Adult Adoption

While perhaps not as well known as adoption of a child, adult adoption remains a legitimate practice. An example of adult adoption might occur if a mother reunites with her adult, biological child, and wants to change the birth certificate to reflect herself as the mother. Another example of adult adoption might occur if an adult child seeks out his biological mother, and wants to officially make her his legal mother. All that is necessary in most cases is that the person being adopted be of legal age, and voluntarily agree to be adopted. To explore this concept, consider the following adult adoption definition.

Definition of Adult Adoption


  1. The adoption of a person who is of legal age, and who voluntarily agrees to be adopted.


1300-1350       Latin    adoptiōn

Why is Adult Adoption Done

There are several reasons as to why adult adoptions are done. For instance, adoption of an adult may make an existing relationship more formal. This occurs in the case of stepparents who want to adopt stepchildren, or foster children who may not have been available for adoption as minors for some reason. Another case wherein a relationship may be formalized is after an adult adoptee reunites with his biological parents as an adult.

Adult adoptions may also be done to create inheritance rights. Interestingly, this was a method commonly used by those within same-sex relationships, especially back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when HIV/AIDS was at its peak. Those who wanted to leave their estates to their same sex partners would “adopt” them.

The issue here, however, was that the adoption created a parent and child relationship, which would be legally classified as incest (and therefore illegal) in several states. Many were less concerned, however, with being arrested for incest than they were in their estates being seized by the government, rather than left to their partners. If the courts caught on, however, then the adoptions in these cases were ultimately rejected.

Another reason for adult adoption is to provide for the adoptee, who is either disabled or suffers from another sort of diminished capacity, such as Down Syndrome. This is done so that the person doing the adopting can claim legal responsibility for a person who is physically or mentally disabled.

State laws vary widely on the issue of adult adoption, and so whether adults can be adopted for any of these reasons depends quite heavily on the laws within each state. In many cases, the person doing the adopting must be older than the person being adopted. Some states will only allow those under 21 to be adopted, and others have either specific rules on the subject, or provisions wherein the adopter must “convince” the judge to permit him to adopt. If the adoptee is married, then some states require the permission of the adoptee’s spouse. Many states also require that both parents of the adoptee be formally notified of the potential adopter’s intent.

How to Adopt an Adult

The process involved in adopting an adult can vary depending on the state in which the adoption is to take place. Generally, the adopter must draft and file the required legal forms to begin the process. From there, an adoption hearing will take place. Both parties must be present at the hearing, and must be prepared to offer the judge their reasons as to why the adoption should be granted.

If the court grants the adoption, then the parties will be issued an Order of Adoption, which is then to be filed with the town clerk. Finally, the adoptee’s birth certificate will be amended to reflect the adoption, and the new certificate can then be forwarded to both parties.

Requirements for Adult Adoption

The requirements for adult adoption vary from state to state. In California, for example, one of the requirements for adult adoption is that the person being adopted must be younger than the person doing the adopting. This does not necessarily mean that the adoptee needs to be a child. For example, an adult adoption can take place between a 45-year-old woman and her 25-year-old biological daughter. Another requirement is that the adoptee’s spouse must consent to the adoption if the adoptee is married.

The person being adopted may also be unrelated (in the immediate sense) to the adopter. He can be the adopter’s stepchild, nephew, cousin, or even grandchild. In California, the adopter does not need to obtain the consent of the biological parents before adopting an adult. Further, the adoptee may choose to change his name as part of the adoption, or he can continue to use his existing name even after the adoption goes through.

California requirements for adult adoption also specify that an individual may not adopt more than one unrelated adult within one year of the prior adoption. There exists an exception if the intended adoptee is a biological sibling of the person who was recently adopted, or if the new, potential adoptee is disabled or otherwise physically handicapped.

