Adoption Laws and Requirements: Domestic Adoption Compared to International Adoption

sunset skiesAdoptive families come in all shapes and sizes. There are single parents, couples, same-sex couples and domestic partners. Some families already have birth or adopted children and others might just be beginning to grow their family. Requirements for the adoptive parents differ from state to state and country to country depending on where you are adopting from. One of the first dilemmas families face is whether to pursue domestic adoption or international adoption. There are many factors adoptive parents must consider which includes the wait time, children available, cost and legal concerns. There are also lot of myths about these two different adoption processes in which we wanted to clear up in this blog along with provide statistics and hard facts about both so that families are able to make the best choice that is right for their own family.

 The Requirements Needed to Adopt Domestically

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In order to even think about adopting, it is important to remember that there are a lot of requirements that you will need to pass before any adoption agency will take you on as a client.

Age – Prospective parent(s) must be of legal age (21 years old) or older If you are adopting for a private adoption agency. the agency may have an age cutoff but not always. Be sure to check with the agency you are considering working with.

Physical Health – Prospective parents need to be in stable medical condition. If there is a history of serious or current chronic illness, a doctor’s letter indicating physical stability, ability to parent and expectation to live to a child’s majority (which is the age of 16). If there is a history of substance abuse, proof of rehabilitation is needed.

Emotional Health – Prospective parents need to be in stable emotional health. If there is current or history of psychiatric illness, a statement indicating emotional stability is needed. If there was or is use of medication, a doctor’s statement of current emotional stability and ability to parent a child is needed.

Criminal History – As part of the adoption home study, state and FBI clearances will be conducted. Should there be an arrest history, dispositions and personal statements of the incident are required. Rehabilitation will be evaluated, if appropriate. There are certain criminal charges that can prevent someone from being eligible to adopt.

Child Abuse History – All household members over the age of 18 will be asked to do a child abuse clearance for every state in the U.S. where they have lived for the past 5 years. A “finding” on this clearance may prevent someone from adopting.

Marital History – Each adoption agency and U.S. state has their own requirements, including the number of previous marriages and length of current marriage. Depending on the state, singles, same-sex and domestic partners may also be eligible adopt.

Financial Security – There is no specific income requirement. The adoptive family’s income and assets will be assessed to ensure they have the resources to raise a child. Proof of medical insurance for the child is also needed.

Home Environment – The home must be a safe and secure environment for a child, inside and out. Some U.S. states have specific space and safety requirements.

Adoption and Parenting – As part of the adoption home study, most prospective parents are asked to complete Adoptive Parent Education, including but not limited to the lifelong implications of adoption on the child and the family, attachment and bonding, sharing adoption with the child and others, open adoption, and medical, emotional and academic developmental issues.

It is important to remember that even though this is domestic adoption, the same laws and rules don’t apply for all fifty states. If you would like to find more information about a certain state, check out this awesome website that will allow you browse every state individually. http://statelaws.findlaw.com/family-laws/adoption.html

 Adopting Internationally, the Rules and Process

Adopting Internationally

Intercountry adoptions are governed by both the laws of the child’s home country and the laws of the United States. When you are adopting international, you must comply with THREE different sets of laws: U.S. federal law, the laws of the child’s country of birth, and the laws of your U.S. state of residence.

Age – parent(s) must be of legal age (21 years old) or older, some countries may have higher minimum requirements. Age cutoffs are agency and country specific.  Adopting as an older parent in an intercountry adoption might lead to adopting an older child.

Medical Health –For all adoptions, a doctor’s letter indicating physically stability, ability to parent and expectation to live to a child’s majority are required.  Prospective parents need to be in stable medical condition. Individual countries have limitations on medical history and current health. Many restrict adoptions to those with a history of cancer.

Emotional Health – Prospective parents need to be in stable emotional health. If there is current or history of psychiatric illness, a statement indicating you are emotionally stable is needed.

Criminal history – As part of the adoption home study, state and FBI clearances will be conducted. Should there be an arrest history, dispositions and personal statements of the incident will be needed. Rehabilitation, if appropriate, will be accessed. There are certain criminal charges that will prevent someone from adopting.

