There are many reasons for adult adoption. My daughter chose to be adopted as an adult by my husband, her stepfather, to formally acknowledge the relationship that they had as a parent and a child. Because she also had a relationship with her biological father, he would not allow the adoption to take place when she was a minor. She felt strongly that her relationship with her biological father was not parental in nature, and wanted to make her stepfather her legal father. By making the relationship legal, it also means that she can inherit from him. In our area, the adoption process was easy and did not require a lawyer. We were able to fill out the petition for adoption ourselves, schedule the court date, and have a judge finalize the adoption with very little cost to us. The whole process was actually fairly simple.
Consent for Adoption
When an adult is adopted, typically the only consent needed is that of the adoptee. Since they are legally an adult, they are able to consent to their own adoption. When a minor is adopted, the consent of their biological parents is required if parental rights have not been terminated. A judge still makes the final ruling on if the adoption will be finalized and legal. The judge will likely ask a few important questions at the hearing to understand the reasons for the adoption and to be sure it is in everyone’s best interest to grant the petition. In some instances, the consent of the spouse of the adopter may also be needed if they are not part of the petition to adopt. The rules of consent vary based on your state laws.
Some Reasons to Adopt an Adult
Legal inheritance rights are another reason adult adoption takes place. If there is not a legal relationship between two people, one may not be able to easily inherit. Formalizing the relationship with adoption makes inheriting much easier and less likely to be challenged. Inheritance laws can be complicated, but having a legally recognized relationship between people will make the situation less complicated and easier to manage within the terms of the law.
In some cases, caregivers of adults who have physical or mental health challenges may adopt that adult in order to be able to help with their care legally. When an adult is incapable of caring for themselves, it is helpful to have a person who can be legally responsible to handle care and decisions. If the person who is helping with this isn’t a legal parent, adoption can make the job of caring for them easier. If the biological parents are not able or willing to continue care for an adult child, another adult caregiver may seek to legally adopt in order to make it easier to provide care legally. This allows one adult caregiver to be able to legally make decisions for another adult who is not capable of doing so.
In Foster Care
Adult adoption can occur in foster care situations. If a family has fostered a child and formed a significant bond with them, the child and family may choose to recognize that bond when the child becomes a legal adult. This is especially helpful for children who age out of foster care and do not wish to return to their biological families. They can then legally solidify the relationship with their foster family and become a forever family.
In some areas, there is little push to have teens in foster care adopted. Therefore, if a teen is interested in being adopted, doing so after age 18 is a possibility. Again, at this age, the adoptee is able to consent to their own adoption, and no other parents need to be involved. In this type of situation, it helps that the biological family does not need to be contacted or participate in the consent of the adoption. The adult child can choose whether or not they want to communicate their decision.
Reuniting with Birth Family
There are sometimes cases of adult adoptees who have been adopted as children where they decide to seek out their biological families. When this reunion is a happy one and familial bonds are formed, sometimes biological family decides to formalize their relationship with an adult adoption. This would again make the biological parents the legal parents of the child who was previously adopted. The adoptee should be aware that this may make inheritance from their previous adoptive family more difficult.
As a mom who has also adopted, I have a hard time imagining the above scenario. I have, however, seen situations where I think this type of scenario is feasible. I have seen kids who did not thrive in their homes after adoption. Situations that involve parents and children who do not really bond appropriately. In these situations, when the child becomes an adult and seeks out biological connections, they may find that they feel more comfortable with their biological family than with the family that raised them. In these cases, they may wish to cut legal ties and reaffirm the relationship they had to their biological family.
When an adoption occurs, there is the chance to change the surname of the adoptee to that of the adopter. This is not required, and it is a personal choice. In most child adoptions, the surname of the adoptee is changed. In adult adoption, the adoptee is able to decide for himself or herself if they want to change their name when finalizing their adoption. In some cases, the name is changed, while in others, the name remains the same. This is a very personal decision and one that only the adoptee should make. As a legal adult at the time of adoption, the adoptee is able to choose the name they prefer.
In my personal situation, when my adult daughter chose to be adopted by her stepfather, she chose a completely separate surname from both us and her biological father. She had used this name for years in everyday life, using her legal last name (the name of her biological father) only when legally required. This was the name she identified with and chose. We had changed her name legally a few years prior to her legal adoption, and since she preferred this name, she did not wish to take on my married surname. The decision was what was right for her. In our state, minor children can legally change their names with only one parent’s consent at the age of 14.
