Domestic Adoption: Requirements to Adopt in the United States
For many, the choice to add to their family is a joyous and exciting time. For various reasons, adoption may be the best choice available for families who would like to have children. Adoption is a process in which an individual, in most cases a child, becomes a permanent and legal member of another family. Specific eligibility requirements vary from state to state, but in most cases, eligibility is determined based on several factors. Most people are eligible to adopt, regardless of their marital status, age, income, and sexual orientation. Certain agencies may also have specific requirements for families adopting through their agencies, such as faith-based organizations. Below are the general requirements for who may place a child up for adoption, who may adopt a child, and who may be adopted.
Who May Place a Child Up for AdoptionGenerally, any person or entity that has legal authority to make decisions regarding the child’s care and custody may place that child up for adoption. People who can place a child up for adoption typically include the child’s birth parents or the child’s legal guardian or guardian ad litem. Legally, the father of the child has the same parental rights as the mother; therefore, in most cases the birth father must consent to the adoption. There are certain circumstances where a father may not be required to give consent; for example, if his identity or whereabouts are unknown. Legal entities that can place a child up for adoption include a state’s department of social services or licensed adoption agencies. All states, and most U.S. territories, individually designate the persons or entities that hold the authority to make adoptive placements. Additionally, most jurisdictions allow for private or independent adoptions, as well.
Who May AdoptIn most cases, any single adult or a married couple can be eligible to adopt. Some states specifically require that a “husband and wife” petition jointly, while other states use more gender-neutral language in their statutes. A stepparent can also adopt the child of his or her spouse if the spouse has legal custody of the child. Married individuals can also adopt without their spouse if they are legally separated from their spouse or if their spouse is legally incompetent.
In all jurisdictions, you must be at least 18 years of age to adopt; however, most states require that adoptive parent(s) be at least 21. Georgia and Idaho require adoptive parents to be at least 25 years old. Some states also require the adoptive parents to be at least 10 years older than the adopted child.
Most state laws do not address the issue of gay and lesbian individuals adopting as individuals. States have varying laws regarding same-sex couple adoption, and there are some states that require a “husband and wife” to petition jointly. Most states use of gender-neutral language, including “spouses” or “married couples,” which serves to allow adoption by same-sex couples. Mississippi is the only state that specifically prohibits adoption by couples of the same gender.
Who May Be AdoptedAll states and U.S. territories allow for the adoption of children. A few states specify that a child must be under the age 18 to be adopted. Some states, however, also allow adults to be adopted, regardless of age. If an adult is adopted, similar to a child adoption, the court will issue the adopted adult a new birth certificate, and any existing legal relationships with the individual’s biological or custodial parents will be severed. There are three primary reasons why adults may be adopted. The most common is for inheritance purposes. It is easier to leave property or financial assets to an heir, as opposed to a non-heir. Another reason an adult may be adopted is to formally recognize an existing parent-child relationship. Finally, an adult may be adopted if they are incapacitated or have a severe disability, and require perpetual care from another adult who is not their legal parent. Under these circumstances, the adult who adopts would become the legal decision-maker for the adult adoptee.
If you are considering adoption or placing your child up for adoption, there are complex legal issues that may be difficult to wade through. It is important that you are aware of all of your rights and responsibilities under the relevant laws. Find an experienced family law lawyer by quickly posting a short summary of your legal needs on www.legalserviceslink.com, and let the perfect attorney come to you!
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