What Rights & Responsibilities Do Adoptive Parents Have?

Adoption - May 19, 2020
Family with an adopted child taking a photo while sitting on sofa

What are adoptive parents’ rights?

Adopting parents will assume the same legal rights as birth parents when the adoption is finalized. The adopted child will be seen as the biological child of the adoptive parents in the eyes of the law. As such, it’s essential to understand the legal rights you have when it comes to your adopted child or children.

Adoption laws

When a family or individual seeks to adopt a child, they navigate a legal process that will sever the rights of the birth parents and assign those rights to the adoptive parents.

As an adoptive parent, you should know about the process, the cost to adopt a child, and your rights. Discussing your concerns with a lawyer may make identifying information and navigating the overall adoption process easier.

Adoptive parents vs Biological parents: Parental rights and responsibilities

Adoptive parents in a domestic adoption take on all the same rights, obligations, and duties that a biological parent would have. These include any legal or tax obligations, and all related duties for providing education, care, and support.

The legal process of adoption assigns parental rights and responsibilities to adoptive parents. This process is the final step in:

  • Severing the legal relationship between a child and their biological parents.
  • Establishing a new legal relationship between that child and their adoptive parents (this applies to stepparent adoptions as well).

Adoption may sometimes be discussed as equal to guardianship or custody. However, adopting a child is a very different process, with another purpose. Adoption establishes a permanent legal relationship with all the characteristics of a biological parent-child relationship. While state laws may vary, an adopted child also has the right to receive an inheritance from their adoptive parents.

Necessity of consent

Adoption generally requires the biological parents to consent to the process and waive their rights as parents, thus allowing the adoptive parents to take over these rights and responsibilities.

Usually, this is voluntary, especially in a private adoption, with the biological parents willingly giving their consent to terminate their parental rights, although in an open adoption, they may continue to have contact thereafter.

Exceptions to necessary consent

In some cases, the courts may issue a waiver that allows the adoption to proceed without consent. This may happen, for example, if the parent was previously abusive or unfit and has not met the requirements set by the court to keep their child, after a certain period of time.

Consent from the Father

In general, adoption requires consent from at least the birth mother. Some states require the father to also consent if the biological parents are—or, in the case of stepparent adoptions, were—married. When possible, it is preferred to have voluntary consent from both parents before you adopt a child.

Consent from an older child

Some states may also allow an older child a say in their own adoption. The age limit on this varies widely state by state, and the teen’s consent may not be necessary in every state.

Considering the best interests of the child

The goal of any adoption is to support the best interests of the child. This explains why private adoption agencies and the courts that handle domestic adoption proceedings go through numerous steps to ensure the families hoping to adopt will provide a suitable home for children. The screening process may include:

  • Interviews of all adults in the household.
  • A home environment study.
  • State and federal criminal background checks.
  • Submitting financial information.
  • Undergoing medical reviews.
  • Post-adoption visits.

The adoption process focuses on what’s beneficial for the child. A social worker assigned to conduct interviews and home study will generally follow up with the family after placement to ensure the child is doing well and the family is providing the necessary care during a probationary period that differs by state.

The court will not finalize the adoption until this probationary period passes and the social worker or other professional recommends that the adoption go forward.

Confidential nature of adoption proceedings

Today more families are doing open adoptions than in the past. Unlike a closed adoption, where all contact between child and birth parent is severed and records are sealed,  an open adoption allows for continued contact, even exchanging pictures or spending time with one another. Some states have loosened their laws on closed adoptions, allowing access to records.

Permanent nature of adoption: Can a biological parent regain custody after adoption?

Unlike the rights and responsibilities that one might gain through a guardianship or custody proceeding, adoption gives the adoptive parents permanent parental obligations and privileges. Moving forward from the finalization of the adoption, adoptive parents have the same rights and responsibilities as biological parents, and they are treated the same way under all state and federal laws.

The rights granted cannot be revoked, short of the court learning about serious fraud, abuse accusations, or other significant concerns about the child’s welfare. Even when there are accusations of abuse or other concerns, the process aligns with what would happen if biological parents faced the same allegations.

Following placement and a period of observation or probation, the adoption proceedings will be finalized. Once this occurs and any future waiting periods set by the state close, the biological parents have no rights to the child, and the adoptive parents become the child’s sole and legal parents.

Impact of new DNA testing

At-home DNA testing kits have made it easier than ever before to identify and locate biological relatives. This is especially true for closed adoptions in states where there are no options for unsealing adoption records.

Some states allow adoptees to request their original birth certificate or other documents, while others allow adoptees to get more information if all parties now consent. There are problems that come with DNA testing, including concerns for adoptees and both their birth and biological parents. These include:

  • Identification of biological parents who do not want to be found.
  • Reunions that fail to happen or do not go as planned.
  • Minors accessing these tests or conducting a search without their parents’ knowledge or consent.
  • Biological parents attempting to reunite with the children they gave up for adoption against the wishes of the child or adoptive family.

When adoption is closed and documents are sealed, there is often a reason. Adoptive parents may need to address this issue with children who express interest in using a DNA home testing kit.

Biological parents may not want their family to know about the child they gave up for adoption, and likewise, adoptees may not want their biological pasents to intrude upon their life after years of absence. Adoptive parents may need to set ground rules to limit this possibility, especially as adoptees reach their teen years. Social media can also play a role in uninvited contact from a biological family member and should be closely monitored.

Consider an adoption lawyer

If you are considering adopting a child, consult with a family law lawyer familiar with the adoption process in your state. LegalShield Members can use the mobile application to contact your provider law firm and learn more about your next steps.

If you are not yet a LegalShield Member, our team would love to explain how our network of dedicated provider law firms may help your family face your legal challenges and navigate the legal process. We offer adoption plans for families and individuals that help offset the cost of adoption services, and we have provider lawyers ready to serve our members in all 50 states.


LegalShield provides access to legal services offered by a network of provider law firms to LegalShield Members through member-based participation. Neither LegalShield nor its officers, employees or sales associates directly or indirectly provide legal services, representation or advice. See a plan contract for specific state of residence for complete terms, coverage, amounts, and conditions. This is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact a lawyer for legal advice or assistance.If you are a LegalShield member, you should contact your Provider Law Firm.