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What to Know About Adult Adoption

Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on May 04, 2022

Lots of people assume you can only adopt children or teenagers, but, in the United States, you can also adopt an adult. There are lots of reasons you might decide on adult adoption. 

What Is Adult Adoption?

Adult adoption is when the court creates a legal parent relationship between you and a person over the age of 18. Once the court grants the petition to adopt, a new birth certificate is issued and you have a permanent connection. 

Why Do Adults Adopt Adults?

It might seem odd to adopt an adult or young adult since they no longer need parental consent or supervision once they become of age. But there are actually lots of reasons for adopting an adult. 

Couldn’t adopt during childhood. Sometimes you can’t adopt a person during their childhood for different reasons. Once they reach adult age, those restrictions go away and you can then formalize your relationship. 

For example, home studies are mandatory when you adopt a child but often aren’t for adult adoption. If you had issues where you couldn’t pass a home study, you can create a legal relationship without this worry once the child becomes an adult.  

Stepparents might also have trouble adopting their spouse’s child. Biological parents have to consent to a child’s adoption unless the court says otherwise, and sometimes a parent is against it because they have to give up their rights. But once the child reaches adulthood, biological parent consent isn’t necessary so a step-parent can adopt. 

Family bond. You might be closely involved in a child’s life, whether through friendship, stepparent relationships, foster care, or other situations. As they get older, you might feel you have a strong family bond and you want them to legally become part of the family no matter how old they are.

Reconnection with biological family. Sometimes adopted children reconnect with their biological parents as adults. Adult adoption can re-establish a legal parent relationship. 

Sibling adoption. Sometimes you might adopt a younger sibling who is an adult. There are many reasons for assuming the legal parent role. One or both of your parents might be in prison, or they might be sick and unable to act as a parent and you want a legal relationship in place. Some states don’t allow sibling adoption, though. 

Adult dependent. You might adopt an adult who can’t care for themselves because of a physical or intellectual disability. Creating a legal relationship can help you provide ongoing care and make sure they’re taken care of through the rest of their life and after your death.

Legal inheritance rights. A legal relationship can make inheritance easier and less likely to be contested. While inheritance can be complex, a formal adult adoption can make it easier to manage within the law. 

Adult Adoption Laws

Adult adoption laws and regulations vary by state. There are some requirements you have to follow for the court to grant the adoption. 

Adopter age. The person adopting must be older than the adult being adopted. Some states set specific age guidelines, like being at least 10 years older.  

Spouse gives consent. In some states, if the adult being adopted is married, their spouse must consent to the adoption, too. Sometimes the court will allow the adoption to go ahead without the spouse’s consent if they aren't available or if they unreasonably withhold consent.

Diminished capacity. Some states only allow adult adoption for adults who can’t care for themselves.

No history of a sexual relationship. You can’t adopt an adult if you’ve had a sexual relationship with them in the past. This regulation stops same-sex partners from having rights over each other, which probably was more common before same-sex marriage became legal.

No criminal activity. You can’t adopt an adult for criminal reasons. The court will stop an adoption if they suspect fraud. For example, you can’t pressure a rich person into adopting you so you can have access to a trust fund or inheritance. You must both know what you’re getting into and give full consent.

Give notice to birth parents. Once a child becomes an adult, there are no parental rights to end, so you don’t need consent from biological parents for adult adoption. In some states, you need to give them notice, though. 

How to Adopt an Adult

Adopting an adult is a simple process. You are not likely to need a lawyer unless you have a complex situation and you need advice or you don’t understand the process. It only takes about 90 days to complete and you rarely need to do a home study. 

All you need is full consent from the person adopting, the person being adopted, the adoptee’s spouse where it’s required, and the paperwork and fees. 

Complete the paperwork. You’ll need to fill out court papers, including a Petition for Adult Adoption, Consent of Adult Adoptee, and Consent of Adult Adoptee Spouse, or similar forms. Then you’ll need to sign them in front of witnesses and a notary public. You can often find someone who can notarize at your bank, post office, university, local library, law firm, or accountant’s office. These services are often free. 

If the biological parent's rights haven’t been terminated, you’ll need to notify them of the adoption and then show proof of notice to the court. 

File the paperwork. Once the documents are ready, file them with the court clerk and pay the fees. Once the court accepts the paperwork, you might need to request a hearing date. Some states won’t move the adoption forward unless there is a hearing. Other states don’t need a hearing, but you can ask for one as a symbol of permanent family commitment.

Get your adoption order. Once the court grants the petition, you’ll get a court order and the legal relationship begins. Make a copy so you have extra on hand.

Bottom Line

Adult adoption happens for many reasons, some of them emotional and personal and some of them to arrange care for adult dependents. If you’re thinking about adopting an adult, talk to a lawyer about the laws in your state.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law: “Same Sex Adoption: A Result of Marriage Inequality.”

Coalition for Children, Youth, & Families: “Adoption Has No Age Limits: Adult Adoptions.”

Colorado Department of Human Services Co4Kids: “Adult Adoption.”

Commonwealth of Massachusetts: “Find out who is eligible to adopt.”

Florida Bar Foundation: “Adult Adoption: Creating a Lifelong Family Bond and Legal Connection.”

HG.org Legal Resources: “Adoption of an Adult - Reasons and Limitations.”

Law Offices of John J. Pearson APLC: “General Provisions of Adult Adoption in California.”

National Notary Association: “Finding a Public Notary.”

Superior Court of California County of Orange: “Adult Adoption

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