Adoption is a legal process that establishes a relationship between a parent and a child that is recognized by the law. After an adoption takes place, the parent is legally and morally responsible for the child in every way. The adoptive parent may be either have a blood relation to the child, or have absolutely no relationship at all prior to the adoption proceedings. After an adoption if final, the child becomes a permanent member of the new family, and the biological parents lose all parental rights and responsibilities. To explore this concept, consider the following adoption definition.

Definition of Adoption

  1. noun. The voluntary acceptance of a child born of other parents to be the same as one’s own child.
  2. noun. The legal process establishing a parent/child relationship between a child and adult who are generally not related by blood.

Origin  1500     Middle French    adopter


Adoption Agencies

Adoption agencies are licensed and regulated by the state in which they operate, and are experienced in the complex process of legal adoption. Adoption agencies match children in need of families with adoptive parents, and provide those prospective parents with counseling, advice, and assistance throughout the process. Agency adoptions may be made through either private or public agencies, each of which offers a different set of benefits.

Public vs. Private Agencies

A public adoption agency is an extension of the state’s social services agency. Public agencies always have children waiting to be adopted by loving families, however these are typically older or special needs children living in orphanages, foster homes, or institutions. Adoptive parents are typically able to be paired with a child, or sibling group of children, much quicker when using a public agency, as the children are ready and waiting for adoption. In addition, because of the sheer number of older and special needs children in the public system, public agencies are often less selective than private agencies in matching them with adoptive parents.

A private adoption agency is supported by private funds, and may be for-profit or non-profit in nature. A private agency should also be licensed by the state. Private agencies often specialize in infant adoption, though they also assist in the adoption of older children, and some specialize in helping American parents adopt children from overseas. Private agencies are more selective in pairing children and adoptive parents, often narrowing their list of potential parents by eliminating older, less wealthy, or unhealthy couples. Though private agencies tend to be pickier, they do provide prospective parents with more counseling throughout the process, which can make the adoption go much more smoothly.

Costs of Adopting Through an Private Agency

Private agencies tend to charge more for their services, which makes this type of adoption difficult for prospective parents on a limited income. The higher costs of adoption through a private agency are often charged to cover the expenses of the child’s birth, the living expenses of the mother during her pregnancy, and the counseling offered during the adoption process. Public agencies typically charge a flat-fee, if any at all. Even when using a public agency however, potential parents may wish to hire a lawyer to oversee the process.

Choosing an Adoption Agency

Before choosing an adoption agency, prospective adoptive parents should consider what type of child they want to adopt. Important considerations include the child’s age, sex, race, and current placement, as well as whether they would adopt a special needs child. Infant adoption almost always needs to be an independent adoption, or done through a private agency. Older children, sibling groups, and special needs children are more often found in the public agency system.

It is important that prospective parents do their research before choosing an adoption agency, making sure the agencies are licensed and accredited, and that their fee schedules meet the families needs. Those looking to adopt may contact a national adoption organization to obtain referrals to reputable adoption agencies in their area.

Independent Adoptions

Independent adoptions are those done without the help or involvement of an agency. Often times, these adoptions involve a direct relationship between the person wishing to adopt and the birth parents. Most independent adoptions are facilitated by an attorney or mediator, who helps ensure the adoption is done legally, with all the necessary court documentation. Independent adoptions are regulated by the state in which they are undertaken, though not all states allow adoptions without the use of an agency, including Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts.

There are pros and cons to independent adoptions. This type of adoption allows open adoptions in which adoptive parents and birth parents may form and maintain a relationship, which is not only beneficial to both parties, but to child as well. Independent adoptions also take less time from start to finish than those utilizing an agency. Unlike private agency adoptions, independent adoptions typically do not include counseling.

Cost of Independent Adoptions

The cost of independent adoptions varies greatly, but typically includes the amount needed to find a birth mother, pay the birth mother’s medical expenses related to the pregnancy and birth, and to pay the legal and administrative fees for the adoption. In some jurisdictions, the birth mother’s living expenses during the pregnancy must also be covered by the adoptive parents.

Stepparent Adoptions

Stepparent adoptions occur when a parent’s new spouse legally adopts his or her child. Stepparent adoptions are not uncommon, and the guidelines are less strict than agency or independent adoptions. For a stepparent to adopt a stepchild, the absent biological parent must give consent. If the absent parent cannot be found, of if he/she refuses to consent to the adoption, the process can be more complicated. In such a case, the custodial parent must prove to the court that the stepparent adoption is in the best interest of the child.

