The adoption process consists of several steps that require either individual choice or court consent. Generally, people looking to adopt must apply for an adoption, submit to a home study, and be approved by the court. States may impose additional obligations or restrictions on adoptions.

Adoption process methods

The two adoption methods are agency adoptions and private adoptions.

Agency adoptions: Prospective parents adopt either through private or public licensed adoption agencies. Private agencies often supervise the care of birth mothers and assist them in the placement of their children. If public agencies are involved, the birth parents have relinquished their rights to the child. Both public and private agencies screen adoptive parents to assess their suitability. Private agencies may also specialize in international adoptions.

Private adoptions: Prospective parents work through a lawyer who specializes in adoptions. The lawyer may have relationships with a doctor, nurse, minister, or other person who is aware of women willing to give up their children for adoption. Adoptive parents may also take matters into their own hands by placing ads in the paper or spreading the word through friends or relatives of their wishes to adopt.

Within these methods, there are two types of adoptions, open adoptions and closed adoptions. In open adoptions, the adoptive parents agree to let the birth parents have contact with the child. The adoption agreement often specifies if this contact is in-person or simply via an exchange of information. The rules regarding open adoptions vary from state to state. In closed adoptions, the birth parents have no legal rights to contact their child.

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Adoption process for prospective parents

1) Understand your state's regulations. Some states may have restrictions based on age, sex of the partners, etc.

2) Select the method of adoption. Decide between a domestic or international adoption, and an open or closed adoption.

3) Select the type of adoption and hire an adoption professional. Choose between an agency and private adoption.

4) Complete an agency application form. Submit to your agency, lawyer, or the state.

5) Collect vital records and complete and submit a home study. This document, prepared by a social worker, details your commitment to adopt and fitness as a parent.

6) Be matched with a child. Expectant mothers select you through an adoption agency, the state matches you with a child, or your lawyer locates a mother interested in putting her child up for adoption. If you adopt internationally, you receive a referral.

7) File a petition to adopt. The court rules on your petition after the state child-placing agency reviews your home study and makes a recommendation.

8) Finalize the adoption. Schedule a hearing within a year of bringing your child home. If you are approved, you gain permanent, legal custody of the child.

Additional resources:

American Bar Association Family Legal Guide: Family Law Chapter

Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute: Adoption: an Overview

Related legal guides:

International Adoption

Adoptions by Relatives

Adopting from Foster Care

Adopting from Birth Parents

Adoption by Stepparents or Domestic Partners