An island set in the northeast of the Caribbean, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, as it is officially known, is home to over 3 million people. Though the small island is only 100 miles long and 35 miles wide, it has a rich culture and history. To understand Puerto Rican adoption, you must first understand the history of how the island came to be a part of the United States. As a part of the United States, Puerto Rican adoption is considered domestic adoption, but it is a bit more complicated than that.

Following the landing of Columbus in 1493, Puerto Rico was colonized by the Spaniards. The Spaniards continued to rule Puerto Rico until the Treaty of Paris in 1898. At this time, the United States took possession of the small island as an unincorporated territory following the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. To this day, English and Spanish remain the official languages of Puerto Rico.

In 1917 Puerto Ricans were recognized as official citizens of the United States. Puerto Ricans may come permanently to the mainland of the U.S., and vice versa, just as any other state in the Union. But Puerto Rico is not a state. It is a U.S. territory. The U.S. has many territories, including American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico has a nonvoting member of the House of Representatives and no representation in the Senate. Additionally, residents of Puerto Rico may not vote for President as the U.S. Electoral College does not allow it. However, once a resident of Puerto Rico moves to another state in the Union and takes up residency there, then that person is entitled to all the voting rights of that state.

From 1945 onwards, migration from Puerto Rico to the mainland of the United States has risen steadily. To date, roughly 5 million Puerto Ricans live stateside, as opposed to only 3 million on the island. For families considering Puerto Rican adoption, it should be noted that while adoption is possible from the island of Puerto Rico, there are many large Puerto Rican communities living within the continental United States where adoption might prove easier. For example there are large Puerto Rican communities in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Florida. As domestic adoption is ruled by the laws of the individual states, then families interested in adopting from one of these states would need to research that state’s adoption requirements and laws. For families interested in adopting from the island of Puerto Rico, here is everything you need to know.

Adoption Requirements

To adopt a child in Puerto Rico, the prospective adoptive parent must be at least 21 years of age. If a married couple is adopting together, then at least one of them must be 21 years old, and the other must be older than 18 years of age. All prospective adoptive parents must be at least 14 years older than the prospective adoptive child. The Adoption Procedures Integral Reform Act of 2009 ruled singles or married couples may adopt regardless of their sexual orientation, and in 2018, Governor Ricardo Rosselló signed a new law which allows couples who live together to adopt a child, regardless of if they are married or not. For prospective adoptive parents in a domestic partnership, they must demonstrate living together continuously for at least two years. Lastly, all prospective adoptive parents must reside in Puerto Rico, uninterruptedly, for a period of at least six months prior to filing a petition of adoption for the intended adoptive child. This is true for both infant adoption and adoption from foster care.

While private domestic infant adoption is possible in Puerto Rico, it is not very common. Adoption from foster care occurs with more frequency. In 2017, the last year for which data is available, there were a total of 207 adoptions from foster care completed by the Family Department in Puerto Rico. The average age of a child adopted from foster care was 7, and the average length of stay in the foster care system of Puerto Rico was 68 months. To date, there are approximately 3,500 children in Puerto Rican foster care on any given day, 450 of whom have had their parental rights terminated and have no adoption plan in place.

The Process

Whether prospective adoptive parents choose to adopt through private domestic adoption or from foster care, every journey begins with a home study. The home study must be conducted by a state-licensed social worker in the prospective adoptive family’s state of residency. So if a prospective adoptive parent lives in California but wants to adopt from Puerto Rico, then the home study must be conducted in California. If the prospective adoptive parent resides in Puerto Rico, then the home study must be completed in Puerto Rico.

A home study is essentially a compilation of documents and a series of interviews designed to highlight what life with the prospective adoptive parents will be like for the adoptive child. While many prospective adoptive parents find the process of the home study daunting, it can be a great time to look at your motivations for adopting, your hopes for your future child, what type of parenting styles you might employ, and to have a conversation of what family means to you. Included in the home study will be documents to show proof of income, residency, employment, a letter from a medical practitioner, stating the prospective adoptive parents are in good physical and emotional health, and reference letters from family and friends. Background checks and child abuse and neglect clearances must be completed for every member of the household over the age of 18.

While they work on their home study, prospective adoptive parents will complete several hours of preadoption education. Most states mandate at least 20 hours of training to cover topics such as attachment, parenting a child with special needs, older child adoption, parenting through open adoption, and transracial adoption. Families who choose to adopt from foster care will often complete a state-sponsored foster care education training program which addresses and educates families on issues unique to children in foster care.