Relative or Kinship Adoptions

Sometimes, children are adopted by relatives who step forward to adopt when circumstances permit or there is a great need. This is known as a “relative” or “kinship adoption.” Relative or kinship adoptions most commonly take place when the child’s parents die, or if the parents are not able to care for the child for some reason, such as if the parent is in jail, has been institutionalized, or is addicted to drugs.

Each state has guidelines for the approval of relative or kinship adoptions, though they are often less stringent than non-relative adoptions. Kinship adoptions are usually undertaken by grandparents, aunts or uncles, older siblings, and other family members. In situations where the child adopted by a family member has other siblings who are not adopted, the law in most jurisdictions provides for frequent contact between the siblings.

Infant Adoption vs. Older Child Adoption

Many couples have a desire to adopt an infant, but there are problems with insisting on infant adoption. Infants do not enter the adoption system often, making it necessary for prospective parents to wait a long time, usually years, to receive a child. By comparison, there are far more older children in need of homes, and ready for adoption, making the wait time for an older child adoption much shorter.

When undertaking an older child adoption, the adoptive parents may be aware up front of the child’s personality, health issues, and special needs that often are not identifiable in infants, but develop as the child grows. On the other hand, some feel that forming a bond with an older child who has been in the system for a while is more difficult, requiring additional effort on the part of the parents.

Foster Care Adoption

Foster care is a temporary arrangement where abused and neglected children are placed in the state’s custody where they can be taken care of properly. Some children in foster care remain in the system for a short time, but for others it is a permanent arrangement unless they are adopted by a loving family. Children placed in the foster care system are made available for adoption in certain circumstances, usually after the biological parents have had their parental rights terminated by the court.

Despite the serious need to find homes for these children, in foster care adoption, prospective parents face a complex process that can take up to 18 months to complete. The adoptive parents are required to attend counseling, take adoption preparation classes, and meet home inspection requirements. The foster care caseworker assigned to the child plays a large part in the foster care adoption process, and is heavily involved until the adoption is complete.

International Adoption

The adoption of a foreign child through an agency that specializes in international adoptions is an option for prospective parents. Those wishing to adopt a child from another country will find they are required to meet the requirements of both their home country, and the country in which the child resides. This can be a thorny path, and is generally an expensive prospect.

Because laws and regulations governing international adoptions are very different, it is highly recommended that prospective parents go through an agency, or hire an attorney specializing in this type of adoption, as well as immigration laws as they relate to such adoptions. Prospective adoptive parents should check to be sure such an agency is properly licensed before signing an agreement, and be aware of which countries ban adoption by U.S. parents.

International laws governing international adoptions have undergone a number of changes in recent years. Tougher regulations are aimed at protecting both adoptive parents and children from unfair adoption practices, as well as the abuses, exploitation, and corruption that have crept into the process.

Adoptions by Same-Sex Couples

As state laws become more accepting of same-sex relationships, more and more same-sex couples are adopting children. Each state has its own statutes concerning adoptions by same-sex couples, but the most commonly used method has been for one partner to have a biological child, which is then adopted through second parent, or stepparent adoption.

While some states are allowing joint adoptions by same-sex couples through normal adoption means, couples in many states still face roadblocks to parenthood. For example, the state of Utah has a ban against same-sex couples jointly adopting a child. In such a case, one partner may become an adopted child’s legal parent, but the other partner is not the child’s legal parent or guardian.

Adoptions by Single People and Domestic Partners

While it is not against the law for single people to adopt a child, it can be difficult to do so, especially if the individual is seeking to adopt an infant, or go through a private agency. This is because private agencies place priority on placing health infants with two-parent families, moving single people to the bottom of the waiting list. Adoptions by single people are often more successful when they accept older or special needs children from a public agency.

Domestic partners, couples who live together without being legally married, may adopt children, but may be overlooked much the same as single people. Single people and domestic partners looking to adopt should come prepared to make their case, proving to the agency that they are fit parents, and a good choice to raise a child.

Closed Adoption vs. Open Adoption

Historically, nearly all adoptions were closed adoptions, meaning that information about the adoption, including who the birth parents were, was sealed and kept confidential. Once a closed adoption is finalized, there is no relationship between the birth and adoptive parents. In fact, they may never have met in the first place.

In modern times, as society comes to understand the desire of many adopted children to know who their birth parents are, open adoptions have gained popularity, with the birth and adoptive parents meeting one another, and often staying in touch as the child grows. Choosing whether a closed adoption or open adoption is best for their needs is an important step for both birth and adoptive parents.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Authority – The right or power to make decisions, give orders, or to control something or someone.
  • Consent – To approve, permit, or agree.
  • .Jurisdiction The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.