Adoptive Parents FAQ

Frequently asked questions for those who want to adopt a child, including advice for single people and unmarried couples.

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Who can adopt a child?

As a general rule, any adult who is determined to be a "fit parent" may adopt a child. Married or unmarried couples may adopt jointly, and unmarried people may adopt a child through a procedure known as a single-parent adoption.

Some states have special requirements for adoptive parents. A few of these require an adoptive parent to be a certain number of years older than the child. For example, California requires adoptive parents to be at least ten years older than the adoptee, while Idaho requires a difference of 15 years. And some states require the adoptive parent to live in the state for a certain length of time before they are allowed to adopt. For instance, an adoptive parent in Georgia must have been a state resident for at least six months, and Minnesota has a one-year residency requirement. You will need to check the laws of your state to see whether any special requirements apply to you. And keep in mind that if you're adopting through an agency, you may have to meet strict agency requirements in addition to any requirements under state law.

Even if you find no state or agency barriers to adopting a child, remember that some people or couples are likely to have a harder time adopting than others. For example, a single man or a lesbian couple may not legally be prohibited from adopting, but may have a harder time finding a placement than would a married couple. This is because all states look to the "best interests of the child" as their bottom line, and will judge the various characteristics of the parent or couple -- often factoring in biases about who makes a good parent -- when making a placement determination.

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Can I adopt a child whose race or ethnic background is different from mine?

Usually, yes. You do not need to be the same race as the child you want to adopt, although some states do give preference to prospective adoptive parents of the same race or ethnic background of the child. Adoptions of Native American children are governed by federal law -- the Indian Child Welfare Act -- which outlines specific rules and procedures that must be followed when adopting a Native American child.

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Is it still very difficult for lesbians and gay men to adopt children?

Only Florida specifically prohibits lesbians and gay men from adopting children. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's easy to adopt in other states. Connecticut, for example, allows judges to consider the sexual orientation of the adoptive parent in determining whether an adoption should take place. The same is true in other states -- even if a state adoption statute does not specifically mention sexual orientation, it may become an issue in court, and some judges will use it to find a prospective adoptive parent to be unfit.

On the other hand, many gay men and lesbians have been able to adopt children, and an increasing number of states are allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt jointly. Beginning in Alaska in 1985, joint adoptions by gay and lesbian couples have been granted in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, and Washington.

Keep in mind that the legal landscape in all areas affecting gays and lesbians is changing rapidly. Just as a legislature might make it easier for gays and lesbians to adopt, a court decision to the contrary might provide quite a different result. Lesbians and gay men will need an experienced attorney to handle an adoption. But you can do your own homework: The National Center for Lesbian Rights provides information for gay men and lesbians who want to adopt:

The National Center for Lesbian Rights
Adoption and Foster Parenting Project
870 Market Street, Suite 570
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 392-6257

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I'm single, but I'd like to adopt a child. What special concerns will I face?

As a single person, you may have to wait longer for a placement, or be flexible about the child you adopt. Agencies often "reserve" healthy infants and younger children for two-parent families, putting single people at the bottom of their waiting lists. And birthparents themselves often want their children to be placed in a two-parent home.

If you're a single person wishing to adopt, you should be prepared to make a good case for your fitness as a parent. You can expect questions from case workers about why you haven't married, how you plan to support and care for the child on your own, what will happen if you do marry and other questions which will put you in the position of defending your status as a single person. To many single adoptive parents, such rigorous screening doesn't seem fair, but it is commonplace.

Agencies serving children with special needs may be a good option for singles, as such agencies often cast a wider net when considering adoptive parents. While you shouldn't take a child you're not comfortable with, being flexible about your options will make the resistance to single-parent adoptions easier to overcome.

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My long-term partner and I prefer not to get married, but we'd like to adopt a child together. Will we run into trouble?

There is no specific prohibition against unmarried couples adopting children (sometimes called a two-parent adoption). Like singles, however, you may find that agencies are biased towards married couples. You may have a longer wait for a child, or you may have to expand your ideas about what kind of child you want.

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