Michigan, a state in the Great Lakes and Midwestern region of the United States, is home to about 10 million people. Ranked as the tenth most populous state in the country, Michigan is home to many cities and a diversity of communities. If you reside in Michigan or are considering adopting from the “Great Lake State,” it can be difficult to know where to begin. Understanding the types of adoption available, who is eligible to adopt, what requirements must be met to adopt a child in Michigan, and the children available for adoption, are important to know before beginning the adoption journey. Here is what you need to know about how to adopt a child in Michigan.
Types of Adoption in Michigan
Families may be formed in many different ways. Stepchild adoption and relative adoption both occur in Michigan, but the majority of adoptions in Michigan are private domestic adoption, adoption from foster care, and international adoption. Families pursuing stepchild adoption, relative adoption, private domestic adoption, or adoption from foster care, must adhere to the adoption laws of Michigan. Because domestic adoption, in any form, is governed by the state, there are no federal guidelines concerning adoption. Each state is allowed to mandate its own guidelines with respect to who can adopt, whether independent adoption is permitted, who can advertise to prospective birth mothers and how, consent laws, termination of parental rights, and post-placement requirements work. Families who both reside in and adopt from Michigan need only follow Michigan adoption regulations. But for families who live in one state, say Pennsylvania, but choose to adopt a child in Michigan, those families must adhere to the pre and post-adoption requirements of their home state but follow the adoption requirements of Michigan.
Families adopting a child in Michigan from private domestic adoption will typically match with a prospective birth mother. When the child is born, then the birth mother may legally consent to the adoption. Families interested in adopting from foster care will note that in Michigan there are roughly 3,000 children available for adoption in the state. Of these 3,000 children, 300 have no adoptive family identified. This means, that 300 children in Michigan are in foster care placements with no possibility of adoption. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services oversees the foster care and foster to adopt programs in Michigan. Children in foster care are primarily school-age, and sibling groups of two or more are common. Children over the age of 14 must give their consent to the adoption.
Families adopting internationally will need to follow both the state adoption laws of Michigan and the adoption laws of the United States. Michigan adoption laws will dictate the process for pre and post-adoption requirements, but the adoption will follow the laws of both the United States government and the sending country’s government. (The sending country refers to the child’s country of origin.) While the U.S. Department of State overseas all intercountry adoptions, families interested in adopting from another country should contact an international adoption agency to learn the rules and regulations for adopting from different countries. It is important to remember that just as different states in the United States set their own requirements for adoption, so too do different countries. The guidelines for adopting from China are very different than those to adopt from Colombia. Children available for intercountry adoption vary, too, depending on the sending country. Some countries have younger children available, while others have older children and sibling sets in need of forever homes. Throughout intercountry adoption, special needs adoption is common. Special needs may refer to a mild, medically correctable need, such as hearing or vision loss, cleft lip/palate, to more moderate and lifelong conditions. Sometimes, a child is labeled special needs due to her age (typically 4 or older) or because she belongs to a sibling group.
Who Can Adopt
In Michigan, there are no are minimum age requirements to adopt. There are no minimum number of years a couple must be married to begin the adoption process either. That said, many adoption agencies have their own requirements on the minimum age of prospective adoptive parents (typically 25), maximum age of prospective adoptive parents, and the minimum length of marriage (typically 2 years). To adopt from foster care, prospective adoptive parents must be at least 18 years old. For all domestic adoptions, prospective adoptive parents may be married or single and or members of the LGBTQ community. To adopt a child in Michigan, all prospective adoptive parents must demonstrate that they will provide a stable, loving, nurturing environment for the adopted child. Either renting or owning a home is acceptable in Michigan.
To adopt internationally, interested families must consult the guidelines of their country of interest. Countries vary widely on the age requirements, marriage requirements, if single women or men are eligible to adopt, and if members of the LGBTQ community may adopt. Many countries also have income, educational, and health requirements. For a complete list, visit the U.S. Department of State website for the most up-to-date information on country guidelines. The United States has no authority over the sending country’s requirements, so if a prospective adoptive parent does not meet the eligibility requirements of their country of choice, it is recommended to look into other country programs.
The Home Study
All families pursuing any kind of adoption in Michigan, or anywhere in the United States, must complete a home study. For many prospective adoptive families, the home study is one of the most daunting aspects of the process, but the home study is really just a way to provide a snapshot of what life with the prospective adoptive family would look like for the child. At the beginning of the home study, families will be asked to collect a series of documents to include letters from employers, financial statements, birth and marriage certificates, medical physicals, and personal reference letters. A thorough background investigation, fingerprinting, and clearance for child abuse and neglect must be conducted as well. After this, a state-licensed social worker will visit with the family, in person, typically three times. The social worker will tour the home and ensure that all safety requirements (smoke detectors, radon detectors, water hazard precautions) are met. Then the social worker will sit down with the family and discuss their motivations for adopting and what type of child/ren would be a good fit. The home study is a great opportunity to ask any and all questions about the process and about life as an adoptive family.
