Family Law

Different Types of Adoption

By Melissa Heinig, Attorney
Learn about the various types of adoption.

Beginning the adoption process is an exciting—and often very emotional— time in your life. Prospective parents have many options for adoption. Start your research by reviewing the different types of adoption that are available to you.

Adopting Through an Agency

Working with an adoption agency is one of the most common methods of adopting a child. Adoption agencies can be private or public, but both types must follow specific rules and government regulations to remain licensed.

Public adoption agencies work with children when the state has terminated their parents’ rights to legal and physical custody, usually because of severe child abuse or neglect. Public agencies also work to place foster children for adoption with forever families. Some children in foster care may not be immediately available for adoption, but may be eligible to enter into a “foster-to-adopt” program—where children are place into a temporary home until the state terminates the biological parents’ rights. Once this happens, foster parents can begin the process of adopting the children.

Charities or other community organizations usually run private adoption agencies, which generally work directly with the biological parents, assisting them in the process of giving up their parental rights and placing their children for adoption. These private agencies also work to find families that the agency believes are suitable to become adoptive parents.

Independent Adoption

The wait to adopt a baby through an independent adoption may be much shorter than the waiting times involved with agencies or the foster care system. This type of adoption is a private, domestic adoption, without the use of an agency. In an independent adoption, biological and adoptive parents enter into an adoption agreement, which will govern the type of relationship expected between all the parents, and the amount of expenses the adoptive parents will pay. Since there is no agency involved, in order to complete the process, the adoptive parents will need to hire certain professionals, which may include:

  • an adoption attorney, who can help terminate the biological parents' rights and draft all necessary paperwork
  • a private mental health counselor (or other professional) who can speak with the birth parents before they make their final decision to place their child for adoption, and
  • a doctor, social worker, or other professional who can help facilitate the transfer of the child.

Independent adoptions allow biological and adoptive parents more control over the process. Often, the parents will form a relationship with each other and can discuss all aspects of the adoption together.

You'll need to check to see if your state allows independent adoptions. Several states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have passed laws that make these types of adoptions illegal. The sates that allow independent adoptions usually place significant restrictions on the process and have numerous regulations that biological parents and potential adoptive parents must follow. This type of adoption has its flaws, so both biological and adoptive parents should speak with an experienced adoption lawyer before moving forward.

International Adoption

Parents seeking to adopt a child from another country can adopt internationally, but doing so can be costly and challenging. All countries have specific rules and regulations governing international adoption of children by foreign nationals, which may include:

  • limitations on who can adopt, and how many children parents can adopt
  • financial and/or employment requirements, and
  • specific health requirements.

If you're planning to pursue an international adoption, you should research various private agencies, and consult with an experienced adoption attorney for assistance.

In addition to the foreign country’s rules, you will need to meet all the U.S. Department of State requirements to complete an intercountry adoption. You will also need to file an application with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The application process is complicated and includes a home study and various fees. The additional forms required will depend on the rules in the child's home country.

For more information on eligibility requirements for international adoption, visit the U.S. Department of State website on intercountry adoption.

Stepparent and Second Parent Adoption

If a couple is legally married, and one partner wants to become the legal parent of the other partner’s biological child, the couple can begin the process of stepparent adoption. The court may require a home study—a process that proves your home is safe for the child and the biological and non-biological parents may need to provide extensive information about themselves including financial, medical, and employment information.

Before the adoption process can begin, the other biological parent’s rights must be terminated—which can be completed voluntarily or by a court order. If the biological parent refuses to voluntarily terminate parental rights, and there is no evidence of child abuse or neglect that would support termination, the adoption cannot proceed.

It's important to remember that once the adoption is finalized, the adoptive parent will have the same rights and responsibilities as the biological parent. These rights and responsibilities will not end if a couple gets a divorce—the stepparent will have the same rights to custody and parenting time with the child.

If you're unmarried, and your partner’s child only has one biological parent, you may be able to adopt the child through second parent adoption. Second parent adoption is a legal process that allows an unmarried couple to adopt each other’s children without having to terminate a biological parent’s rights. Couples who use a sperm donor or surrogate to conceive a child can benefit from second parent adoption.

The process for second parent adoption is like stepparent adoption, which may require an adoption application, a home study, court fees, and court hearings. Once the adoption process is complete, the child will have two legal parents, and the adoptive parent will have the same rights and responsibilities to the child as the biological parent.

Not all states allow second parent adoption, so be sure to speak with an adoption attorney in your area to make sure you follow the proper steps.

Relative Adoptions

If parents die or become incapacitated (due to incarceration or mental incapacitation) leaving children orphaned, some states allow family members to adopt a minor child relative. Relatives may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings. These adoptions are not the same as second-parent adoptions and may be less formal or less expensive. Courts prefer to place children with family members over strangers, so judges are often more willing to work with relatives who wish to become adoptive parents. The rules regarding relative adoptions vary by state, so you should discuss your case with a qualified lawyer.

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