Adoption is a legal process in which the birth parents' legal rights to the child are terminated and new rights and obligations are created in the adoptive parents. Through adoption, the child is given the same legal rights and privileges as a biological child, including inheritance rights. Likewise, the adoptive parents acquire the same legal rights, privileges, and duties as birth/biological parents.
Each state has specific laws that regulate the adoption process. To be eligible to adopt, the prospective parent must meet his or her state's specific requirements. Adoptive parents usually must go through a detailed application and approval process, often conducted with the assistance of an attorney, an adoption agency or both, and which can involve significant paperwork and the completion of a home study.
Factors considered in determining whether to grant an adoption include the prospective parents' economic status, home environment, age, and health. However, the best interests of the child are the dominant concern in deciding whether to grant the adoption. In most states, a child may be adopted by a single person, a married couple or one member of a married couple.
Children become eligible for adoption through a variety of circumstances such as:
When their birth parents are living but have voluntarily relinquished their parental rights so that the child is free to be adopted.
When the parents' rights have been legally terminated, often involuntarily through a court process because of abuse or neglect.
When the child's birth parents are deceased.
There are several types of adoption. One method, becoming increasingly popular is international adoption. In international adoption, United States citizens pursue the adoption of a child who has been orphaned or abandoned in a foreign country. Although much of the paperwork is completed in the United States, in most instances foreign travel is required in order to obtain the child and appear in court in the child's birth country. Often, another adoption hearing is held in the adoptive family's state court after the family returns home.
Each country has different requirements for adoptive placements, and a lawyer can guide prospective parents through the process.
Agency placement is another form of adoption. Adoption agencies often act as intermediaries between birth and adoptive parents in domestic adoptions and are responsible for conducting the investigation of the prospective parent. Agency placement may have advantages over private or independent placement, such as minimizing the risks of adopting unhealthy children, protecting the anonymity of both sets of parents, lessening the incidence of birth parents' revocation of consent and, through the home study process, helping to ensure the suitability of the prospective parents. Alternatively, a disadvantage may be that it involves a long, detailed process and can entail many months of waiting.
In an independent placement, the child is transferred directly from the natural mother or her representative to the adoptive parents. Because no agency is involved, a lawyer is essential in this process to ensure that all legal requirements are met. Independent or private placement adoptions have gained increasing popularity as agency waiting lists expand.
Because adoption raises such important issues, the details are critical, and it is impossible for both birth and adoptive parents to maintain objectivity in such an emotionally charged situation, the assistance of a lawyer experienced in adoption law can be one of the most important elements of a successful adoption.