There are several ways to adopt a child. Below are the most common types of adoption.
Adopting Through an Agency
Adoption agencies are public or private agencies regulated by the state and licensed to place children with adoptive parents. Public adoption agencies typically handle children who are wards of the state, often because they've been abandoned, orphaned or abused. Private adoption agencies are often run by charities and social service organizations and typically place children who have been brought to the agency by parents or expectant parents seeking to give their child up for adoption.
One of the other types of adoption involves a direct arrangement between birth parents and adoptive parents, sometimes using a go-between such as a doctor or member of the clergy. Because of the delicate nature of an independent adoption, it's probably a good idea for the adoptive parents to hire an attorney to handle the paperwork. Not all states allow independent adoptions, and many states regulate them extensively, so check your state's laws before exploring this option.
One variety of independent adaption is often referred to as an "open adoption," where the biological parents maintain some form of limited contact even after adoption.
Adopting Through Identification
Identified adoptions are a combination of independent and agency adoptions. Usually the adoptive parents find a mother wanting to put a child up for adoption, and then both sets of parents ask an adoption agency to control the rest of the process. The advantage over a straight agency adoption is there is no "wait list" for the adoptive parents. Prospective parents can also have greater control over choosing the child they adopt, and still benefit from the counseling and professional services afforded by an agency.
Adopting internationally is the most complicated of all the different types of adoptions. To adopt a child who is a citizen of a foreign country, you must satisfy both the laws of the state you live in as well as the laws of the host country. Parents must also obtain an immigrant visa for the child through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If approved, the child will be granted U.S. citizenship automatically upon entering the U.S.
Note also that, as of April 1, 2008, international adoptions are regulated through the Hague Adoption Convention. The treaty governs U.S. federal government oversight of domestic adoption agencies and international adoption policies. This oversight is intended to protect children, biological parents and adoptive parents from unethical adoption practices, including international child abductions and adoption scams.
Agencies dealing in international adoption must now be certified by the State Department and adopting parents must prove to the State Department a variety of things:
You could try to adopt internationally without an agency, but because of the complexity of the process, most adoptive parents choose to use the services of a U.S. agency specializing in international adoptions.
Adopt as Stepparents
A stepparent adoption occurs when a parent's new spouse adopts the parent's child from a different partner. The process is simple compared to traditional adoption if the birth parents both consent. If one of the parents does not consent or cannot be found, however, then an attorney will need to be involved and there is a significant amount of time and paper work involved.
Adopting as a Same-Sex Couple
Whether same-sex couples can adopt varies greatly from state to state. Some states now make adoption for same-sex couples identical to straight couples, but many states still require same-sex couples to follow a different procedure in order to adopt. This is due largely because the legal relationship between same-sex couples is often different than straight couples.
Because the law is so fluid in this area, and each state differs significantly, it is advised that you get an attorney involved in the process. For further information, see FindLaw's Same-Sex Parenting and Adoption.
Relative, or kinship adoptions as they are known in some states, occur when a child's relative steps forward to adopt the child. Typical candidates for this type of adoption are grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the typical situations for relative adoptions involve the death or incapacitation of the birth parents. The law favors relatives raising children, and accordingly the process is significantly easier than other types of adoption.
Adult adoptions are rare, but most states provide for them. Typically, there must be at least a ten year difference between the age of the parent and that of the adult being adopted, and the parties must show why it's in the best interest of the parties to allow the adoption. The primary reason why people undergo an adult adoption is to secure inheritance rights for people they have grown fond, especially when they don't have children of their own. Most states prohibit adult adoptions when caregivers are involved, in order to prevent caregivers from taking advantage of their elderly patients.
For more information on the different types of adoptions, see FindLaw's Types of Adoption page.
Need Help Determining Which Type of Adoption is Best For You? Talk to an Attorney
Every family's needs are different and there are a variety of reasons for choosing the different adoption methods available under the law. By contacting an experienced adoption lawyer, you can find out which type of adoption will work best for you, and get legal help through the adoption process.