Child Abuse History – All household members over the age of 18 will be asked to do a child abuse clearance for every state in the U.S. and every country where they have lived for since the age of 18. A “finding” on this clearance may prevent you from adopting.

Marital History – Each country has their own requirements, including the number of previous marriages and length of current marriage. Some countries allow singles to adopt, however may limit the parent to adopting a child of the same gender. Unfortunately, the majority of international countries will not allow LGBT couples to adopt.

Financial Security – Some countries have specific income and asset requirements, which will be assessed as part of the adoption homestudy and documents for the dossier. Income and expenses must show the ability to meet a child’s needs.

Home Environment – The home must be a safe and secure environment for a child. Some U.S. states have specific space and safety requirements. In addition, some countries require proof of ownership.

Adoption and Parenting – As part of the adoption home study, prospective parents are asked to complete at least 10 hours of specific Adoptive Parent Education.

As you can see a lot of the requirements change depending on what country you are adopting from .That is why it is important to do your research on each country before deciding where you would like to adopt from. To see a breakdown of the rules and requirements in each country, you can go to www.adoption.state.gov.

Important Areas to Consider as you Make the Decision Between a Domestic and International Adoption

Now that we talked about the requirements that need to be filled before choosing domestic or international adoption, we would like to go over the different factors that might help you and your family choose what option best fits your family.  Some of the more important questions to ask yourself are; How long do you want to wait? How much do you want to spend on your adoption? How important is it to adopt a newborn?  We would like to touch on the 5 most important topics that we think a family should think about before deciding between domestic and international adoption.

  1. Cost: Many mistakenly believe that international adoption costs far less than domestic adoption but that is very untrue. The different in cost between international and domestic adoption is one of the most common misconceptions. Both have them have similar costs typically ranging from $25,000-$50,000 but the costs are unique to each specific program and agency.
  • International Adoption Costs
    • Obtaining a Visa
    • Travel and hotel costs to a different country more than one time
  • Domestic Adoption Costs
    • Birth parent living expenses
    • Travel to different states depending on where the baby is born
  1. Waiting Time: The time it takes for an adoptive family to receive a child domestically or internationally depends on many factors. It is difficult to assess exact wait times for both adoption plans because it all depends on what agency you are working with and how open you are to various situations. For international adoption, the wait time depends on your families’ adoption plan as well as country-specific issues. For example, adopting a child from China may take more than four years while adopting a child from Russia can take less than a year.
  1. Child’s Age and Children Available: Because of all of travel and waiting you will have to do if you choose international adoption, it is very likely that you will be adopting an older infant, toddler or even a teenager, depending on the origin. According to the latest research by the National Council for Adoption, private domestic agency adoptions have risen steadily from 14,549 in 1982 to 20,254 in 2007 .While domestic adoption continues to grow, international adoption has decline significantly over the past several years.
  1. Medical Background: One of the biggest concerns when adopting internationally is that the medical background of the child is minimal. Social and medical histories will be provided on children whether you adopt domestically or internationally. Often within an international adoption, there is not much information even though the child is older because often the child has been abandoned and there is no information on his or her biological relatives. In a domestic adoption, you are often able to receive both an extensive social and medical history.
  2. Legal Concerns: A lot of the myths that we mentioned in the beginning of the blog come into play when speaking about legal concerns in adoption. This is why it is very important to research the unique legal issues involved in both adoption plans. For international adoption, each country has its own set of laws governing adoption that must be met. Some families have said one of their main reasons they chose international adoption is because they were concerned about openness and birthparents coming back to claim their child. The large majority of domestic adoptions are not revoked or disrupted and each state has their own set timeline on when the birth parents rights are terminated. It is important to research so you are fully aware of all the aspects when choosing your path to adoption.

As you can see there are many factors to consider and you may have a longer more personal list to explore. Remember whether choose either the international or domestic route, there are still additional choices within that path such as working with an agency or attorney or gender and age of child, etc. In addition to all the research and weighing the pros and cons, the decision ultimately comes down to what makes you feel the most comfortable and which option best fits your family.

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