Adopting any child is a complicated process, legally and otherwise, and adopting a preteen child has its own unique challenges. Laws vary by state and country, and may also be dependent upon the overall situation (starting from scratch versus adopting a preteen step-child, for example). If you’re considering adopting a preteen child, get ready to do your research to navigate legal and agency requirements, as well as addressing various other considerations.
How do you legally adopt a preteen child? The steps involved in legal adoption will depend on numerous factors, but most legal adoption requirements include: Adoptive parents must be at least 21 years of age; exhibit stable medical and emotional health; complete a child abuse history screening, home study, and FBI clearance; provide adequate income requirements; possibly complete a residency requirement; and adoptive parent education. The first legal step is the termination of parental rights by the birthparents. The final step is the finalization of adoption in a court setting. For the many steps in between, laws vary by state, country and region, so you will need to conduct a search for legal requirements based on your specific global location.
While the process of adopting a preteen can be challenging and often complicated, it all begins with intent and your desire to adopt a child in need. If and when you feel overwhelmed by the process, take a few deep breaths, remember the “why,” and above all – have patience. If you start with an overview of the process, it helps to know what steps you may encounter along the way so that you can be better prepared to meet each requirement along the way.
Types of Adoption
There are several different types of adoption, and you will need to know which type best fits your situation before moving forward with the adoption process. The information below is based on U.S. standards – adopting from within another country will vary based on location.
Public and private adoption agencies are regulated by individual states and are licensed to match and place children with adoptive parents. Public adoption agencies commonly manage children who have become wards of the state (due to being abandoned by their birth parents, orphaned, or abused). Social service and faith-based organizations offer private agency adoptive services. These private agencies commonly place children who were brought to the agency by a child’s birth parents who wish to give their child up for adoption.
Some states allow for private adoptions, which is usually a direct arrangement between adoptive parents and birth parent(s). Most often, a connection is made through a third party, such as an attorney, doctor, or member of the clergy. In these cases, it is recommended to hire an attorney who specializes in independent adoptions to facilitate the legal process. An open or closed adoption are both options to be explored. In the case of an open adoption, some form of communication may be arranged between the birth parent(s) and child after the child has been put in the care of his or her adoptive parents.
Adopting Through Identification
This is a less common arrangement which originates with the adoptive parents identifying a mother or birth parents who wish to give their child up for adoption. In this case, once the match has been made independently, an agency is sought to manage the actual adoption process. This option can circumvent adoptive parents being on a wait list at an agency, and also affords the benefits of counseling and professional services of an agency once the independent match has been made beforehand and then with agency involvement throughout the rest of the process.
Adopting a child from a foreign country is more complicated than adopting domestically. In this case, you must comply laws of the state in which you live as well as the child’s host country. Adoptive parents must also obtain an immigrant visa for the child (through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – USCIS). Once approved, the adopted child would become a U.S. citizen upon entering the United States.
The best option for those parents wishing to adopt internationally is to find a U.S. adoption agency that specializes in international adoptions to navigate the legal complexities.
Adopting as Step-parents
If both birth parents consent, adopting a spouse’s child is a simpler process than most other types of adoption. If both birth parents do not consent, or if one birth parent can’t be found, an attorney would need to be involved to help navigate those stipulations.
Same Sex Couple Adoptions
Starting in late June 2017, same sex adoption was legalized in the U.S. If adopting through a faith-based agency, however, the agency may decline a same-sex couple’s adoption application based solely on “religious reasons.”
Relative or Kinship Adoptions
If you are seeking to adopt a relative (such as a niece/nephew/grandchild, etc.), the law typically favors relatives taking care of children depending on the situation. Typical situations are when birth parents have been in an accident resulting in death or incapacitation. So this process can, at times, be easier than other types of adoption. Cases may get complicated if birth parents do not consent (such as relatives feeling that they would be a better fit for a child than the child’s birth parents).
Top 10 Basic Requirements to Adopt a Child
Legal requirements for adoption can vary, but in most cases the basic adoption requirements are similar, regardless of the type of adoption. Again, these are based on U.S. standards – foreign adoption requirements may vary from this.
- Age requirement to adopt
Typically, there is only a legal minimum age, which is 21 years or older. In some cases, birth parents may have specific requirements older than that of the legal requirement.
- Medical health requirements to adopt
A stable medical health history is required for prospective adoptive parents. If one or both adoptive parents has a chronic or serious illness, a letter from a primary care physician may be necessary explaining that the parent is physically stable and able to meet the parenting needs of a child through at least the age of 16.
- Emotional health requirements to adopt
Prospective adoptive parents (and any additional household members) must exhibit stable emotional health. If there is any current psychiatric illness (or a history of one), a doctor’s professional statement may be required to vouch for the prospective parent’s emotional stability.
