Whether you are new to the world of adoption or a seasoned adoptive family, understanding the rules and regulations regarding adoption can be complicated. Adoption requirements and qualifications vary depending on what type of adoption you wish to pursue and many countries change their adoption requirements from time to time. Here is everything you need to know about your adoption requirements, no matter what type of adoption you wish to pursue.
The first requirement to consider is the age of the prospective adoptive parents. For domestic adoptions or adoption from foster care, typically state laws require that the prospective adoptive parents be at least 21 years old. That said, many agencies list a minimum age of 25 years old to pursue adoption. Since domestic adoption is typically decided between the birth parents and the adoptive parents different birth parents may prefer older adoptive parents and others younger. Prospective adoptive parents adopting from foster care may have a minimum age difference (typically of 5 years) between them and the child. So for example, a 22-year-old may not adopt a 7-year-old. There is no maximum age to adopt. Internationally, the age of prospective adoptive parents is more restrictive. Typically, parents must be a minimum of 25 years old, though to adopt from China prospective adoptive parents need to be a minimum of 30 years old. The maximum age to adopt internationally is 55 years old, though the age of the child eligible to be adopted will be older.
2. Marital Status
To adopt in the United States, prospective adoptive parents may be married or single. Many states allow for prolonged domestic partnerships as well. There are no marriage requirements to adopt from foster care. To adopt internationally most countries only welcome heterosexual married couples. A minimum of two to three years of marriage is typically required and no more than two divorces are allowed. There are a few notable exceptions of countries who welcome single prospective adoptive parents, though additional restrictions may apply, and Colombia notably welcomes same-sex couple adoptions. Regardless of marital status, a marriage and/or divorce certificate will be required for the home study.
3. Makeup of Household
To adopt domestically or from foster care, typically no more than six children under the age of 18 are allowed in the home. Internationally, countries vary with regards to the makeup of the prospective adoptive parents’ household. With some of the top sending countries, in China, no more than five children are allowed; in India, no more than three children are allowed; and in South Korea, no more than four children are allowed.
4. Residency Requirements
Depending on the state a prospective adoptive parent wishes to adopt from, residency requirements may apply. Some states require a residency of 60 days and others up to a year or two. It is important to note, however, that residency requirements may be waived if one of the prospective adoptive parents is active in the military. Domestic adoption and adoption from foster care is possible across state lines thanks to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. To adopt internationally, at least one of the prospective adoptive parents must be a United States citizen and be able to prove their citizenship on a home study and with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Additionally, a home inspection will be required for all families pursuing adoption. During the home inspection, home safety standards will be assessed. If there is a pool or body of water on the property, then families must ensure its safety. A fire inspection is required in many states as is a sanitation inspection.
5. Physical Health
When bringing an adoptive child into a family, it is important to be physically prepared. Being in good physical health is a standard for most prospective adoptive parents, whether they choose to adopt domestically, from foster care, or internationally. Any serious, chronic, or life-threatening health conditions should be explained by a primary physician. The primary physician should note if the health condition will interfere with the prospective adoptive parent’s ability to parent a child, and if not, the physician should note why. Regardless of how a family is adopting, a physical will be required for every person in the household, including adopted or biological children. Internationally, some countries, such as South Korea and China, have weight and body mass index restrictions so be sure to check current guidelines. All prospective adoptive parents will need to provide proof of current medical insurance and the ability for their medical insurance to cover the adoptive child as soon as the child is legally adopted into their care.
6. Emotional Health
Another adoption requirement is for prospective adoptive parents to be in stable emotional health. Like prospective adoptive parents’ physical health, if a prospective adoptive parent is currently being treated by a psychological professional, then a need a professional letter stating their ability to parent a child and a list of any current medications will be required. Domestic and foster to adopt restrictions are generally less aggressive than international standards. Some countries restrict prospective adoptive parents with a background of emotional health struggles, but others may evaluate the parents on a case-by-case basis.
7. Income Requirements
When it comes to domestic adoption or adoption from foster care, all prospective adoptive parents will need to prove they have the ability to raise a child and provide for them with the necessary resources. During the home study, prospective adoptive parents can expect to provide letters from their employers, stating current salary, benefits, and that the employee is in good standing at the company. They will also be required to submit past tax records, a financial statement, and a list of all assets and debts. Families interested in adopting internationally will need to ensure they meet USCIS minimum standards, currently 125 percent above the U.S. poverty line, as well as country standards. Many countries require prospective adoptive parents to make a minimum of $30,000-$35,000 a year plus $10,000 for every child in the home. (So if three children are in the home than the family must make a minimum income of $60,000.) Most countries require prospective adoptive parents to demonstrate financial security, through the requested home study documents, though others, like China, require a net worth minimum of $80,000 for married couples and a minimum net worth of $100,000 for single women who are adopting.
