columbia, no other requirements for eligibility are specified in such cases. In some states, a married person can adopt as single if he or she is legally separated or if the spouse is considered legally incompetent.

Lastly is examining the general financial health of the household, supporting a child is expensive and maintaining them. While you are not required to have your own home or meet any predetermined income level to become an adoptive parent, it is useful to show that you are capable of raising a child financially.

Therefore, financial status is a major consideration, especially in single-parent adoptions. While your income may come from employment, a pension, or disability payments, the court will need an assurance that you can support and care for the child in a modest financial way. Most courts make a conclusion of financial stability through a history of steady employment. Both members of a married couple or domestic partnership can work outside of the home and it would not hinder their eligibility for adoption.

What are the Legal Adoption Choices for Same-Sex Couples?

Recently, the laws and regulations have been more inclusive about considering the lifestyle of same-sex couples. Only a minority of states like Florida and Mississippi, explicitly prohibit adoption by homosexuals. Utah prohibits adoption by persons who are cohabiting, but are not legally married, and this language could be interpreted to include same-sex couples.

Also, in Connecticut, the sexual orientation of the prospective adoptive parent may be taken in account for adoption purposes, even though there are provisions in the state’s laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. Therefore, even in states where there is no specific mention of sexual orientation in the regulations of the state, it can still become an issue in court, and some judges might use it to deny a petition for adoption.

When Do I Need to Consult with a Lawyer?

If you are living together and not married but want to consider your adoption options. It may be useful to research your local state laws regarding these policies for adoption. Before considering adoption in general, it is important to look at the requirements for adopting a child and what responsibilities it entails.

Becoming adoptive parents for a child is no easy task and requires a lifetime worth of commitment. Therefore, if you find that you are struggling to make this decision, reach out to a local adoption lawyer who can assist you with these matters.