Parties to an Adoption

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Statutes at a Glance

In order for an adoption to take place, a person available to be adopted must be placed in the home of a person or persons eligible to adopt. All States, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands have laws that specify which persons are eligible as adopting parents, and which persons can be adopted. In addition, most States, the District of Columbia, and the territories have laws that designate which persons or entities have the authority to make adoptive placements.

Who May Adopt

In general, any single adult or a husband and wife jointly can be eligible to adopt. In addition, a stepparent can adopt the birth child of his or her spouse.1 In approximately2 13 States and the District of Columbia there are no additional restrictions specified. In some States, married persons may adopt singly if they are legally separated from their spouse, or if their spouse is legally incompetent.

In approximately six States the age of adulthood for purposes of adoption is 18; four States set the age at 21; and two specify age 25. A few States allow minors to adopt under certain circumstances, such as when the minor is the spouse of an adult adoptive parent, or when the minor is the unmarried birth parent of the child to be adopted.

In approximately seven States, the adopting parents must be at least 10 years older than the person to be adopted. In Puerto Rico, the adopting parent must be at least 14 years older; in Idaho, the parent must be at least 15 years older.

Approximately 15 States, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands require that petitioners for adoption be State residents.3 The required period of residency ranges from 60 days to one year. In South Carolina and Indiana, a non-resident can adopt a special needs child; in New Mexico and Rhode Island, a non-resident may adopt through an agency.

Who May Be Adopted

All States, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories permit the adoption of a child. Three States, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands specify that the child must be under age 18. Five States and Guam specify in statute that the child must be legally free for adoption. Four States and the Virgin Islands require that the child to be adopted must be present in the State at the time the petition is filed. In addition, some States require that the child have resided for a minimum period of time in the home of the prospective adoptive parents.

Approximately 23 States allow the adoption of any person, regardless of age. A few other States allow parties to petition the court for the adoption of persons over age 18 but under age 21. Alabama restricts adoption of adults to persons who are permanently and totally disabled or mentally retarded. Ohio only allows adoption of an adult when the person is disabled or a stepchild or foster child. Nebraska allows the adoption of an adult stepchild; Idaho and Illinois require that the adopting parent be in a sustained parental relationship for a specified period of time with the adult to be adopted.

Who May Place a Child for Adoption

In general, any person or entity who has the right of consent to a child may place that child for adoption. Such persons include the birth parents or the child's legal guardian or guardian ad litem; legal entities include State Departments of Social Services or child placing agencies. Approximately 37 States, the District of Columbia and America Samoa specifically designate which persons or entities hold the authority to make adoptive placements.

Most States allow "nonagency" placements of children for adoption, often referred to as "private" or "independent" adoption. One type of private adoption allowed in most States is the "direct placement" of a child by the birth parent with an adoptive family. Many States that allow direct placement have detailed statutory regulation in order to protect the interests of the parties to the adoption.

Approximately 10 States require that all adoptive placements be made by the State Departments of Human or Social Services or child placing agencies that are licensed by the State or meet certain standards. In four of these States, Florida, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Rhode Island, parents who wish to make private placements must first obtain permission from the Department or the court.

A few States allow the use of intermediaries in arranging private placements. These intermediaries are usually attorneys, and their activities, as well as the remuneration they are allowed to accept, are strictly regulated.

1 A parent can usually adopt a stepchild without the spouse (the birth parent) joining in the petition, as long as the spouse consents to the adoption.

2The word approximately is used to stress the fact that the statutes are constantly being revised and updated.

3State residency requirements for the adopting parent may be addressed in other sections of a State's code.

Statutes-At-A-Glance are products summarizing elements of State adoption laws prepared by the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse is a service of the Children's Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Statutes-At-A-Glance listings summarize specific sections of each State's code. While every attempt has been made to be as complete as possible, additional information on these topics may be in other sections of a State's code as well as in agency regulations, case law, and informal practices and procedures. Readers interested in interpretation of specific statutory provisions within an individual jurisdiction should review the State's statutory provisions in their entirety, review applicable case law interpreting the statutes, and consult with professionals within the State familiar with the statutes' implementation.

To obtain additional copies of this product or more information about other Clearinghouse products, contact the Clearinghouse at:

National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
330 C Street, SW
Washington, DC 20447
(888) 251-0075

We welcome your comments and suggestions about this product.

(Current through December 31, 1999)

Readers should not rely on this summary for legal advice

Regulation of Adoption Parties
(by State)
District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Credits: Child Welfare Information Gateway (

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