Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Mar 19, 2020

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  • Adult adoption formally and legally recognizes filial relationships between adults
  • Adults with physical and mental disabilities can be adopted by caregivers
  • Adult adoption laws vary by state because state laws differ in their definition of the word “child”
  • Find an adoption lawyer who understands the unique circumstances of adult adoption in your state

Can an adult be adopted? Yes, adults can be adopted. Adult adoption is a legal process that solidifies a legal filial relationship between an adult aged 18 years or older and the adults adopting them. And just like adopting a child, adult adoption will give the adoptee a new name, a new birth certificate, and will legally recognize them as an official member of their new family.

Starting the adoption process can be daunting, but hiring an adult adoption lawyer will help you tackle the process one step at a time. Your adult adoption lawyer can appear in court with you and help you file the necessary adult adoption papers needed to schedule an adoption hearing and secure your amended birth certificate.

The adult adoption process varies by state, and the circumstances behind the adult adoption will have to be approved by the state court. If you want to know how to adopt an adult child, there are key differences between adopting an adult and adopting a minor that an adult adoption lawyer can help you understand.

To find a lawyer in your area, please enter your zip code above.

I. Adopting an Adult Child vs. Adopting a Minor

Adopting an adult child is different from minor adoptions in more than just age. The biggest difference is consent. The adult wishing to be adopted and those seeking to adopt the adult child must both consent to the adoption process in court. If either party is married, the consent of their spouses may also be required. But unlike adopting a minor, consent of the biological parents is not necessary.

Also unlike minor adoptions, adopting an adult child will not terminate the parental rights of the biological parents. The reasons for an adult adoption are very different from those for child adoptions, and it is not necessary to terminate the rights of the biological parents in order to finalize the adult adoption.

II. Reasons for Adult Adoption

There are many reasons to adopt an adult child. Adult adoption formally and legally recognizes filial relationships between adults who may or may not be related but have formed strong familial bonds throughout their lives. The legal relationship entitles the adoptee to inheritance, visitation, and other rights granted to them by family law.

A. Adult Adoption Protects Inheritance Rights

Adult adoption gives the adoptees and their adoptive family the right to inherit property and wealth. This includes retirement, Social Security, and employee benefit packages and pensions. Without a legally recognized relationship, inheritance might not be impossible.

Legal inheritance is one of the most common reasons for adopting an adult child. Inheritance laws are complicated, and if someone dies without leaving a will, the only recognized heirs are often spouses and children. An adult adoption formalizes the relationship between the adoptee and their new family to minimize any challenges when it comes to intestate succession.

These rights also give the new family members the power to make important decisions during emergency situations and visitation permission during hospitalization or imprisonment.

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B. Adult Adoption Formalizes Existing Parental Relationships

Adult adoption will formalize an existing parental relationship that was not legally recognized before. This is most common in families where step-parents can adopt step-children as adults without the consent of their biological parents.

There are many other cases when adopting an adult child will officially recognize an existing filial relationship:

  • Step-parent adult adoption: recognizes stepchildren as heirs and legal family members
  • Second parent adult adoption: for adult children adopted by same-sex couples or by a second parent, such as a step-parent or godparent
  • Family member adult adoption: recognizes adults who were raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings, or other family members as heirs and legal family members
  • Family friend adult adoption: recognizes adults who were raised by godparents or family friends as heirs and legal family members
  • Foster parent adult adoption: recognizes adults raised in foster care as heirs and legal family members of their foster family
  • Biological parent adult adoption: for adults who have reunited with their biological parents to be adopted as legal members of their biological family

C. Adult Adoption Provides Care for Disabled Adults

Adults with physical and mental disabilities can be adopted by caregivers. This gives caregivers the power to make decisions regarding the adoptee’s health and well-being. Adopted adults can also legally be added to health and life insurance plans.

Caregivers do not have to be biologically related to the adoptee, but the adult adoption process will make them responsible for the adoptee’s healthcare.

III. Reasons Adult Adoption is Denied

Your application to adopt an adult child can be denied if –

  • The court suspects fraud of any kind, including insurance, property, or marriage fraud. If either party is reluctant to consent to the adult adoption process, the court may suspect fraud and deny the application. An investigation might ensue.
  • There is a sexual relationship between the adults applying for adoption. As the adoption will solidify a parental relationship, a sexual relationship will void the adoption process.
  • State laws specify an age difference requirement between the two parties. Adult adoption may not be possible if the adoptee is too close in age to the adoptive parent or parents.
  • Spouses of either party do not consent to the adoption. Spouse consent is not required in every state, and each state’s adoption laws will clearly state whose consent is necessary for the adoption.

States can deny adult adoption applications for their own unique reasons. For example, adult adoption is not legal in Alabama unless the adoptee is “totally and permanently disabled.” Scroll down for more information on adult adoption laws by state in Section IV.

IV. Adult Adoption Laws By State

Adult adoptions are handled strictly by the state. Adults wanting to be adopted and those adopting adult children do not need to file any federal petitions or appear in federal court to initiate the adult adoption process. You will just need the forms and documents required by your state of residence. Scroll down to Section VI for more information on the adult adoption papers you need in your state.

