Weighing the options of a potential adoptive family for your child is a demanding process, both from a factual point of view and from an emotional point of view. Expectant parents and birth parents, unfortunately, have to contemplate many hard questions regarding their adoption process, from open versus closed adoptions to what kind of family they would like their child to go to. There are so many decisions to be made, and anyone who has been through the process knows just how difficult it can be to wrestle with them. However, it can greatly help the process if you are knowledgeable about what your options are and which are most appealing to you. Hopefully, we can alleviate some of the stress by giving you information on at least one of the choices you might encounter: couple adoption versus single-parent adoption. 

As a birth parent, you will likely have a say in whether you go through a couple adoption or a single-parent adoption. Adoption agencies and social workers understand the struggle of choosing and will likely give you time to meet with different families and to think about what kind of family you would most want. This is something important to consider as you make your choice. The definitions of each are pretty self-explanatory. 

Couple Adoptions

Couple adoptions consist of a married couple adopting and raising a child. As of right now in the United States, this applies to any couple, however, in other countries and certain private adoption agencies there may be more restrictions regarding interracial couples or unmarried couples. The most traditional couple adoption is still comprised of a married woman and man, and more often than not they are looking to adopt an infant. 

Couple adoptions are one of the most common types of adoption, and the term couple adoption is an umbrella term covering many other types including second-parent adoption, stepparent adoption, and joint adoption. All of these are ways in which two people can simultaneously adopt a child, whether married or simply together. 

Types of Couple Adoption

Take, for example, unmarried adoptions. It is possible for unmarried couples to adopt children and for both to be considered the legal adoptive parents through a joint adoption. In joint adoption, both people in a couple adopt the child simultaneously, which ties them both into the legal adoption in one step rather than multiple ones. This also gives both members equality in the hard, legal responsibilities, as well as the softer responsibilities of encouraging and supporting their child. Should the couple separate, whether they are married or not at the time of the separation, they each have the right to negotiate for custody of the child and are both equally responsible for providing child support. 

The more complex details of unmarried adoption are often left up to the individual adoption agencies to decide. Any adoption agency is allowed to come up with their regulations and rules regarding adoption circumstances such as what will be accepted or not and how they handle the procedure, so long as they are not running against the state of law. Even then, the laws vary by state as well. Generally speaking for the United States, there are not any specific laws that prohibit unmarried couples from adopting children. Unfortunately, there can be a large amount of bias surrounding unmarried couples. You can learn more about this here.

Stepparent and/or second-parent adoptions are also relatively common. Stepparent adoption is when one of the biological parents divorces (or otherwise separates from) their child’s other biological parent and then marries a new spouse. That new spouse can then adopt the child if they want to through this process. The process for a stepparent adoption is usually very streamlined and fairly easy, all things considered. The adoption often is readily approved as soon as the adopting couple is officially married. It does not usually cost a lot and might not even need a home study or a social worker to check, barring any unusual or concerning circumstances of course. 

A second-parent adoption is similar, however, this process is one of the few made specifically for unmarried couples looking to adopt. As mentioned before, it is possible, but certainly a bit more difficult. Unmarried couples often are frowned upon, the adoption might cost more, and the number of evaluations and social worker visits will likely intensify. However, if one of the partners does not adopt the other’s biological child they risk having rights to them terminated if the couple separates, so most people go with second-parent adoption. 

These are some things to keep in mind when considering couple adoption:

  • No child can be adopted without the consent of both parents. The exception, of course, is if the parent is found to be ill-suited to care for the child or if they abandoned them. A social service agency usually decides whether an absent parent’s consent needs to be considered before either of these adoptions are finalized. 
  • Fathers can sign paternity statements that obligate them to pay child support, and if they keep a positive relationship with their child they can stop someone else’s adoption of them. If an infant and father have had little to no support or opportunity to bond (whether by outside means or the mother preventing visitation in some way) the father might be able to stop the stepparent adoption and/or second-parent adoption completely. He would have to petition the court system to allow visitation and to withhold adoption finalization. 
  • Social service agencies are required to get the consent of the mother or contact her and recommend the termination of parental rights. Any unmarried mothers that do not already have custody also need to pay child support and visitation. Not doing so makes it more likely that the child could be adopted by a stepparent or second parent. 
  • Once a person’s adoption of a child is finalized, they have all the legal rights and all the responsibilities equivalent to a biological parent. This is true for both stepparent adoptions and second-parent adoptions. 