Adoption can be an expensive endeavor so families pursuing adoption should be financially sound. Typically, domestic adoption ranges from $20,000-$40,000 and international adoption from $25,000-$40,000. Adoption from foster care is generally covered by state grants and subsidies. Furthermore, families adopting from foster care can expect to receive a monthly stipend for clothing and food for their foster child as well as Medicaid. Allocations vary from state to state so be sure to inquire.
But the cost of adoption should not deter prospective adoptive parents. There are several adoption grants and loans available and fundraising is always an option. All adoptive families are eligible for the Adoption Tax Credit as well. The ATC was made permanent by Congress in 2013. An important distinction from a tax deduction, which lowers your taxable income, a tax credit allows families to subtract money from the taxes they owe. For 2019, the ATC will be $14,080 for each child adopted. So if you adopted two children, the amount would be doubled. Families pursuing a domestic adoption can essentially “claim as they go” and submit expenses incurred the year after they incurred. So, if a family spent $10,000 in 2018, they could claim that amount on their 2019 taxes. A domestic adoption does not need to be finalized in order for the Adoption Tax Credit to be claimed. Even failed adoptions are still eligible. Families adopting internationally will need to wait until the adoption is finalized. So even if a family spent $10,000 in 2017 and $10,000 in 2018, if the adoption was not finalized until 2019, that is the year they could submit their first Adoption Tax Credit. The ATC may be applied for up to five years after the adoption, so any amount of tax credit a family does not use in the first year(s) may be rolled over for up to five years.
8. Criminal Background Checks and Clearances
All prospective adoptive families are required to complete a background check and clearance in order to be approved for adoption. Every member of the household over the age of 18 must submit a background history affidavit, citing whether or not they have had been convicted of a felony. Included in the home study process is undergoing a criminal history records request at both the state and federal (FBI) level. For every member of the household over the age of 18, and in some states over the age of 16, a background check packet and fingerprinting card will need to be completed and submitted along with a child abuse and neglect registry packet. Upon receiving clearances on all the above, a family will then be eligible to continue the adoption process.
Every person in the household over the age of 16 will also need to submit a recent driving record along with a copy of their current driver’s license, when applicable. A copy of the family’s up-to-date vehicle liability insurance will be required as well.
Another important adoption requirement is references. No matter what adoption path prospective adoptive parents choose, at least two to three references will be required. It can be hard to choose an adoption reference but highlighting the different facets of a family’s life is always helpful. If the family currently has children in the home, then at least one letter must be from their child’s school or teacher. Other letters might come from a family member, a longtime friend, a neighbor, or a coworker. The purpose of the letter is for the writer to address how long they have known the parents, their impression of their strengths and weaknesses, and their assessment of the prospective adoptive parents parenting styles (or potential parenting styles).
10. Educational Requirements
While domestic adoption and adoption from foster care have no prerequisites for education, to adopt internationally most countries require a high-school diploma, and some countries, like South Korea, may require at least a few years of post-secondary education.
All prospective adoptive parents will need to complete pre-adoption parent education training. The topics of the education training include parenting a child with specials needs, attachment issues, medical issues, feeding issues, and parenting children from hard places. State requirements vary in the number of hours required, though at least 20 hours of training is typical. Families adopting from foster care will need to complete a state-specific pre-placement training course, usually between 20-35 hours, and families adopting internationally will need to complete Hague accredited international adoption specific training, typically another 20 hours, in addition to their home study training.
Other adoption requirements will likely include a guardianship plan. Typically, there are no parameters for domestic guardians but internationally many countries, such as China and South Korea, limit the age of the named guardian. In China, guardians must be under the age of 60, and in South Korea, guardians must be under the age of 44 and married.
Additionally, all prospective adoptive parents will be required to sign a form that they will complete post-adoption placement reporting in a timely manner. In the instances of adopting from foster care and domestic adoption, at least six months of post-adoption reporting must be submitted by a state-licensed social worker in order for the adoption to be finalized. Internationally, families are still required to submit reports and these reports may last anywhere from two years or until the child is 18 years of age.
Lastly, for prospective adoptive parents pursuing international adoption, it should be noted that, in addition to the above, they will need to complete a country-specific dossier. A dossier is similar to the home study and many of the documents will look the same. The difference is that all documents in the dossier must be authenticated and then translated and sent to the prospective adoptive child’s country of origin.