Other Reasons to Adopt an Adult
Adult adoption is not a way to change immigration status. Some people believe that if they adopt an adult immigrant then that person becomes a legal citizen of the United States. This is not the case. It does allow for that person to become legally able to inherit from their adopter, but it will not change their immigration status. They must still follow the proper chain of paperwork to become a legal citizen. In today’s political climate, some people are using this idea to defraud immigrants and gain payment for false promises.
Sometimes, siblings who have cared for each other choose to formalize their relationship with adoption. There are cases in which older siblings assume the parental responsibilities of their siblings. There are many reasons this could happen. Some of these situations could include when a parent is ill or incapacitated due to health reasons, if a parent is incarcerated, or if a parent is deployed for long periods of time in the military. These are just a few possible examples of situations where an older sibling may take on the role of parent for a younger sibling. Sometimes, when a child identifies an older sibling as a parent, they may choose to have the sibling adopt them.
Why Pursue Adult Adoption?
Some people may not understand the need for adult adoptions to be pursued. When a person is a legal adult, they no longer need parental consent or signatures, nor do their parents remain responsible for the child’s welfare after they become adults.
However, when an adoption takes place, it may help the parent/child relationship since it is now formally recognized. If the parent chooses, they may provide insurance to an adult child who is pursuing a college degree if allowed. It may allow the parents to assist with other financial areas as well.
However, when adopting an adult, the adopter is not required to take legal financial responsibility for the adoptee given that they are already legal adults. So, legal financial responsibility does not need to be a factor in the decision to adopt. In some cases, it is possible to improve financial situations, in others, it may not be.
In cases of adult adoption, sometimes the motivation is just simply wanting to formalize a relationship between two people. While legal recognition helps with inheritance and things of that nature, sometimes it just brings a sense of calm and comfort to have a legal recognition of a relationship. As a parent who has adopted children, I can understand this sense of comfort, even if the child was a legal adult. While my day-to-day relationship was not changed when my children were legally adopted, there is definite importance to the finalization of the adoption.
In the case of adult adoption, there may be less need for legal reasons, but the need for emotional reasons may make the adoption just as important as that of someone younger. The emotional relief that the relationship is legally bonded may be significant and may be the only true benefit in some cases. If there is not a lot of inheritance or not a lot of financial support within the relationship, it does not make the relationship less significant or important. We need to be conscious of our mental health needs and emotional needs as well as our financial needs.
In my personal adult adoption situation, my husband has always financially supported our daughter. But he also always did the everyday “dad” things as well. It simply made sense to formalize the relationship between them as father and daughter. It may seem trivial to some people to pursue the legal paper that acknowledges their relationship. But at the end of the day, the decision was theirs to make. For them, they felt the need to make their bond a legal bond. Beyond their feelings on the subject, others didn’t really matter.
Today, we give too much weight to societal opinions. We need to pursue our happiness without worrying about others.
As long as we are not causing others harm, we should feel free to pursue the things that make us happy. If one of those things is to adopt an adult or to be adopted as an adult, take comfort that this process is simple and inexpensive. And while everyone may not understand the motivations you have to legalize a relationship that you have, it is a decision that you get to make.
Our daughter maintains a relationship with her biological father. It has never been a true parental relationship, and now I think she feels more comfortable with the simple relationship they have. She feels more able to communicate openly with him and feels like she has a bit more control of her relationship with him. As an adult, she has voiced her feelings both legally and literally. And it has been a very emotionally freeing time for her. She has expressed that she feels as though a weight was lifted when she was legally adopted, even though she was already 18 years old at the time.
If you are an adult who wishes to be adopted, or if you are an adult who wishes to petition to adopt an adult, find out the laws and requirements of your state. Don’t allow fear of the process to prevent you from pursuing legalization of your relationship. The cost of the adoption is typically just the filing fees and charges for official documents. This cost is usually very minimal, especially when compared to the adoption of minor children. The time needed from start to finish is usually also minimal. In my case, we filed a petition and finalized the adoption in under three months.
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Jennifer is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.