Single-Parent Adoptions

Single-parent adoptions consist of one person who is not married looking to adopt and raise a child. There are also some considerations when it comes to couples who are not married.

Even though the types of adoption are fairly easy to differentiate, many people still struggle with questions about them. During my research I found that one of the most commonly searched questions was, “Can I adopt even if I am single?” to which the answer is a resounding yes. This used to be a more taboo subject because of misconceptions regarding single parents—they were either birth parents who had had an unexpected pregnancy (which already put them in hot water) or they were asked, “If you want kids so badly, why not just marry and have them?” Rarely was there a consideration made for people who were experiencing infertility issues or even that people could just be good parents without a spouse. However, in recent years (around the late 1960s), that stigma and the laws surrounding it have changed. Now there are fewer shocked gasps of disbelief and more encouraging words when the news of a single-parent adoption comes around. 

Here is a more in-depth look at the history of single-parent adoptions if you are interested. 

Domestic Single-Parent Adoption

The same process, clearances, and general adoption paperwork that are involved with couple adoptions will apply to and be necessary for single-parent domestic adoptions. 

They still have to go through with home studies to make sure they are fit for parenthood before being paired with a potential adoptee and/or the adoptee’s birth parents. 

Once that happens, they are considered open, and birth parents may be able to contact them, which depends on the agency or other methods being used. Then, if all goes well and neither party has unresolved issues with the situation, each side can send in the adoption paperwork to Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC). 

There will then be a wait of about eight to 14 days for the papers to clear. If it is an interstate adoption, there will need to be a Petition to Adopt and the wait will likely be longer. Often a post-adoption supervisory report is required after the child has been settled into the household to resolve any remaining potential issues. The amount of time devoted to this step can vary anywhere from one to 18 months depending on state regulations and other factors. 

Finally, once everything is settled, the final court hearing will legally complete the adoption process. 

Abroad Single-Parent Adoption

The process for single-parent adoption becomes more complicated between two different countries because each country has its ideas and criteria for adoption and family models. These may be because of the culture, the current leader, current politics, or a multitude of other reasons. Single people who decide to adopt abroad can, unfortunately, run into many restrictions and hurdles that may make it harder to adopt. Some of these include the following: 

  • Being able to adopt as a single woman, but not a single man.
  • Only allowing female children to be adopted by female adults, or only allowing male children to be adopted by male adults. 
  • Requiring a declaration of heterosexuality or, at the very least, prioritizing heterosexual adoptions over LGBT adoptions. 
  • Permitting single-parent families to adopt only children that are over a certain age (this can be as high as six to ten years old) or children with special needs. If a country has this caveat it likely has to do with them not having enough people adopting these children. Many couples are looking for healthy infants to adopt, so there may be a surplus of older children and children with special needs. Adoption agencies hope to find these children happy homes before they age out of the system. In a study done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it was found that older children and children with special needs were more likely to be adopted by single and unmarried people. Around 33% of the children living in state care such as orphanages and foster care were given homes with single-parent families. 

Where You Can Adopt as a Single Person

As mentioned before, single adoption is available in both the United States and other foreign countries, both for prospective adoptive parents and for birth parents or expectant parents. 

Countries That Accept Single-Parent Adoptions and Their Regulations

Here is a list of some major countries where single people can adopt, along with their regulations: 

Bulgaria—women and men can both adopt as single parents so long as the child is over three years old; younger children are prioritized for married couples.

China—there is currently an emphasis on adoptable children with special needs and only women over 30 years old can adopt as a single parent (men must have wives to adopt).

Colombia—single parents may adopt kids with special characteristics and/or needs, but they mostly prioritize married couples.

Hungary—single-parent adoption is only open to women who are willing or looking to adopt children ten years and older.

India—prioritizes marriages but accepts both men and women as single parents for children over the age of five. However, boys may only be adopted by either couples or unmarried men. 

Philippines—single women must be 27 years old or older and be adopting children with special characteristics over six years old.

Poland—the adoptee must be older than nine years old and only women may adopt as single parents.

Vietnam—single-parent adoption is offered to both women and men but there is certain prioritizing of marriages.


Hopefully learning more about the differences between couple adoption and single-parent adoption has given a little more perspective into the options expectant parents and birth parents have. It is never easy to place a child for adoption, but at the very least we can make the knowledge surrounding those difficult choices more accessible. Take your time in researching and considering all your options—there is no rush in decisions like these.