When considering adoption, it is important to understand the legal process, the evaluation by a social worker, programs that may help you finance an adoption, and your ability to care for a child.
Anyone who is considered a "fit parent" may adopt a child, but many states and adoption agencies impose special requirements. State laws may impose a residency requirement for a period of time prior to the adoption or may insist that a parent be a certain number of years older than the child. Adoption agencies may impose stricter guidelines. Be aware that many private organizations may have strong preferences for placing children with heterosexual couples. Although it is possible for single parents and same-sex couples to adopt, they may have to go through more steps to prove that the placement would be in the best interest of the child.
For an adoption to be legal, birth parents must consent unless their rights have been terminated. Most states will not permit consent until after a child is born, and there is likely to be a waiting period after birth. You may want to consult an experienced adoption lawyer to make sure you understand circumstances when birth parents can revoke consent.
All adoptions must be approved by a judge at an adoption hearing. Prior to the hearing, biological parents, the adoption agency (if applicable), the child's legal representative (if applicable), and other parties must provide consent in order for the judge to issue a final decree of adoption.
Prior to the adoption hearing, the judge typically reviews the recommendation of a homestudy in which a social worker examines the home life of the adoptive parents. Social workers are likely to examine the adoptive parents' financial situation, marital stability (there may be exceptions for single parents or nonmarried couples), lifestyle, other children, career obligations, physical and mental health, and criminal history.
Private agencies typically charge fees ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars. One-time, non-recurring expenses may include fees associated with the homestudy, parent preparation classes, criminal checks, court costs, attorney fees, health and psychological exams, and travel. In many instances, public agencies may help adoptive parents pay expenses when a waiting child or a foster child is adopted. Many waiting children are entitled to state or federal adoption assistance each month until the child reaches age 18 or 21. Federal tax law provides an adoption tax credit of up to $13,460 in 2016. In addition, financial support may be available from religious organizations and from the National Adoption Foundation.
Your Readiness for Adoption
In addition to the legal and financial issues, consider whether you are able to care for a child personally and emotionally. The adoption process does not always proceed smoothly, and you may encounter frustration and delays before bringing a child into your home. If the child is young, you are likely to spend the better part of two decades putting the child's needs ahead of your own. That said, being an adoptive parent also presents many rewards. Going into the experience with your eyes open may increase your chances of creating a positive outcome for all parties involved.
2Source: National Adoption Center.
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