Every state has different laws, rules, and requirements when it comes to adoption—from who is eligible to be adopted to who is eligible to adopt—spanning domestic infant adoption, foster to adopt, and international adoption. It’s important for anyone considering adoption to become familiar with local, state, and federal laws surrounding adoption whether you are looking within your state or adopting from another state.

Before you begin to explore California adoption laws, you should first take some time to understand what adoption means: “Adoption is the establishment of a legally recognized, lifelong relationship between adoptive parents and the adoptee(s) in question. Adoption is a permanent choice for birth parents. Adoption can occur in varying ways. A person can adopt his or her stepchild or relative. There are international adoptions where a couple adopts an orphan from another country. A person may also wish to adopt from foster care. This is where a child’s parents have voluntarily or involuntarily relinquished parental rights, and the child is in need of a permanent home. The last type of adoption is domestic infant adoption. This is when a person or couple adopts a baby in the U.S. This can be for any number of reasons.”

You should also take some time to explore what adoption will mean for you and your existing family. Do some soul searching to determine if adoption is a good match for you and what you will have to offer to an adopted child. The article “What Are the Qualifications for Adoption” talks about some of the hard and soft qualifications potential parents should consider ahead of beginning the adoption journey including finances, age, relationship status, health, and education and training.

Like so many other states, California adoption laws are complicated and ever-changing. While this article will cover some of the basics, it is important for adoptive parents to work closely with an adoption facilitator, agency, or legal representative to ensure they are in compliance with the most current regulations.

Types of Adoption in California

The different types of adoption in California include stepparent/domestic partner adoption, independent adoption, agency adoption, and international adoption.

Stepparent/Domestic Partner Adoption

Stepparent/domestic partner adoption is considered to be the easiest and most common type of adoption and involves the spouse or domestic partner of the child’s parents adopting the child. California adoption laws require the couple to be legally married or registered as domestic partners.

Agency and Facilitator Adoption

Agency adoption in the state of California involves the California Department of Social Services or a licensed adoption agency. If you’re adopting through an adoption agency, the prospective birth parents can consent to adoption at any point after the child is born. To do so, they will sign a consent form before two witnesses, and an official from the adoption agency will acknowledge the form.

In the case of fostering to adopt in California, prospective parents can expect to face the same requirements as adopting an infant in a private adoption; however, unlike private adoption which can be quite expensive, the cost to adopt from foster care usually does not exceed $500 and this amount is typically reimbursable upon completion of the adoption. In some cases, agencies charge nothing at all.

When choosing an adoption agency, you should be prepared to ask important questions, including:

- Cost estimates (including hidden fees) and what will happen to your money in the case of an adoption disruption

- What type of support and education the agency offers

- Wait times

- Referrals

Adoption facilitators in California must be registered with the California Department of Social Services and possess a current California business license, post a $25K surety bond, meet education and experience requirements, and undergo a criminal background check. Stay away from adoption facilitators who do the following:

- Post specific information about particular minor children available for placement

- Care for a child, even temporarily

- Use a photolisting to advertise minor children available for adoptive placement

- Imply that they are a licensed adoption agency

Independent Adoption

In the case of independent adoption in California, neither the Department of Social Services nor an adoption agency is involved in the process. The parental rights of the existing parents do not have to end if both the existing and adopting parents agree, according to California adoption laws.

For families adopting a child through direct placement, according to the AA site, the prospective birth mother must wait to consent until after she’s been discharged from the hospital. When she signs the consent form, this must happen in the presence of an adoption service provider or some other professional who has advised her and the prospective birth father of their parental rights. Should the child you wish to adopt be of Indian heritage, there will be a 10-day waiting period before the prospective birth parents can consent to the adoption.

International Adoption

Finally, families in California may choose to pursue international or intercountry adoption, which involves the adoption of a child from another country. Although much of the paperwork and legal issues will include international rules of law such as the Hague Convention, prospective parents will also need to consider pertinent laws of the state of California during and post-adoption.

Just like domestic adoption, international adoption requires prospective adoptive parents to go through a home study and prepare a dossier. The process of overseas adoption also typically requires that you travel to your child’s birth country (in some cases through some programs children come to the United States).

When selecting a California adoption agency, you should determine that your agency is licensed for the country from which you wish to adopt. The Universal Accreditation Act of 2012requires adoption agencies to meet federal accreditation requirements for adoption. California adoption agencies who specialize in international adoption will be able to guide you on which country might be right for your family and can help you to better understand the required paperwork from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. In addition to federal requirements, you also will need to comply with the state of California requirements and the requirements for the country you are adopting from. Similar to states, countries have their own set of rules that may include specific requirements concerning an adoptive parent’s age, marital status, income, or health.

