What does adoption mean?
Under special circumstances, you may receive a new parent or parents. If your parents die, for example, or agree to let someone else raise you, the court may allow that person to adopt you.
Most of the time, young children or babies are adopted, but in certain situations adults and teenagers may also be adopted. This often occurs in cases where there’s a long-term relationship between a stepparent and other family members. Over 100,000 adoptions take place in the United States each year. These include children born in the U.S., as well as children brought into the U.S. from other countries.
In most states, you must be eighteen to adopt a child. Some states require the adult to be ten years older than the child who is being adopted. Other states have no age restrictions. You don′t necessarily have to be married to adopt a child. Single people—straight, gay, and lesbian—have become adoptive parents of children of all ages.
“Courts are not free to take children from parents simply by deciding another home appears more advantageous.”
—U.S. Supreme Court (1993), DeBoer v. DeBoer [509 U.S. 1301].
If your parents are divorced and your mother or father remarries, your new stepparent may adopt you if your other parent agrees. This is called a stepparent adoption, and it must also be approved by a judge.
If you′re over a certain age, usually ten or twelve years old, you may have to appear at the hearing and agree with the adoption. The judge will ask you if you want your stepfather or stepmother to be your legal parent, and if you want your last name to be changed.
During the adoption process, you may meet with a social worker and a lawyer. They meet with the adoptive parents and gather information to help the judge decide if the adoption will be allowed. A complete investigation is done, and recommendations are made to the court. The investigation, called an adoptive home study, considers the motivation to adopt, finances, criminal history, family background, education, work history, and references from relatives and nonrelatives. If the court has any concerns, the adoption may be delayed. The bottom line in any adoption is whether it′s best for the child. While most adoptions are granted, occasionally the judge may decide that it′s not in the child′s best interests.
If you were adopted when you were a baby, what are you entitled to know about the adoption and its circumstances? Privacy for birth parents, adoptive parents, and adopted children is still the general rule. Each state has its own laws regarding the disclosure of records. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find out nonidentifying information—information that tells you about your biological parents without revealing their names. Or, in some situations, once you′re an adult, you may be able to find out identifying information-including their names.
You may also be able to learn about your birth parents′ medical history. Contact the court where the adoption took place and ask for this information.