There are multiple levels of requirements for becoming an adoptive parent. First there are legal requirements, which vary from state to state (and country to country). But beyond that there are the policies of the adoption agency itself. For many adoptions, the preferences of the birth mother are taken into account as well. For international adoptions, the laws and policies of the originating country might add further requirements that adoptive parents must meet.
Unlike the legal requirements, many of the adoption agency policies tend not to be hard and fast rules. They are guidelines that can sometimes be negotiated, if there are enough other factors that make certain adoptive parents good candidates, and if there are insufficient candidates that fill all the preferences of the agency and the birth mothers.
It’s not possible to give a definitive list of all the requirements for becoming adoptive parents, as these differ-sometimes quite a lot-depending on the legal jurisdiction, the agency, and the birth mother. But here are the factors that are most often present:
There will pretty much always be a minimum age requirement to adopt. Agencies also will typically have a maximum age, though this can be flexible. If you’re in your 60s and above it will be hard to adopt. 50s will be fairly tough also, and you may be limited to children who are already of school age. Even if you’re in your 40s you won’t be quite as desirable as adoptive parents as if you were younger.
Note though that for international adoptions, there are some countries that not only allow but may actually favor older adoptive parents than is the norm in the United States.
Agencies also often take into account the age difference between the prospective adoptive parents and the child. For example, a common minimum age requirement is 21. A couple that is 23 and 22 meets that requirement, however there may be an additional requirement that the adoptive parents be at least, say, 20 years older than the child. So they could adopt a 2 year old, but not a 15 year old. In the case of the 15 year old, the issue is that they are too close to being peers rather than adult authority figures.
2. Criminal record
Not only state laws but also federal laws put serious restrictions on adoption to block people with a record of certain criminal activity. All potential adoptive parents will have to undergo a criminal background check, and they will be banned from consideration if they have convictions for crimes involving the abuse or neglect of children, spousal abuse, murder, rape, or other major felonies.
Other crimes, such as assault or drug crimes, may make a person ineligible to adopt for a certain number of years.
Then beyond the legal requirements, agency policies and birth mother preferences are likely to make it even harder for people with a criminal record to adopt.
3. Marital status
Generally the law is not going to block single people or unmarried couples from adopting. Many adoption agencies, however, have policies favoring married couples, sometimes requiring a certain minimum number of years of marriage, especially for those wishing to adopt an infant.
Furthermore, many birth mothers prefer a married couple, so it will be harder for a single person to find a match. A birth mother who is herself single and is giving up her child due to believing it needs instead to be in a stable two-parent home is not likely to look favorably on a sideways transfer to another single parent.
In the case of an international adoption, some countries do not allow adoption by single people.
A prior divorce is unlikely to affect one’s ability to adopt. Insofar as marital status is relevant at all, it’ll be present marital status that is considered.
It is expensive to care for a child. An agency will want to be confident that the prospective adoptive parents will be able to handle the financial burden. They’ll look at net worth, employment prospects and stability, and history of financial responsibility or irresponsibility.
Employment may also be relevant in another sense if a person’s job is dangerous or will require them to often be away from home for extended periods.
The health of adoptive parents will be looked at closely, because it will be traumatic for a child to be adopted and then while they’re still children to have one or both of their new parents die or be incapacitated by health problems. Requirements may include not only a physical examination but a psychological assessment. An agency wants assurance that parents will be physically and mentally up to the challenge of raising a child for many years, and hopefully maintaining a relationship for many decades.
Illegal drug use is already an issue due to the criminal background check, but smoking, drinking, and drug use in general also raise health issues (for the adoptive parents and the child) and will make adoption harder to varying degrees. Some agencies prohibit smokers entirely, as they do not want to place a child in a home where it will grow up inhaling secondhand smoke. Most agencies won’t have a problem with light drinking, but will with alcohol abuse.
For international adoptions, some countries have specific health requirements that may be more strict than those in most jurisdictions in the United States. For instance, if you wish to adopt a child from South Korea, their laws require you to be no more than 30% overweight.
People with disabilities are not automatically ruled out for becoming adoptive parents. But it will depend on the extent to which the disability can be expected to hamper their parenting. Some agencies have the resources and knowledge to work with disabled people to enable them to learn the skills and make the necessary adjustments so that their disabilities are not a significant impediment to good parenting. Other agencies do not, and it will be much harder for a disabled person to be approved by them.
The adoptive parents must be able to provide a home that is safe, clean, and able to appropriately accommodate the child. It need not be a mansion in the richest part of town. The agency may look at such factors as the presence of other people living under the same roof, the presence of dangerous animals such as pit bulls, the safety status of a swimming pool, and whether there are firearms in the home and how they are stored.
7. Legal representation
Virtually all adoptive parents will need to have an attorney for at least part of the process.
8. Paperwork, classes, and other preparation
Invariably the law and a specific agency’s requirements will include jumping through various hoops such as filling out forms. There will generally be a requirement to attend several weeks of classes in adoption and parenting. There will be extensive interviews with agency personnel.
One of the most important requirements for being adoptive parents is simply that one have the right intangibles to impress the person or people assigned to your case by the agency, so that they will work hard to make it happen for you.
9. Presence of other children
Traditionally a preference was given to couples who had no children, and were infertile and unable to have children in the future. More recently, though, many agencies see parenting experience as a plus, and prefer adoptive parents who already have at least one child. Birth mothers on average tend to have that same preference. So having kids could help or hurt; on balance it’s probably not substantially harder to adopt either way.
Some agencies may place a limit on children of a certain age, for instance that an adoptive family have no more than two children in infancy simultaneously. So if they have one such child already, they can adopt at most one more, until the children get older.
Some adoption agencies are run by a specific religious entity and may have a preference, or a requirement, that the adopted parents they approve be of that same religion. (This does not raise Constitutional issues as long as the agency is fully private, rather than government run or supported.)
11. Sexual preference
In the majority of states at present, gay couples are not blocked from adopting. It will still generally be more difficult, though. For instance, if an adoption agency only allows its infants to be adopted by a married couple, and gay marriage is not legal in their state, then in effect that creates a barrier for a gay couple that does not exist for a married, straight couple.
12. Stay-at-home parent
Though typically not a requirement, some agencies (and birth mothers) prefer a family that has the luxury of having an adult home full time. This is likely to be a bigger factor in the very early stages of the adoption (they might want a stay-at-home parent for, say, the first six months), or for younger children (they might value a stay-at-home parent more for a 2 year old than for a 9 year old).
At least as rules of thumb, these are the main things to be aware are required-or helpful-if one wishes to become an adoptive parent.
Louis Doverspike, “Adoptive Parent’s Requirements.” eHow.
“Review of Qualification Requirements for Prospective Adoptive Parents.” Adoption.com.