Some states do not allow adult adoptions at all, such as Michigan and Nebraska. Arizona only allows adoptions of those under the age of 21; and in Alabama, only those who are physically or mentally disabled can be adopted if they are over the age of 18. In Ohio, only those who are physically or mentally disabled can be adopted as adults, or those adults who have established a prior relationship with the adopter via foster care or a stepparent/stepchild relationship.

Consent for Adult Adoption

A married person who is not legally separated from his spouse is forbidden from adopting an adult in the state of California without the express consent for adult adoption, by his spouse. This is, of course, if the spouse is capable of giving such consent. Similarly, a married individual who is not legally separated from his spouse is forbidden from being adopted without the consent of his spouse. No one else is required to give consent in the state of California for an adult adoption, not the parent(s) of the adoptee, the state’s Department of Social Services, nor anyone else.

Process of Adult Adoption

As with the requirements for this type of adoption, the process of adult adoption varies by state. In the state of California, for instance, the process of adult adoption is completed relatively quickly. The average time frame for the process of adult adoption from start to finish is between one and two months. Of course, the process of adult adoption may take longer, depending on the state requirements, and the complexity of the individual case. However, when no investigation into the adoption is required, the process of adult adoption is rather streamlined.

Adoption for Immigration Purposes

Insofar as adoption for immigration purposes is concerned, an adult is considered to be the child of the adopting parent if proof can be provided that:

  • The child was adopted before his 16th birthday (or before his 18th birthday under certain circumstances)
  • The parent had legal, physical custody of the child for a period of at least two years while the child was still a minor
  • The child is a biological sibling of another child who was adopted by the same parent(s) before the other child’s 16th birthday, and who has already successfully immigrated to the country in question

While U.S. citizens and permanent residents (green card holders) can both petition to have a relative admitted into the country, such a petition goes through the regular immigration process. In the U.S., adult adoption does not provide a road to legal immigration status.

Reasons for Rejecting an Adult Adoption

There are several reasons for rejecting an adult adoption. One such reason may simply be the state in which the adopter and adoptee live. Some states prohibit adult adoption unless certain guidelines are met, one of which being that the adoptee is under the age of 21. Another reason for rejecting an adult adoption might be if the parties to the adoption are same-sex partners seeking to create inheritance rights. Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, couples attempting this type of adoption could be brought up on criminal charges, including incest.

Another reason for the rejection of an adoption is the discovery by the court that someone is attempting to adopt a wealthy individual to inherit that person’s property upon his death. This is considered fraud, and so the adopter can be brought up on criminal charges.

Adult Adoption Example Involving a Lost-Lost Sister

On March 31, 2006, Justine Critzer died without leaving a will. She appeared to have no family of any kind – no husband, siblings, children, or parents. However, Nancy Donak, the administrator of Critzer’s estate, soon discovered that Critzer did, in fact, have a biological sister – Mary Kummer. Kummer had already passed away, but she was survived by three children: Richard, Charles, and Jane Kummer. The Kummer children, after learning of Critzer’s death, came forward for the distribution of Critzer’s estate.

Donak filed a lawsuit to stop the Kummer children from receiving distribution from the estate, based on the fact that Mrs. Kummer had been adopted, at the age of 53, by her aunt by marriage. The Circuit Court of Warren County held a hearing into the matter in order to determine whether the adoption would have any effect on the distribution of Critzer’s estate.

Ultimately, the Court ruled that the Kummer children were not Critzer’s legal heirs, because Mrs. Kummer’s adoption effectively severed her ties to Critzer and Critzer’s estate. Further, the Court held that Virginia statute did not differentiate between the adoption of an adult and the adoption of a minor. The case was appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, which ultimately affirmed the lower court’s decision, holding that the Kummer children were not entitled to Critzer’s estate because their mother’s adult adoption effectively severed what would have otherwise been their inheritance rights.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Diminished Capacity – An unbalanced or confused mental state that is considered to make a person less answerable for a crime, and which is recognized as grounds to reduce the charge.
  • Incest – The act of engaging in a sexual relationship with a family member.
  • Minor – A person under the age at which he would be fully legally responsible for his actions.