There are quite a few different ways to bring a child into your life, or confirm your legal relationship with one, through adoption. Here's the lowdown on the different ways that adoption can work.
Agency adoptions involve the placement of a child with adoptive parents by a public agency, or by a private agency licensed or regulated by the state.
Public agencies generally place children who have become wards of the state for reasons such as orphanage, abandonment, or abuse. Private agencies are sometimes run by charities or social service organizations. Children placed through private agencies are usually brought to the agency by a parent or parents who have or are expecting a child they want to give up for adoption.
In a private, or independent, adoption, no agency is involved in the adoption. Some independent adoptions involve a direct arrangement between the birth parents and the adoptive parents, while others use an intermediary such as an attorney, doctor, or clergyperson. But for most independent adoptions, whether or not an intermediary is used, an attorney will be needed to take care of the court paperwork.
Most states allow independent adoptions, though many regulate them quite carefully. Independent adoptions are not allowed in Connecticut, Delaware, or Massachusetts.
An "open adoption" is an independent adoption in which the adoptive parents and birth parents have contact during the gestation period and the new parents agree to maintain some contact with the birth parents after the adoption, through letters, photos, or in-person visits.
An identified, or designated, adoption is one in which the adopting parents and the birth mother find each other and then ask an adoption agency to take over the rest of the adoption process. The process is a hybrid of an independent and an agency adoption.
Prospective adoptive parents are spared the waiting lists of agencies by finding the birth parent themselves, but they reap the benefits of the agency's experience with adoption legalities and its counseling services. Everyone may simply feel more comfortable if an agency is involved. Identified adoptions are available to parents in the states (Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts) that ban independent adoptions.
In an international adoption, the new parents adopt a child who is a citizen of a foreign country. In addition to satisfying the adoption requirements of both the foreign country and the parents' home state in the U.S., the parents must obtain an immigrant visa for the child through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, formerly called the INS). The child will be granted U.S. citizenship automatically upon entering the United States.
Many countries with children available for adoption will not permit adoption by openly gay or lesbian parents; some countries, like China, require the adopting parent to sign an affidavit that he or she is heterosexual. Despite this, many gay and lesbian adoptive parents have successfully completed international adoptions as single parents, with their partners later becoming legal parents through second parent or stepparent adoptions in the United States.
You can adopt a foreign child through an American agency that specializes in international adoptions — or you can adopt directly. Most people use an agency, because direct adoption can be difficult.
In a stepparent adoption, a parent's new spouse adopts a child the parent had with a previous partner. Stepparent adoption procedures are less cumbersome than agency or independent adoption procedures. The process is quite simple, especially if the child's other birth parent consents to the adoption. If the other birth parent cannot be found or if he or she refuses to consent to the adoption, there is more paperwork to do and the adoptive parents may need an attorney.
Domestic Partner Adoptions
In California, a new law allows a same-sex domestic partner to adopt the children of his or her partner under stepparent adoption procedures, so that the process is relatively quick and easy. The parties must be registered as domestic partners with the state in order to qualify for these procedures. Similar procedures are used in Vermont for partners in civil unions.
Relative (Kinship) Adoptions
In a relative adoption, also called a kinship adoption, a member of the child's family steps forward to adopt. Grandparents often adopt their grandchildren if the parents die while the children are minors, or if the parents are unable to take care of the children for other reasons (such as being in jail or on drugs). In most states, these adoptions are easier than non-relative adoptions. If the adopted child has siblings who are not adopted at the same time, kinship adoption procedures usually provide for contact between the siblings after the adoption.
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