Included in the home study process is preadoption education. The purpose of preadoption education is to provide adoptive parents insights into and education about adoption. Depending on the type of adoption you are pursuing and the age of the child, topics may include attachment issues, feeding and sleep challenges, experiencing life as a transracial and/or transcultural family, parenting through loss and trauma, and older child adoption. The amount of preadoption education needed depends on the type of adoption pursued. Private domestic is typically 15-20 hours; adoption from foster care requires an additional 12 hours of Parent Resources for Information Development and Education (PRIDE) training, and intercountry adoption typically requires an additional 10-20 hours of Hague accredited preadoption training. Once preadoption education requirements have been met, then the home study will be finalized. A home study is valid for only one year, so should placement not occur within the year, a home study update will be necessary.
The Adoption Process – Private Domestic
To adopt a child in Michigan through private domestic adoption, a family will choose to either work with an agency or to pursue independent adoption. Families who elect to work with an agency should be sure to spend some time selecting which agency is right for them. Families adopting independently will work with either an adoption facilitator and/or an adoption law firm. It is important to work with either an agency, a facilitator, or an adoption attorney in Michigan as individual families may not advertise to prospective birth mothers directly.
Once a prospective birth mother is identified, the adoption agency, facilitator, or attorney will work to outline the guidelines for the adoption to include plans for the day of the birth, any payments to the birth mother, and terms of pre and post-birth contact between the adoptive and birth parents. Every state differs with regards to what is and is not allowable under prospective birth parent expenses. Under Michigan law, prospective adoptive parents can expect to pay for counseling services for the prospective birth mother, pre and postnatal medical care of the prospective birth mother and child, travel expenses incurred due to the prospective adoption, and prenatal living expenses as well as postnatal living expenses up to six weeks after the birth. What “living expenses” include is not outlined in the Michigan state adoption laws and is left up to the discretion of the prospective adoptive parents, prospective birth mother, and their respective attorneys. All expenses paid must be presented and filed in court at least 7 days prior to the placement of the child.
Michigan does not maintain a putative father registry, but a man who claims to be the father of the prospective adoptive child may file a notice of intent to claim paternity of that child with the court. The birth father may consent to the adoption at any time and may waive his parenting rights either pre or postnatally. Once the child is born, the birth mother may consent to the adoption at any time. Unlike other states, there is no timeline to wait for consent. Consent may be given in court or through an “out-of-court” consent form. Once consent is given, it becomes irrevocable, provided the adoption was conducted in an ethical and legal manner.
Upon consent, the adoptive parents become the legal guardians of the child. If the adoptive parents live outside the state of Michigan, then they must wait until their ICPC clearance (Interstate Compact of the Protection of Children) is obtained to return home. Families who live in Michigan will need to conduct at least three post-placement visits with their state-licensed social worker in order to finalize the adoption in a court of law. Once the adoption is finalized, a final order of adoption will be issued. The final order of adoption legally makes the child the child of the adoptive parents, “entitled to all the rights and privileges as if born to them (the adoptive parents).” Families who reside outside the state of Michigan will follow their own state guidelines for post-placement visits and adoption finalization. Typically, this is conducted within six months of returning home.
The Adoption Process – Foster Care
Adoption from foster care is similar to the private domestic adoption process in that families may choose to work with either an adoption agency or to do so independently by identifying a child through an online photolisting. Interested families will first register with the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE) and then attend an orientation with the Department of Human Services. The purpose of the orientation is to educate prospective adoptive families as to the type of children in foster care and the process to adopt a child from foster care. Families will then complete a foster care specific preadoption education (such as PRIDE) and then may file their application with the Michigan foster care system. At this time, families will work to complete their home study. Upon home study completion, the family is eligible to receive a child.
Like most states, when a family or agency identifies a waiting child, a committee will convene to evaluate the placement of that child, or children, with the prospective adoptive family. If the committee deems the match to a good one, then the family has a preplacement visit. Following the preplacement visit, if all goes well, the child will be taken out of the foster care system and placed with the family. Following placement, a state-licensed social worker and the child’s caseworker will convene with the family and the child to assess how everyone is adjusting. The social worker and caseworker are also excellent resources should the family have any questions or challenges. A total of three in-person visits must take place before the adoption may be finalized. Like in private domestic adoption, once these requirements have been fulfilled, the family will appear before a court, and the final order of adoption will be issued.
The Adoption Process – International
International adoption is dictated by the laws of the U.S. government and the sending country. As such, Michigan adoption laws have little bearing beyond the pre and post-placement requirements. Families residing in Michigan will complete a home study with a state-licensed social worker and then complete a country-specific dossier. The dossier will be submitted to the central adoption authority in the child’s country of origin and the family registered within the country. Many referrals come after registration within the country, though some families identify waiting children through their agencies or sites. Upon accepting a referral for a child, families will work to complete the child’s immigration papers with USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) and then travel to meet their child. The number of trips required to the child’s country of origin varies by country and at times location in that country. Upon entry to the United States, the child will become a U.S. citizen.