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 June 08, 2020

What is the Process to Adopt a Child?

Adopted child playing with father

Legally adopting a child

Understanding the legal process to adopt a child can help you make important choices about your options. The legal process and related costs to adopt varies depending on the type of adoption, state law, and a number of other factors. Regardless of the type of adoption, you have the right to discuss your adoption with a lawyer to give you and your family support throughout the process.

The type of adoption may affect the legal process

There are several decisions your family must make before beginning the process of adoption, and those choices affect the necessary steps going forward.

Type of child

Completing your family profile and home study will help to match you with waiting children that you can support. Infant adoptions are more likely to be private domestic adoptions, while older children tend to come through international channels or the state foster care system. An older child can also be part of a sibling group looking to be adopted together. Adoption assistance may be provided to those who adopt children with special needs.

Domestic or international adoption services

Domestic adoption is a more straightforward process than international adoption, which has more steps to navigate and may require international travel for at least one—and possibly both—prospective parents. Once you meet the agency requirements during the home study process, you’re placed on a list to receive a “referral” for a child. The agency may take preferences into consideration for adoptive placement, but it will choose the child that it feels is the best fit.

Private adoption or state adoption

The private adoption process involves working with a lawyer or private agency to facilitate an adoption, while a state process works through government agencies to place children with adoptive parents.

Because reunification of the child and their biological parent or parents is always the primary objective of social services, private adoptions generally have a shorter waiting time than adoptions from state foster care, particularly for infants and young children.

In the case of older children who have been in the foster care system for a long period of time, the parents may have already given up their parental rights. This may make the state adoption process much easier and closer to the timeline of private adoption. In most cases, though, you may foster the child for months or even years before returning them to their biological family or getting permission to adopt.

Open adoption or closed adoption

How much contact is maintained or information is shared between the child and their birth family is what differentiates open and closed adoptions. In open adoptions, birth parents may maintain some contact with the child or receive updates as to the child’s wellbeing, whereas in closed adoptions that information is sealed, and contact is severed at least until the child is of age.

International adoptions are generally closed adoptions. With domestic adoptions, depending on state law, you may be able to work with the birth parents to decide on the type and extent of communication with the child

Preparing for adoption

After your family begins the formal adoption process, adoption agencies require a home study to determine parents’ fitness to care for a child’s needs. A home study normally includes:

  • State and federal criminal background checks
  • A review of your financial health
  • Medical evaluations of both parents, if applicable
  • A home visit to ensure a safe and appropriate environment
  • Interviews with all adults living in the home

Social workers generally complete home studies and submit their recommendations to both the adoption agency and the court. For children in foster care, this process generally occurs before a child is placed in a home.

The process to adopt a child

Legal adoption assigns the rights and responsibilities of a parent to the adoptive parents and severs the parental rights of the child’s biological parents. This process differs slightly from state to state, so discuss the adoption process with your provider lawyer to get a better idea about what to expect.

Getting consent from the child’s birth family

Often, the most difficult, time-consuming, and uncertain part of the entire adoption process is getting the child’s biological mother, and father if necessary, to consent to the adoption. The child’s parents must consent except in cases when the parents have passed away, already given up their rights, or the court waives the need to get consent for another reason.

If you are working with a family through a private adoption agency, the agency will facilitate this step. In international adoption, this has generally already taken place.

To learn more about this consent, talk to your lawyer because the law varies from state to state. In addition, some states may require an older child to consent to be adopted.

International adoptions increase the process

International adoptions and adoptions through the state foster care system generally have more steps than private adoptions.

When adopting internationally, the child’s birth country may handle the adoption process through its court system. If both parents are able to travel to the child’s home country, you may complete this process there and bring the child home on an IH-3 visa.

Your lawyer may still recommend completing the adoption process in the United States as well to help ensure the child is recognized by the U.S. government as yours.

In some cases, the child’s home country may only be willing to issue an IH-4 visa for the child which allows you to leave the country with the child but does not grant the rights and responsibilities of a parent. You may need to proceed with the adoption process when you return home.

Filing the adoption petition

An adoption agency can help fill out the adoption petition and other paperwork, which includes information about you and your spouse, the child you are adopting, the birth parents, and more.

You will need to follow the laws of your state and include all documentation necessary. This could include:

  • Proof that you understand the rights and responsibilities of a parent
  • Documentation of the birth parents’ consent to the adoption
  • Other paperwork documenting the adoption agreement

Adoption finalization

To finalize the adoption, you may need to appear in court before a judge.

If you appear in court with your child, normally you will answer questions under oath about your ability to raise and support the child and rights and responsibilities as a parent. A lawyer can help with this process.

Work with an adoption lawyer

A lawyer can answer your questions and guide you through every step of the adoption process. If you are a LegalShield Member, you already have access to a lawyer who can provide you adoption legal services.

No matter where you are in the legal adoption process, use the LegalShield mobile app for more information from your provider law firm. We are here to help navigate this important but complicated process.

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.


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