1. Decide whether you are ready to adopt, as opposed to pursuing infertility treatment or choosing to live child-free. You will know when that time has come because you will be excited and energized by the prospect of beginning the adoption process.
2. Decide whether domestic or international adoption is right for you. Ask yourself the tough questions about whether you are comfortable – or could become comfortable – with the idea of raising a child of a different race, or a child who may have unknown special needs, or a child whose medical history is uncertain. Consider whether you are comfortable – or could become comfortable– with the idea of meeting and possibly maintaining a relationship with a child's birthparents.
3. If you choose to adopt internationally, select an agency and/or a country. You are not limited to agencies based in Washington. Although I do not recommend or endorse particular agencies, I do help prospective adoptive parents evaluate alternatives, understand agency fee structures, and develop questions to ask.
4. If you choose to adopt domestically, decide whether you want to adopt independently (privately) or work with an agency. If you decide to work with an agency, you probably will not need the services of an attorney until it is time for finalization. However, some adoptive parents find it helpful to consult with me during the process of an agency adoption.
5. If you choose to adopt independently (without an agency), select an attorney who focuses on adoption law. Ensure that your attorney devotes a significant percentage of his or her practice to adoption and has experience with the interstate adoption process. A general family law attorney who has handled a few step-parent adoptions is not the attorney you are looking for.
a. Contact an social worker to conduct a home study. The social worker must be specifically licensed to perform adoption home studies. Your attorney should be able to provide you with a list of approved social workers.
b. Prepare an informational packet and/or website to share with prospective birth parents, including photos of you and your friends and family. Write a “Dear Birthparent” letter. Your attorney should be able to provide guidance, suggestions, and examples.
c. Begin networking. Tell everyone you’ve ever met that you are hoping to adopt a child. After your homestudy is approved, begin advertising.
6. Have another honest conversation about what sort of risks you are willing to accept. For example, what if you are selected by a birthmother who has used drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy? What circumstances are you willing to accept, and what issues are dealbreakers? What if she cannot or will not identify the father? Decide in advance what circumstances and risks are acceptable before you are actually faced with a situation.
7. Once you have connected with a birthmother, your attorney or agency will secure consents to terminate the parental rights of the birthmother and all potential birthfathers. The consents cannot be filed with the court until 48 hours after birth, but can be signed anytime. If the birthfather is unknown or will not voluntarily relinquish his parental rights, termination proceedings will be necessary.
8. Obtain as much of the birthparents' medical and social history as possible. Your attorney or agency will also assist with this step. It is imperative to gather as much information as you can. You may wish to ask a pediatrician to review whatever medical records are available.
9. After the baby’s birth, your attorney or agency will obtain an order giving you legal custody of the child pending finalization of the adoption.
10. Your social worker will prepare a post-placement report and recommend that the adoption be finalized. The court will set a date for a private hearing, where you will obtain a final decree of adoption. Invite your friends and family to join you at the hearing, bring your camera, and celebrate!
Please note that most adoptions require additional procedures. The items listed above represent the major steps required in most adoption cases.
Should we adopt internationally or from the United States?
Both processes have their advantages. Because the processes are very different, though, this decision requires your thoughtful attention early in the process.
Some people are drawn to international adoption because they like the idea of providing a better life to one of the many waiting children in foreign orphanages. Because international adoptions usually involve children already placed in the custody of the state, contact with birthparents is unusual, which is comforting to some adoptive moms and dads. Very few newborns are adopted internationally – most children are between six and twenty-four months old when they come home to the United States. Virtually all international adoptions are arranged through agencies. The child is first adopted in her birth country, then”re-adopted” in the United States with the help of an attorney.
Other people prefer domestic adoptions because the odds of adopting a newborn or very young child are much higher, as are the odds of obtaining medical information about the birthmother and father. Some people adopt domestically because they are unable to travel to a foreign country (sometimes multiple trips are required), because they do not fit the profile required by certain foreign countries (such as age or marital status), or because they wish to maintain more control over the process than is possible when working with an agency and a foreign government.
While these are some of the factors to consider when deciding whether to adopt internationally or from the United States, there are many more. Please see the Resources page for suggested further reading on this topic.
Also referred to as “private adoption,” an adoption is considered independent when no agency is involved. The adoptive parents locate a birth mother themselves, usually through word of mouth, advertising, networking, friends, family, church, an attorney, etc.
I’m not part of a traditional married couple. Can I still adopt?
Absolutely. You do not have to be married, heterosexual, wealthy, beautiful, or perfect to adopt. In Washington, you just need to be over the age of 18 and have an approved homestudy. Many foreign countries require adoptive parents to be of a particular age and/or marital status, there are no such restrictions in private adoptions. You just need to be able to provide a child with a stable environment and with love.
My same-sex spouse and I are legally married, and she is our child’s biological mother. Do I still need to adopt?
