The adoption process can feel overwhelming and unclear at times. In fact, you aren’t really sure what the adoption rules are, if any. I intend to help you understand the age-old question, “What are some top adoption rules we need to know?” I may not be able to answer all of your questions, but I will at least give you a rundown of what to expect throughout the adoption process.

First and foremost, what is the difference between a rule and a law? As defined by, a rule is “one of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct within a particular activity or sphere.” 

Likewise, a law is defined as “the system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties.” So really you can’t have one without the other.

Maybe we will start with the basics of what, if any, are the requirements for being able to adopt? Of course, some of these requirements are governed at the state level and some at the federal level.  

Are there any age requirements?

          – In most cases, the prospective adoptive parents must be at least 21 years of age or older for U.S. adoptions. If pursuing an open adoption wherein the birth parents chose the adoptive parents, the birth parents may have an age preference, but it is not necessarily a requirement. Many international adoptions do have age requirements but those vary by each individual country. Make sure to check with the country you are hoping to adopt from for those specific requirements.

Are there medical health requirements?

          – It is important to prove that the prospective adoptive parents are in stable medical condition. If one or both of the parents have a history of a chronic illness, a letter from their primary physician will most likely be needed to indicate that they are physically stable and able to parent the child. All past and current medical conditions will need to be stated and addressed if there are further concerns.

Are there emotional health requirements?

– Again, as stated above, it is important that the adoptive parents are able to provide stable emotional health as well. If one or both of the parents have a psychiatric illness, a letter from their treating doctor will need to be provided to indicate that the adoptive parent is stable and able to parent. The doctor will also have to provide a list of all medications the patient is taking as well.

Are there any “clearance” requirements?

          – All household members over the age of 18 must undergo a child abuse clearance. If anything is found, it will most likely prevent an adoption from occurring. You must also submit to a criminal background check. This usually happens at the state level and the federal level. If there is any sort of arrest history, a personal statement of the incident will need to be provided. Again, depending on the criminal charges, it could prevent an adoption from occurring.

Are there marital requirements?

– In most U.S. cases there is not a marriage requirement. However, depending on the agency you are working with, they may have a marriage requirement. Also, most international adoptions have marriage requirements that will depend on the country.

Are there financial requirements?

          – There is not a specific income requirement, however, you will need to undergo an assessment to prove that you have the financial resources to raise a child. You will need to provide proof of income, including pay stubs, taxes, etc. You will also need to prove you have the resources available to fund your adoption. Whether it be for international adoption or for domestic adoption.

Are there residency requirements?

          – This will depend on each state. Some states do have a residency requirement wherein you live in that specific state for anywhere from 60 days to 1 year.

What are my home environment requirements?

          – This is where your home study will determine a lot. Your home study is looking to see if your home is safe and secure for a child. This requirement also changes by states. Some states require a certain amount of square footage while others require a specific room where the child will be sleeping. Make sure to check with your agency worker about your state’s requirements.

Are there parental education requirements?

          – This question could be two-fold. One, is there a requirement of the adoptive parents to have an education? Most states at least require a high school education. While some international countries require a little more education than a high school diploma. The other side of this question could be, “Are there parental education requirements in order to adopt?” Yes, some agencies require you to attend adoption education classes. These are meant to help you understand the process better as well as to help you with raising an adopted child.

Okay, now that we have some of the basic requirements out of the way, what about the laws of adoption? What are they, and what do I need to know about them? Are there any that will come as a shock? What do I need to be prepared for?

Termination of Parental Rights.

The first legal step in an adoption is the termination of parental rights. This simply means terminating the child’s birth parents’ rights in a court of law. We actually attended our son’s birth mom’s termination of parental rights hearing. This is not recommended, and I now know why. It is brutally honest, and she was questioned more times than I needed to hear. She did an amazing job but I will give you a fair warning, do not go if the opportunity presents itself! This step must happen before the child can be legally adopted. Each state has its own “waiting” period before the termination of parental rights hearing can take place. Make sure to check with your agency, social worker, or adoption attorney to make sure you understand what this waiting period is and how the state’s legal process works. In our state it is usually 30 days, unfortunately for us, we had to wait 45 days.

