How to Complete an Adult Adoption

Happy mother talking with her adult daughter on porch
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An adult adoption may occur once the potential adoptee reaches the age of 18 or older. At that time, the only consent required is that of the adult wishing to be adopted and, of course, the person willing to adopt.

Reasons for an Adult Adoption

It's important to note that adult adoption is different from establishing guardianship. Legal guardianship is intended to help safeguard and provide for an adult who cannot care for him or herself. Guardians are able to act for the person for whom they provide guardianship, making legal, financial, and health decisions on the individual's behalf.

Adult adoptions are completed for different reasons:

  • A former foster child who was not being legally available for adoption and grew close to the foster family as a child may be adopted as an adult if he/she so wishes.
  • A step-child who has grown fond of his/her step-parent may be adopted as an adult by the step-parent.
  • An adult adoptee after finding his/her birth family may choose to be adopted by his/her family of origin.
  • A way to create legal inheritance rights within a relationship.

Reasons an Adult Adoption May Not Be Allowed

State laws can prohibit adult adoption in several circumstances:

  • Prohibited by some states (specifically Alabama, Arizona, Nebraska, and Ohio), unless the adoptee meets guidelines which may include a top age of 21.
  • If the adoptive parent and the adopted adult "child" are involved in a sexual relationship, the state's incest laws will apply.
  • If the adoptive parent and adopted adult "child" are involved in a same-sex sexual relationship, sodomy laws will apply.
  • If the particular state requires a specific age difference between the adoptive parent and adopted child.
  • Some states, like New York, have determined that adoption laws may not be used to legalize an adult relationship between same-sex partners. Delaware, however, stated that it was okay to use adoption between adults to create inheritance rights if that was the primary purpose of the adoption.


Adoption is managed on a state level rather than a federal level. As a result, each state has its own required forms and documents. Here are the basic steps to follow:

  1. Pick up the required documents from your local courthouse.
  2. Collect the information you need to fill out the forms, with or without the help of a lawyer. If the person you are adopting is not mentally or physically competent, you may need to fill out additional forms.
  3. Fill out and sign the papers in the presence of a notary (most banks have free notary services) and have the notary sign and emboss your paperwork.
  4. Submit your paperwork according to the instructions provided.
  5. Wait for a court date with Family Court.
  6. Appear before a family judge who will decide your case.

As mentioned, there are a number of reasons why a judge might question or deny an adult adoption. The most important concerns are always focused on the needs and rights of the adoptee. In addition to considering the adoptee's needs and preferences, the judge will also ensure that all legal requirements have been met.

International Adult Adoptions

It's far trickier for an American to adopt an adult from another country than it is to adopt an American citizen. Not only must American adoptions laws be considered, but so, too, must immigration laws.

Adoption is not usually a good way to ensure that an adult will become a United States citizen, and adoption of international adults can lead to fairly intense scrutiny by government officials.

The US Department of Homeland Security offers extensive information and forms on its website, and also offers this information for U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents:

"To begin the immigration process for your adopted relative (as described above), file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. For information about where to file, see the Direct Filing Addresses for Form I-130. For information on what supporting evidence to submit, see the Instructions for Form I-130 (PDF, 233 KB)."

For more detailed legal information on this process see Section 101(b)(1)(E) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and Title 8 Code of Federal Regulations 8 CFR 204.2(d)(2).

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Article Sources

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  4. Adult Adoption Petition. Probate Court. State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

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  8. What and Where to File. Other Adoption-Related Immigration. US Citizenship and Immigration Services. US Department of Homeland Security.