Considering Adoption? Here are some Requirements to Consider

If you are hoping to fulfill your dreams of parenting, adopting a child into your home and your heart can be a wonderful way to build or expand your family. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of successful adoptions take place in the United States each year. In this way, many children who would not otherwise have families of their own have become members of nurturing households that give them the care, protection, and opportunities they need for healthy personal growth and development.

However, the decision to adopt can be life changing and fraught with uncertainty. Therefore, it is important for prospective adoptive parents to consult with a qualified adoption attorney early on.

Overview of Adoption Laws

Adoption is a legal process by which an adult gains guardianship of a child and assumes the legal responsibilities of a parent. Adoption law falls under family law, which is mainly governed by individual states and, therefore, varies considerably across the country. Therefore, it is important to have a skilled and experienced attorney who can help you consider the various options available, provide appropriate advice throughout the adoption process, and protect you and your family against any unforeseen contingencies.

Uniform Adoption Act

In 1994, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws proposed the Uniform Adoption Act (UAA) as a model law that could be passed in whole or in part by individual state legislatures to help standardize practices across states.

About the Adoption Act of 1994

The Uniform adoption act was published in 1994, in an attempt to create a unified set of adoption laws for all states. The complete text approaches 50,000 words and can be found here:

Uniform Adoption Act

While the model UAA has been considered by legislative committees or special task forces on adoption in more than a dozen states, thus far no state has enacted the entire eight articles of the UAA, and many elements of it remain controversial. Therefore, the current prospects for prompt and widespread enactment of the UAA in its entirety are not clear. Moreover, if you choose to adopt through an agency, you may also have to meet certain requirements established by the agency or the birth parents, which can be more stringent than those set by state laws.

Basic Requirements of Child Adoption

In general, any adult who can demonstrate that he or she—or a couple jointly—is a "fit parent" may adopt a child. However, in considering individual petitions for adoption, the courts are guided by consideration of what is "in the best interest of the child." Thus, particular qualifications and characteristics can vary from one state to the next. Some important factors include the following.

Age requirements

Most adoptive parents are between 25 and 50 years old. However, age requirements vary among states and often are flexible depending on the age of the child. For example, while six states (Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Washington), require prospective parents be at least 18 years old, three states (Colorado, Delaware, and Oklahoma) and American Samoa set the age requirement at 21, and Georgia and Idaho set the age requirement for adoption at age 25. Similarly, six states (California, Georgia, Nevada, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Utah) and the Northern Mariana Islands specify that adoptive parents must be at least 10 years older than the child, while Idaho requires that the parent be at least 15 years older than the child, and Puerto Rico requires the adopting parent be at least 14 years older than the child.

Marital Status

Although most states do not have requirements setting forth the marital status of adoptive parents, married couples usually find the broadest selection of adoption alternatives available. This is primarily because many agencies "reserve" healthy infants and younger children for two-parent families. Birth parents themselves often specify that they want their children to be placed in two-parent homes. Nevertheless, many single people also adopt successfully and some agencies openly consider single men and women as well as couples in committed, yet unmarried relationships. In most cases, a previous divorce will not disqualify a person from adopting, and a stepparent can adopt the natural child of his or her spouse. In approximately 17 states and the District of Columbia, no other requirements for eligibility are specified in such cases. In some states, a married person may adopt singly if he or she is legally separated or if the spouse is legally incompetent.

In most states, there are no special prohibitions against unmarried couples adopting children (sometimes called a two-parent adoption). Like single people, however, these couples may find that many agencies tend to be biased toward married couples.

Considerations for Gay Couples

The laws of most states do not address the issue of adoption by gay and lesbian persons. At present, only two states, Florida and Mississippi, explicitly prohibit adoption by homosexuals.

Recent Court Decisions

A two year old law was recently struck down in an Oklahoma appeals court. U.S. District Judge Robin Cauthron ruled that a law disallowing Oklahoma to recognize gay adoptions from other states was unconstitutional, effectively ending the two year old legislation.

Utah prohibits adoption by persons who are cohabiting, but not legally married, and this language could be interpreted to encompass same-sex couples. Also, in Connecticut, the sexual orientation of the prospective adoptive parent may be considered, despite provisions in the state's laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Nevertheless, even in states where no specific mention of sexual orientation is included in the statutes on adoption, this can become an issue in court, and some judges will use it to deny a petition for adoption. In addition, in some states, lesbian and gay couples have found it difficult to find adoption agencies that will work with them.

Still, gay men and lesbians all over the country do adopt children every year, and an increasing number of states are allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt jointly.

Financial Status

While you do not have to own your own home or meet a pre-determined income level to become an adoptive parent, we have all heard about how much it costs to raise a child. Therefore, financial status is a consideration, especially in single-parent adoptions. While your income may come from employment, a pension, or disability payments, the court will want assurance that you can support and care for the child. Most courts will also see a history of steady employment not only as a sign of financial stability, but also as proof of responsibility and maturity. Both members of a married couple or domestic partnership may work outside of the home.

Background Check

Most states do require a criminal background check as part of the adoption proceedings. Minor infractions, such as unpaid parking tickets, are usually of no consequence. However, more serious charges can be a cause for concern and may affect the adoption proceedings. Of course, previous charges of child abuse or neglect will likely prohibit a person from becoming an adoptive parent.

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