- Child abuse clearance screening
All household members of the adoptive family over the age of 18 must complete a child abuse clearance screening for all U.S. states.
- Criminal history screening
A criminal history screening is required of adoptive parents, which includes a home study along with state and FBI clearances. Criminal charges may prevent adoption from being approved. If an arrest history is found, you may need to provide some type of personal statement and/or dispositions, and rehabilitation may be necessary.
- Marital requirements to adopt
For foster care adoption, there are no marital requirements. But for single parent adoptions, you may be required to name a prospective alternative guardian in case you were unable to fulfill your parenting responsibilities. Some agencies may require that an alternative guardian is named in a legal will.
- Financial requirements to adopt
A specific income requirement may not be specified, but you may need to show your income and assets to prove you have the resources available to raise a child in your care.
- Residency requirements to adopt
Residency requirements to adopt a child vary by state and may range anywhere from 60 days to one year. Any residency requirement may be waived for adoptive parents who served in the military or if adopting a child with special needs.
- Home environment requirements to adopt
A home study may be required to ensure your home is a safe and secure place for a child to reside. You may need to provide references relating to interpersonal relationships and interactions with children. You may also need to provide an adoption and parenting plan. State requirements differ regarding actual specifications of the home (such as whether or not a separate bedroom is required for the child being adopted).
- Adoption and parenting education requirements to adopt
Some adoption agencies may require some form of adoptive parent education. This may include: long-term implications of adopting a child; bonding and attachment considerations; medical issues; academic considerations; and emotional development issues.
Overview of Adoption Laws and Terms
In addition to the legal steps regarding termination of the birth parents’ rights and finalization of the adoption in court, there are many other legal steps involved in the adoption process. The list below includes legal steps and legal terms that may be involved.
Termination of Parental Rights
Before a child can be considered free for legal adoption, a court hearing must first issue a decree that permanently terminates all legal rights of both birth parents to a child. Some states may allow a period of time in which a birth parent may appeal (if rights have been terminated without his or her consent).
Depending on various issues relating to adoption, some cases are considered to be either low risk or high risk from a legal standpoint. For example, if a child is placed with adoptive parents before a window of time has passed in which birth parents might appeal, this would be considered a high risk adoption.
Laws vary by state and county, so you can check with your local Department of Children and Youth to learn more.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate)
CASA volunteers are specially trained to speak to the best interests on a child in a court setting. Their experience includes abuse and neglect, and they provide judges with pertinent information relating to any decision regarding a child’s housing permanency.
In some states and counties, children are assigned paid child advocates. In these cases, a child may have his or her own attorney or social worker affiliated with a public defender’s office. Additionally, each state has an individual designated to manage adoptions and can be a resource for adoptive parents within their jurisdiction.
Consent to adoption
This can refer to legal documents pertaining to the relinquishment of the birth parents’ rights. Or it may refer to consent by an adoption agency to allow the adoptive family to finalize an adoption after all agency and legal requirements have been met.
Original birth certificate
When a child is born, birth parents are issued an original birth certificate, which may specify various birth information (birth mother’s name, birth father’s name (if known), birth date and place, time of birth, and name given to the child at birth. After a child has been adopted, an amended birth certificate may be issued to the adoptive parents.
State laws differ pertaining to who has access to birth certificates, adoption records, and whether or not the information is sealed and unavailable.
Finalization of adoption
This is the legal process that transfers custody of a child from an adoption agency, county or state to adoptive parents. An adoption decree is obtained in a court setting, and once issued, the child is considered a permanent legally adopted child of the adoptive parents.
This is also referred to as an adoption certificate and is issued by the court upon finalization of an adoption.
Social security card
To claim your adopted child for tax purposes, s/he must have a valid social security number. If your child already has this prior to being adopted, you may keep the same number or request a new number. Either way, you will need to contact the Social Security Administration to register yourselves as the child’s parents.
Open adoption agreement
In an open adoption, this document outlines the terms of contact between all parties involved in an open adoption. While it may specify frequency of contact between birth families and adoptive families, it is not a legally binding document.
Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA)
This is a federal law put into place to promote safety, permanence and adoption of children in a foster care setting. The law serves to limit the duration of time a child may stay in foster care and addresses a plan for permanency.
Personal documents of adoptive parents
To complete a home study, you would need to provide the following personal documents:
- A copy of your birth certificate, and also for your spouse or partner (if applicable)
- A certified copy of your marriage license (if applicable)
- Certified copies of divorce decrees (if applicable)
- Birth certificates or adoption decrees for any other children residing in your home (if applicable)
- A copy of recent paycheck stubs, W-4 form, or completed income tax form
Adoption is a legally complicated process in many cases. But by understanding the basic legal requirements and terms, you can be better equipped and prepared for your adoption journey.