Family & Relationships

Different Types of Adoption: What to Expect

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Adoption can be a wonderful, life-enriching experience. But the process to get adoption papers in hand can be time-consuming and involve a lot of legal hurdles. Before you start your journey, it helps to learn more about various types of adoptions conducted in the U.S., so you know which route is best to take.

Foster to adopt

According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 437,000 children are in foster care nationally. More than 117,000 are waiting to be adopted.

Foster care adoption is similar to other types of adoption, but foster care adoptions are different in a few important ways:

  • Because all children in foster care have experienced some form of trauma, you’ll need to undergo specific training to understand its effects and how to help children heal.
  • You’ll need to work with a public agency or a private agency that’s contracted with the state.
  • Adopting from foster care costs little to no money

Adopting as a single person

In general, any single adult could be eligible to adopt. You should seek out an adoption agency to start the paperwork for a home study and a background check. For more specifics, check out the eligibility by age and residency on your state.

Adopting as a same-sex couple

Same-sex adoption is now legal in all 50 states, and like any adoption you’ll start with an agency. You’ll also be subject to a home or family study and have to file legal documents with a caseworker. Check out Lamda Legal to learn more about legal protections for LGBT people and their families.

Adopting grandchildren

If you want to adopt your grandchild, make sure you’ve done everything possible to secure parental consent. Relative adoption is easiest and least stressful for everyone involved when the child’s legal and biological parents are willing to sign away their parental rights. If the biological parents are unwilling to forfeit their rights but you feel they are unfit to raise a child, you can still petition for visitation.

Intrafamily adoption requires filing a court petition. And some states require the child’s consent to adopt, along with a home study and/or criminal background check. Start with a family law attorney in your state to help you navigate the process.

Stepparent adoption

Stepparent adoption, like all other forms of adoption in the U.S., is governed by state law. Most states make the adoption process easier for stepparents. For example, your family might not need a lawyer. You might not need a home study, as is often required for parents in other types of adoption. But every state is different, so see what yours requires.

Intercountry adoption

Each year, thousands of U.S. citizens adopt children from abroad. Intercountry adoption involves adopting a child from another country through legal means and then bringing that child to your country of residence to live with you permanently. According to the U.S. State Department, this process varies greatly because it is governed by the laws of the countries where the adoptive parents and the child reside (which in the United States means both federal and state law), and also in which location the legal adoption is finalized.

Additionally, if the child's home country is a partner in the Hague Adoption Convention, an international agreement to safeguard intercountry adoptions, the Hague processes of both countries must be followed. To date, about 75 countries have joined the Hague Adoption Convention. The process for adopting a child from a non-Convention country differs in some ways from adopting from a Convention country. Prospective adoptive parents should consider all of these factors to know what to expect.

Check with an attorney

Raising a child can be one of the biggest decisions in your life, so it's important to be aware of the time commitment and financial obligations, as well as all of the legal ramifications of your decision before you start down that path.

One of the best things you can do is get qualified legal advice from an adoption attorney in your state. Adoption attorneys will know the relevant laws, can review your particular situation and will provide guidance on the adoption process.


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