A. Why do adult adoption laws vary so widely by state?

Adult adoption laws vary by state because state laws differ in their definition of the word “child.” Some states recognize “child” as the role in the filial relationship. These state adoption laws speak directly to inheritance rights regarding the property of the parent and not the age of the adoptee.

Other states will only recognize a “child” as being a minor under the age of 18. In such cases, there may be separate statutes for adult adoption. If there are no such statutes, then the right to adopt an adult child simply does not exist. For more information on your home state’s adoption laws, please refer to our list of adoption laws by state.

Here is a sample of some unique adult adoption laws by state:

  • Alabama: Only minors and adult children legally deemed permanently physically or mentally disabled may be adopted.
  • Colorado: Adult children aged 18-21 may still be adopted as minors and child adoption laws still apply. Adult children over the age of 21 can petition the state juvenile court to begin the adult adoption process.
  • Idaho: State law requires that the adult adoptee must have lived with their adoptive family for at least one year as a minor to qualify for adult adoption.
  • New Jersey: The adopting parents must be at least ten years older than the adoptee and consent to the adult adoption in writing.
  • Ohio: If the adult child is not permanently physically or mentally disabled, then the adoptee must have established a relationship with a caregiver and/or have been in the permanent custody of a caregiver before their 18th birthday.
  • Vermont: State adoption law does not allow adults to adopt their spouses.
  • Virginia: Adults wanting to be adopted must have lived with any non-biological caregivers for at least three months before their 18th birthday and must be no less than 15 years younger than their adoptive parents.

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B. Are states willing to make an exception when it comes to adult adoption laws?

Many states without adult adoption laws will make exceptions when family members, stepparents, or foster families wish to adopt adult children they have cared for. There are also exceptions for parents who have remarried when the new spouse wishes to adopt their adult stepchildren.

C. Do all states require a petition for adult adoption?

If adult adoption is allowed, state courts will require a petition when starting the adult adoption process. In general, adult adoption petitions include:

  • The length and nature of the relationship between the parties seeking adoption
  • The degree of kinship, if any
  • The reason adult adoption is sought, including a statement regarding why the adoption is in the best interest of the adult child, the adoptive parent, and the public
  • The names and addresses of any living parents or children of the adult child
  • The names of any other previously adopted adults or children, with the date and place of their adoption
  • The written consent of necessary parties, including but not limited to the adoptee, the adopters, and spouses of either party

Some states may require other forms of consent or written evidence in your adult adoption petition. Check your state adoption laws and consult with an adult adoption lawyer if you are unsure of what to include in your petition.

D. Are there state residency requirements for adult adoption?

States require that at least one of the adoptive parties be a resident of the state where the adult adoption petition is filed. For example, Connecticut requires that the petition be filed in the home district of the adoptee if the adoptive family does not live in the same district. Indiana, on the other hand, requires that the adoptive parents be residents of the state.

Some states might require that one or both adoptive parties live in the state for a specific amount of time. Mississippi and Montana each require petitioners to live in the state for 90 days. Other states, like Texas and Vermont, require both parties to live in the state for six months.

If you are interested in adopting an adult child, refer to your state laws to determine your residency and petition requirements. An adult adoption lawyer in your state can help with your petition and any other legal questions you might have regarding the adoption of an adult child.

V. How to Start the Adult Adoption Process

The adult adoption process can be broken down into two steps: the petition and the hearing. The petition represents the adoption agreement between the adult child and their adoptive parent or parents. The hearing is where the judge will consider the petition and any other evidence and decide whether to grant or deny the adult adoption.

The adult adoption petition will usually include the names and relationships of the adoptive parties, written consent from both parties, and the reason behind the adult adoption. See Section IV for more information on adult adoption petitions.

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A. How can I start the adult adoption process?

Starting the adoption process begins with the petition. Follow these steps to start your adult adoption petition and schedule a court date:

  • A quick Google search will put you in contact with your local adoption court and help you find the necessary adult adoption forms you might need to include in your petition. Scroll down for more information on adult adoption papers in Section VI.
  • Collect the necessary documents and fill out the correct adult adoption paperwork. Depending on the circumstances of your adult adoption, you may want to hire an adult adoption lawyer to assist you.
  • Sign the adult adoption papers with a notary service, and have the notary emboss or sign the paperwork as well. If applicable, make sure your attorney is also present. Are you looking for notary services near you?
  • Submit the paperwork. Depending on your state adoption laws, you may need to submit this paperwork in person, by mail, or through your attorney.
  • Wait for an adoption court date when the judge is ready to hear your case.
  • Appear before a judge on your scheduled date.

B. What happens at an adult adoption court hearing?

You must appear in court if you want to adopt an adult. All adult adoption court hearings are private and confidential, but friends and family are welcome to attend in most cases.

During the adoption hearing, a judge will ensure that the adult adoption satisfies the state’s adoption statutes. Lawyers and the judge will ask questions regarding the relationship between the adoptee and the adoptive parents and why an official adoption should take place.