Private Domestic Adoption

Once the home study and preadoption education are completed, the prospective adoptive family is eligible for placement. Families may choose to adopt independently or with a child-placing agency. In Puerto Rico there are no specific laws written as to whether advertising to prospective birth mothers is allowed. Therefore, it is advisable to work with either an adoption attorney or an adoption agency who understands Puerto Rican adoption law before proceeding. Likewise, there are no specific laws relating to allowable birth mother expenses—though all contributions made towards the birth mother must be admitted into court before the adoption is finalized. Once the child is born, Puerto Rico has no written statute on the timing of consent, though consent must be in writing and must be attached to the adoption petition with the intended prospective adoptive parents’ information. Puerto Rico does not maintain a Putative Father Registry.

Once consent is given, the adoptive parents will appear in a court of law to finalize the adoption. The adoption then becomes irrevocable unless one party can exhibit evidence of fraud or flaws in the parental consent process. Though infant Puerto Rican adoption is possible, it should be noted that it rarely occurs from Puerto Rico to stateside U.S., and recent attempts have seen families left waiting for years. Families interested in adopting a Puerto Rican infant should remember that a larger Puerto Rican community exists outside the island than on it, and many cities, such as New York and Philadelphia, have large Puerto Rican populations.

Adopting from Foster Care

Adopting from foster care is another possibility. On any given day, there are over 435,000 children in the U.S. in the foster care system. Children enter foster care through no fault of their own and are often the most needy and underserved population.

Prospective adoptive parents interested in adopting from foster care must complete a home study and the requisite preadoption educational training. Then, the families must register with the Puerto Rico Statewide Voluntary Adoption Register (known as REVA, its Spanish acronym). REVA maintains a list of all foster children in need of a forever home and all eligible adoptive families. Interested families are maintained in chronological order and favor is given to prospective adoptive parents who reside on the island. As such, adoption from Puerto Rican foster care for prospective adoptive families who reside in the stateside United States is very rare. Families interested in adopting from foster care in Puerto Rico may choose to take up residency on the island in order to adopt, but unless they meet the restriction of at least 6 months of uninterrupted residency, they will be ineligible to adopt.

To begin the process, families will send REVA their notarized home study, state and local criminal background checks, and fingerprinting. As part of the process, the prospective foster parents must show the capability to parent a child who has experienced trauma, loss, and/or abuse. Prospective foster parents may indicate what age they are open to parenting. Once a family is registered with REVA, they are eligible to receive a match. It should be noted that unlike other states, Puerto Rico does not maintain a photolisting page, so prospective adoptive families may not inquire directly about a foster child. Rather, REVA will facilitate the match, and families will decide whether the match is a good one or not. It can be hard to turn down a referral, but it is important to make a decision that is right for both the child and your family.

When the day finally comes to meet, it can be a daunting time both for the parents and the child. Take small steps, and remember it may take a few days, weeks, or even months for your new child to open up to you. Children who have been in foster care have been through a lot, so in your first days together, try to make them feel comfortable by providing access to snacks and beverages, toys, comfort items like a stuffed animal or blanket, and time to themselves so they can get to know you on their own terms.

After the child has been placed, a social worker will check in with the family to see how both the child and the family are adjusting. It is important to be honest at this time and know that your social worker is there to help you. Too often, families want to appear perfect or like “They’ve got this,” but remember, your social worker is there to help you.

Once post-placement requirements have been met, a family becomes eligible to finalize their adoption in a court of law. The adoptive parents, child(ren), and a Secretary of the Department of Family must be present for the court proceedings. Children over the age of 10 must consent to the adoption. Once the adoption is finalized, a new birth certificate will be issued for the child with the adoptive parents listed. The child is then a permanent member of their family with “all the rights as if born unto them [the adoptive parents.]”

From the placement of the foster child with the adoptive family to the finalization of the adoption in court, the average length of time is about 61 months. This again speaks to the necessity of foster to adopt and adoptive parents residing in Puerto Rico in order for adoption to take place. Though only 6 months are required, the reality is the system takes a long time to finalize adoptions, and—for many families—this amount of time away from their jobs and permanent residencies is not doable.

Puerto Rican adoption is possible, but it is not an easy road for those who reside outside Puerto Rico. Though significant advances have been made since the Adoption Procedures Integral Reform Act of 2009, the path to adopt in Puerto Rico is still seen by many as a long process with many unnecessary bureaucratic roadblocks.