From start to finish, adoption can seem like a complicated, never-ending process — but it doesn’t have to be mysterious. The key players in an adoption are the expectant parents, the hopeful adoptive parents, and the agency and attorneys who facilitate the adoption.

When an expectant mother or a mother and father decide not to parent their child, they generally contact an agency to represent them as they select an adoptive family. Through their agency, they will create a list of qualities and attributes that they would like to see in the family that they choose to parent their child.

On the other side, a hopeful adoptive parent or a couple approaches an agency and begins a lengthy process in order to qualify for adoption. They will fill out background checks, submit to home visits, physicals, and verify their income and ability to provide a home. Hopeful adoptive parents can count on paying fees to the agency they choose, some of which may pass to the expectant parents in order to offset any maternity expenses.

Once an agency deems a family “approved” for adoption they begin the process of waiting to be chosen. They may create web pages and profiles in order to present themselves to expectant parents looking for a family to raise their child. There is no set timeline for most private U.S. adoptions — it can take years to be matched with a child or it may go quickly.

Once matched with a child, it is common practice to meet with the expectant parent or parents and get to know one another. It may seem tempting to assume it is all done, but until the expectant parents relinquish their rights after the birth of their child, nothing is set in stone. Both sides should have a competent attorney to ensure the adoption is legal and ethical, and that there is no coercion from agencies or individuals.

Written by Jennifer Galan.