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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.

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.

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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This publication and the information included in it are not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with an attorney. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of appropriate legal professionals.


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The Law Offices of Michael R. Magaril
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