What is Legal Risk?

Another adoption law term you should be aware of is legal risk. What is a legal risk? Legal risk is when a child is placed with the adoptive parents before the birth parent’s legal rights have been terminated. In our case, we took this risk. We were pretty confident in our son’s birth mom and knew she wouldn’t change her mind. But that is the risk that you are taking. If you bring the child into your home before the termination of parental rights hearing, the birth parents could change their minds.


You may also become familiar with the judicial system, depending on what type of adoption you are pursuing. In the case of adopting from foster care, there is a lot more involvement with the court system. For instance, you may deal with a CASA worker. A CASA worker is a Court-Appointed Special Advocate. They are assigned by a judge usually in abuse or neglect cases to provide the judge with assistance in making decisions for the child’s future. Depending on your case, you may also have a Guardian Ad Litem, a court-appointed attorney to act in the best interest of the child.

Legal Documents:

What other legal documents or actions should I know about? First and foremost, you should know that in order for the termination of parental rights hearing to take place there must also be a consent to the adoption signed by the birth parents. In some cases, a court can relinquish the birth parents rights without them signing the document. Your adoption agency, worker, or attorney also must prepare an adoption consent for the adoptive parents which proves they have met all the requirements for adopting. In some states, a child over the age of 12 will also need to sign an adoption consent form. Make sure to check with your states’ requirements if adopting an older child.

Birth Certificate:

Each state governs its own rules regarding your child’s original birth certificate. Your child’s original birth certificate includes the birth mother’s name, father’s name (if known), the date, place, time of birth, and the name given to the child at birth. Once the adoption is finalized, a new birth certificate will be issued with the adoptive parents listed as the parents and the name given to the child at adoption.

In our case, our son was named what we wanted him named but took his birth mother’s last name for the sake of ease and insurance purposes. Everything was already listed as her name and it just made sense to keep it that way. Once the adoption was finalized the only thing we changed was his last name. You will also need to obtain a social security card for your adopted child. This can be done once you have obtained the new birth certificate showing your names and the child’s new name. If you are adopting an older child, they may already have a social security number, you may just need to update his/her name with the Social Security Administration. If you have any questions about how to obtain these documents, make sure you check with your local offices.


The finalization of the adoption usually takes place approximately six months after the child is placed in your home. This final action takes place in a courtroom and is a joyous celebration. Usually, you are able to invite family and friends to attend. I remember everything about that day. It was emotional and exciting all in one! The judge asked a few questions of us and our social worker and that was pretty much it. It was short and sweet but left a lasting impact on our lives, probably for forever! This is the day our son finally got our last name! You should also receive the adoption decree or adoption certificate after the hearing takes place. This document is issued by the court and states that the child is the legal child of the adoptive parents.

Open Adoption.

Open adoption is where the adoptive parents allow contact between the birth parents and the child. This could be in the form of written communication or in-person contact. This is becoming more and more popular as studies have found it is actually more helpful to the adoptive child to have contact with their birth family. An open adoption agreement can be drafted and usually outlines the frequency and manner of contact between the birth family and the adoptive family/child. It is important to note that while it may be drawn up in the form of a contract and signed by all, it is not legally binding in most states. To be sure of your legal risks with an open adoption agreement, please check with your social worker or attorney.


The adoption process is tough. It can be confusing. It can be emotional. It can be time-consuming. It can be downright hard at times. But let me reassure you that it is all for the good of a child. It is tough because adoption agencies, professionals, states, and countries want to make sure that a child is going to be placed in a secure, safe, loving home. The child’s wellbeing is everyone’s most important task; it may be hard at times to remember that when your life is under the microscope of the judicial and adoption system, but it is important to remember. You are doing all of this so that you may open your heart and home to love a child who may not otherwise be loved the way you can love them.

I hope this article helped answer your question, “What are some top adoption rules we need to know?” Or at the very least, gave you a good idea of what to expect while going through the adoption process especially the legal processes. In any event, I wish you the very best with your adoption and know that it is worth it in the end, I can attest to that!


Jessica Heesch is an avid runner and fitness guru by choice, occasional writer by coincidence, loved by an amazing husband, and mother to an incredible boy, Jackson, by the gift of adoption.