Who May Be Adopted?

Families in the United States come in all sizes and from unique situations. Expanding a family through adoption is exciting but it also may be complicated. Although individuals have many options for locating children available for adoption, prospective parents should be aware of applicable state restrictions. This article provides a brief overview of who may be adopted in the United States or one of the U.S. territories.

General Requirements by State

Judges in adoption courts look to the best interests of a child when making adoption decisions. In addition to showing that adoption would be optimal for a child’s upbringing, potential parents must also meet general requirements. Some of those conditions include the following: 

  • Four states (Connecticut, Delaware, Montana, and Wisconsin), plus American Samoa, and Guam specify that the child must be legally free for adoption.
  • Six states (Arizona, Colorado, South Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands require that the child to be adopted is present in the state at the time the adoption petition is filed.
  • Iowa requires that the child have lived in the home of the prospective adoptive parents for a minimum period of 180 days.

Age Requirements by State

All states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories permit the adoption of a child. Some states have additional requirements as described below.

  • Approximately twenty-six states and the District of Columbia allow the adoption of any person, regardless of age.
  • Three states (Colorado, Indiana, and Rhode Island), American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands specify that the adopted child must be under the age of eighteen.
  • Rhode Island, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands allow parties to petition the court for the adoption of persons over age eighteen but under age twenty-one.
  • In California, Georgia, Nevada, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Utah and the Northern Mariana Islands, the adopting parent must be at least ten years older than the person to be adopted.
  • Puerto Rico requires the adopting parent to be at least fourteen years older and in Idaho, the parent must be at least fifteen years older.

Adoption of Adults by State

Some states allow adoptions of adults under the following circumstances:

  • Alabama restricts adoption of adults to persons who are permanently and totally disabled or mentally retarded.
  • Ohio permits adoption of an adult only when the person is permanently disabled or mentally retarded, or is a stepchild or foster child with whom a parental relationship was established while the child was a minor.
  • Idaho, Illinois, and South Dakota require that the adopting parent be in a sustained parental relationship for a specified period of time with the adult to be adopted. The time period ranges from six months to two years depending on the state.
  • Virginia allows the adoption of an adult stepchild, niece, or nephew, as long as the adopted person lived in the prospective parent’s home for at least three months prior to reaching adulthood and is at least fifteen years younger than the adopting parent.
  • Nevada specifies that the adult to be adopted must be younger than the adoptive parent
  • West Virginia allows a resident of the State to adopt an adult.

If you are interested in becoming an adoptive parent, you may consider contacting an experienced family law attorney to answer questions specific to your circumstances and to explain the adoption process in your state.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified attorney specializing in adoptions.

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