The reason behind the adult adoption is the most important thing judges look at during the hearing. The judge must see the adoption as mutually beneficial for everyone involved, including other family members and the local community.

C. How long does the adult adoption process take?

How quickly an adult adoption can be granted depends on the caseload of the courts and how quickly paperwork is filed. It can take up to three months for adult adoptions to process through the state’s court system. Hiring an adoption lawyer can help speed up this process.

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D. How much does it cost to adopt an adult?

Adult adoption costs can reach upwards of $5,000 depending on the type of adoption process used. Licensed private adult adoptions, independent adult adoptions, and international adult adoptions all come with different requirements and prices.

Hiring an adult adoption lawyer can help mitigate costs somewhat, but they will come with their own fee. You will also be responsible for paying any court fees, filing fees, and paperwork costs. There are resources available to alleviate some of the costs of adult adoption.

VI. Adult Adoption Papers

When filing for adult adoption, there will be necessary adult adoption papers to fill out and file with the court both before and after the adoption is granted. It is very important that you fill out these forms correctly and accurately if you want your case to be heard before a judge. Hiring an adoption lawyer can ensure that your adult adoption papers are filed correctly.

Consent forms in particular are among the most important adult adoption papers. Because consent is needed for adult adoption, many state courts will require written consent forms from both parties for their adoption records.

Every state will require different adult adoption papers and documents. Check with your county adoption court to confirm which adult adoption papers are required in your state.

A. What adult adoption papers do I need before my adoption hearing?

As discussed in Section IV, you will need to petition the court in order to schedule an adoption hearing. Your state adoption laws will specify which documents are needed for your petition, and you may need to bring other required adult adoption paperwork to your hearing.

Here are is a list of the most common adult adoption papers needed to appear in court:

  • Petition for adult adoption
  • Notice and summons for adult adoption
  • Written answer and consent for adult adoption
  • Adoption agreement forms

B. What adult adoption papers do I need after the adult adoption is granted?

Once a judge grants the adult adoption, you will receive an adult adoption certificate, usually called an Order of Adoption. Other states, like Colorado, may refer to this document as the Report of Adoption. An adoption lawyer can prepare this certificate for you, but it must be filed with your State Registrar in order to finalize the adult adoption.

Once these documents are filed, depending on your home state, the Office of Vital Records may also get involved with your adoption. This department is in charge of your personal records and they will contact you with further instructions, including how to amend your birth certificate.

With the Order or Report of Adoption, you will be able to legally change the name of the adoptee and amend the birth certificate to reflect the adoption.

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C. How can I amend a birth certificate after an adult adoption is granted?

In most states, when you send the proper adult adoption papers to your State Registrar, it will automatically start the amendment process. The adult adoption certificate will include all the information needed to amend the birth certificate, and the adult child’s birth certificate can be changed to reflect the new adoption. They can choose to keep their original birth certificate or have it sealed by the courts.

VII. How to Reverse Adult Adoption

Adult adoption reversal is very uncommon, but there are still reasons why an adult adoption may be revoked. If you are trying to reverse an adult adoption, you will need to petition the court with your reasons for the reversal and pay the necessary filing fees. Once you file your petition, you will be scheduled for a court hearing where the judge will review your case.

State adoption laws can be very strict when it comes to reversing an adoption. It may be in your best interest to hire an adult adoption lawyer to help with the reversal process.

A. Who can reverse adult adoption?

Either the adult child or adoptive parents can reverse adult adoption. The most common reverse adult adoption is between stepparents and their adopted adult children. Because birth parents’ rights are not terminated when adopting an adult child, there is no reason for them to request a reversal.

B. Why are adult adoptions reversed?

Although unlikely, adult adoptions can be reversed for a number of reasons, including but not limited to –

  • Fraud or Duress: If consent for the adult adoption was obtained while either party was under duress or otherwise incapacitated, the adoption could be reversed.
  • Best interest of the adult child: Ifit is in the best interest of the adult child, then the adoption could be reversed.
  • Pre-existing sexual relationship: If state adoption laws prohibit pre-existing sexual relationships between adoptees and adopters, the adoption could be reversed if a relationship is uncovered.

VIII. How to Hire an Adult Adoption Lawyer

Adult adoptions are a matter of the state, and state laws will vary when it comes to adopting an adult child. Find an adoption lawyer in your state who understands the unique circumstances of adult adoption and will guide you through each step of the adult adoption process.

Your adult adoption lawyer will be familiar with your state adoption laws and requirements. They can file your petition, appear for you in court, and prepare the adult adoption papers for your amended birth certificate. If you are adopting an adult child under unique circumstances, consulting with an adoption lawyer first can protect both parties’ best interest in the case.

The legal process for adopting an adult child is very different from adopting a minor. The legal caveats can be daunting if you are unfamiliar with the adoption process. Hiring an adult adoption lawyer can help you better understand the process and guarantee that you get the best possible outcome.

To find a lawyer in your area, please enter your zip code above.