It is typically recommended that adoptive parents readopt their child in California after adopting internationally. According to the Adoption.com article, “Should I Readopt My Child?” readoption is the legal process through which a child, who was previously legally adopted internationally, is adopted again in the United States. The readoption process typically involves at least one post-placement home visit and a review of the foreign adoption by a state court.

Adoptive parents will need to file the following documents with the court to complete the readoption process:

- Adoption petition

- Certified translations of the legal documents for the foreign adoption

- Accounting reports

- Your home study

- Your final adoption order

You will be required to finalize your adoption in California if your child received an IH-4 or IR-4 visa, meaning that your child came to the United States under guardianship, and the adoption was not legally finalized in the country of birth. Readoption is optional but highly encouraged if you received an IH-3 or IR-3 visa. Further, the process of readoption allows you to obtain a state-issued birth certificate in English for your child.

Special Needs Adoption in California

Special needs children make up a large portion of waiting children in the state of California and range in age from infants to teenagers, come from a variety of different backgrounds, and have a variety of needs.

In particular, special needs children are typically defined as the following:

- Older children

- Children of certain racial or ethnic backgrounds

- Members of sibling groups

- Having medical, physical, mental, or emotional needs requiring special attention

- Children who have spent time in an international orphanage (not all international adoptees are considered special needs, and the requirements are similar so far as physical, mental, medical, or emotional needs to be determined by licensed medical professionals).

California children qualifying as special needs are eligible to receive monthly adoption subsidies and medical coverage through the Adoption Assistance Program until they turn 18. According to the California Department of Social Services, the negotiated AAP benefits are based on your child’s needs and the circumstances of the family.

Meeting the Requirements to Adopt a Child in California

With the exception of stepparent or relative adoptions, all other hopeful adoptive parents in the state of California must be at least 10 years older than the child they are adopting, and all parents must complete a home study, including criminal background checks, before they can be approved to adopt.

What to Expect During My Home Study?

During the adoption home study process in California, prospective parents should expect to be required to do the following:

- Autobiographical statements

- Submit fingerprints as part of your criminal background check and clearances

- Driver’s license and proof of insurance

- Birth certificates (of adopting parents)

- Complete your physical examination and submit health statements

- Attend required adoption training classes

- Complete individual interviews with your assigned social worker

- References

- Complete your in-home visit and investigation with your social worker

- Financial statements

Home studies are not meant to be adoption deterrents, but rather safeguards for all parties involved. Reasons why a home study would not be approved include these:

- An adult living in your home has been convicted of a felony for child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, a crime against a child (including child pornography), or a crime involving violence (including rape, sexual assault, or homicide).

- An adult living in your home has been convicted of a felony for physical assault, battery, or a drug- or alcohol-related offense within the past five years.

Birth Parent Expenses When It Comes to California Adoption Laws

Adoptive parents are allowed to pay for all maternity-related expenses for prospective birth parents in the state of California, including medical and counseling fees, living expenses, and attorney’s fees. In order to receive financial assistance, birth parents are required to request payments for specific bills in writing and provide receipts whenever money is exchanged. Adoptive parents are required to submit all receipts to the court before their adoption can legally be finalized. Every exchange must be documented and accounted for court approval.

Completing an Adoption in California

Being united with your adopted child will prove to be one of the best days of your life, but before you put away your paperwork, you should be aware that in order to ensure your child is legally yours forevermore, you will need to complete post-placement visits and attend an adoption finalization hearing.

You can expect a casual visit during which your social worker may ask questions to determine how everyone in the household is getting along with the objective of ensuring that all members of the family have the support they need to adjust, bond, and grow together as a family in a healthy way.

Similar to your home study visits, your post-placement study is meant to protect all parties involved and to ensure that both you and your adopted child are transitioning well. Typically, the same social worker who completed your home study will work with you to complete your post-placement visits, which usually last up to six months. The post-placement visits will end once you receive your final decree of adoption in California court.

In addition, you will need to wait for the termination of parental rights before your adoption can be finalized by the court. This step may be determined upon compliance with federal and state laws such as The Indian Child Welfare Act and The Interstate Compact_on_the Placement_of_Children.

Next Steps

While the process may seem complicated and the laws are confusing—to say the least—reaching out for help is your best bet and first step to realizing your dream of adoption in the state of California.

To learn more about the adoption process in California, check out this article on Adoption.com, reference the California Adoption Guide, or learn more about becoming a foster parent in California here.