Unfortunately, yes. Under Washington law, the non-biological parent of his or her spouse’s biological child is automatically a legal parent. But that is based on a Washington statute, and other states have different laws. If your family moved to a state with different laws, that state could refuse to recognize your status as a parent because it is not required to give effect to the statues of another state. However, states are required to recognize court orders from other states. A Decree of Adoption is a court order. Therefore, establishing your parentage via an adoption decree provides broader protection than simply replying on Washington law. Someday, I hope to change the answer to this question to “no.”
I truly wish I could answer this question definitively. It is impossible to generalize, but most people are able to adopt a child in nine to eighteen months if they are proactive about seeking a birthmother. The good news is that some of the variables are under your control, such as how much effort you put into networking. People who are open to children of multiple ethnic backgrounds also tend to have shorter wait times, while it may take longer to bring home a Caucasian newborn with no known special needs.
You tell everyone you have ever met – and lots of people you haven’t – that you want to adopt a child, and ask them to tell everyone they have ever met. Think of every constituency you can access (churches, alumni clubs, bowling leagues) and share your news. Most people create websites, some reach out to hospitals and clinics, and some create “adoption cards” and leave them in public places. This is a creative, not a scientific process. It just requires perseverance. I can provide more detailed guidance in person.
It is many different things. An adoption is considered open if members of the birth family visit the child from time to time. An adoption is also considered open if the adoptive parents send letters and pictures of the child once a year.
Almost every prospective adoptive parent resists the prospect of their child’s birth parent remaining part of their lives. Won’t the child be confused about which mom and dad are “real?” Won’t the birth parent want to take the child back? Won’t the child be less “ours” if the birth parents are around? All these hesitations are common and legitimate. You need to honestly consider how much openness your family can accept – agreeing to a very open arrangement in an effort to make an adoption succeed will lead to problems down the road if you’re not really comfortable with the involvement of the birth family.
That said, parents participating in open adoptions consistently report that despite their initial concerns, they are happy to have at least some degree of contact with their child’s birth family. Although the child knows that he has a birthmother, there is no confusion about who is mom and dad. Open adoption is not co-parenting.
Do not assume that every birthparent will negotiate for as much contact with the child as possible. If someone has chosen to make an adoption plan, it is because she wants someone else to raise her child. Often, birthmothers are happy to know that their child is growing well, but do not wish to have contact with the child. This is another area where your attorney and/or agency can provide guidance.
Washington law allows parties to enter into a legally-enforceable “open adoption agreement” or “contact and communication agreement” setting forth the terms of the agreed-upon contact until the child reaches age 18. Agreements like this ensure that all parties have the same understanding and expectations.
Independent and private agency adoptions can cost anywhere from $5,000 to upwards of $40,000. Independent adoptions are more likely than agency adoptions to fall in the lower end of that range, because parents adopting independently perform some of the work that an agency would otherwise do (coordinating the homestudy, searching for a birthmother, etc.). Factors influencing the cost of independent domestic adoptions include (a) whether both birthparents voluntarily relinquish their parental rights, or whether involuntary termination proceedings are necessary; (b) how many potential birthfathers are involved; (c) whether a child is considered an Indian Child for the purposes of the Indian Child Welfare Act; and (d) whether the adoptive parents pay any medical or living expenses for the birthmother. International adoptions, virtually all of which are accomplished through agencies, often involve significant travel costs.
As a very general guideline, a 2015-2016 Adoptive Families magazine survey of domestic and international adopters found that the average cost of a domestic newborn adoption using an agency was $42,337. The average cost of a domestic independent newborn adoption was $31,890. Adoptions from China cost an average of $35,082, and from South Korea was $40-50,000.
Most people use the term "homestudy" to refer to the preparation of a pre-placement report, which is a document submitted to the court by a licensed social worker, stating that you are qualified to adopt a child. The goal of the homestudy is to demonstrate that you are capable of providing a stable and loving home. The pre-placement report includes a great deal of information that can be cumbersome for you to gather (FBI and state patrol background checks, letters of reference, tax statements, medical reports, and more!), but people tend to worry more about the home visit and interview with the social worker.
The social worker will probably meet with you twice, typically once at his or her office and once at your home. He or she will ask you questions about your background, upbringing, job, friends, family, activities, marriage or living situation, why you wish to adopt, and about your basic parenting and discipline philosophies. You will give a brief tour of your home, and the report will include a statement about where the child will sleep, whether the home is generally appropriate for children, etc. (Someone I know was prepared to install child locks on every drawer before his homestudy. This is not necessary. Social workers are looking for hazards more on the order of open fire pits or a cliff in the backyard . . . and even those can be cured with a fence.) Do the dishes and pick up your clothes, but you don't need to clean out the lint trap in the dryer or hide all your steak knives. The social worker does not have the goal of disqualifying you!
I can provide a more detailed explanation of the homestudy and pre-placement report process in person.
Start networking. Tell everyone you meet that you want to adopt a baby. Note that Washington law prohibits placing advertisements until you have a completed, approved home study, but you are free to use word of mouth. You can also start preparing a packet of information about you and your family, and writing a “Dear Birthmother” letter.