An adoption is the legal process of taking a child into your home and treating the child as your own. There are different types of adoptions and many choices to make along the way.
Adoption involves a legal proceeding in which a new birth certificate is issued for the child naming the adoptive parent as mother and father. The original birth certificate is sealed and made available only through a court order. The result of an adoption is that all legal rights are placed in the adopting parents and all legal rights are extinguished in the biological parents.
Adoption law is based on state law, except that foreign adoptions must comply with regulations issued by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The applicable state law is the Illinois Adoption Act. It requires that the adopting parents be residents of Illinois for at least six months before seeking an adoption. Single or divorced people can adopt in Illinois.
For those wanting to adopt a unknown child, as opposed to those who want to adopt a stepson or stepdaughter, the first decision is probably where the child is to come from. The two choices are domestic or international.
International vs. domestic. The benefits of an international adoption are that children in need of an adoption are relatively plentiful, you can sometimes all but choose the child's sex (for example, almost all Chinese adoptions are of girls, because of their preference for baby boys), older parents generally face fewer restrictions, and you won't have contact with the birth parents, if that is your preference. The downsides of an international adoption are that it is more expensive than a domestic adoption, limits are sometimes placed on you (for example, in some cases you can't adopt if you have any other children), you'll probably never know the child or the parents' medical histories, you're subject to the local government's integrity (for example, it was discovered at one point that babies were being put up for adoption in Taiwan without the birth parents' consent), and you generally won't be able to adopt a newborn, if that is your desire, because of the time it takes to process the paperwork between countries.
The benefits of a domestic adoption are the opposite of the downsides of an international adoption: it's less expensive, you'll typically have the medical records, you can adopt a newborn, etc. The chief downside of a domestic adoption is that the supply outstrips the demand, which means that you have to compete with other putative parents for a scarce supply of children. There is no guarantee that you will be able to adopt a child, unless you are willing to adopt an older child, a special-needs child, or a minority child.
Adoption agencies tend to specialize in adoptions in several different countries because that's where they've developed contacts. No adoption agency provides adoptions in every possible country where international adoptions are occurring. Once you've chosen the country where you want to adopt, match it with an adoption agency that handles adoptions in that country.
Private vs. public. The next decision is whether you want to pursue an adoption through a public or a private adoption agency. If your preference is for an international adoption, a private adoption agency is the only route because public adoption agencies don't handle foreign adoptions. Adoption agencies are licensed in Illinois through the Illinois Child Care Act.
Open vs. closed. If you decide to adopt domestically, you will need to decide if you want the adoption to be open or closed. An open adoption is one in which the birth parents (most often the birth mother) stay in touch with the child as he or she grows up. The extent of the contact is usually agreed to between the parties prior to the adoption. A closed adoption is one in which the birth parents are not involved with the child and have no further contact, unless the child later wishes to contact them.
Procedure. For purposes of this discussion, we'll presume that the adoptive parents intend to use an adoption agency. The first step is to contact the adoption agency. They generally provide meetings and seminars that will provide you with additional information.
Once the paperwork is filled out and the fees paid, the adoption agency will conduct a home study to confirm the parents' fitness to adopt. Although the home study is often a source of great stress on the adopting parents, it is not a detailed grilling once step removed from prisoner-of-war interrogations. The study itself is actually fairly routine. The adopting agency simply wants to satisfy itself that the adopting parents have room for the child and that they've thought through the implications of adoption.
For domestic adoptions, the adopting parents typically put together a photo album designed to impress birth mothers that their home is the right one for the baby or place ads where birth mothers might see them. They then sit back and wait to be chosen by a birth mother. The process can take from virtually immediately to never. Once the match is made, the birth mother and birth father sign papers relinquishing her parental rights. If the couple isn't married, efforts have to be made to locate him. If he cannot be located, the adoption proceeds without him. Although it is illegal to buy a baby in Illinois, it is legal and common for the adopting parents to pay the birth mother's medical expenses related to the birth.
For international adoptions, the adoption agencies arrange periodic trips to the various countries where they have contacts. Once your adoption request is in the queue, it's usually a matter of waiting until space is available in the next trip. The length of time varies by country, but the process typically takes about a year. Once the adopting parents travel to the country of their choice and pick up the baby, the child needs to obtain permission to leave the country of origin and permission to enter the United States.
Once the placement in the home occurs, the adopting parents are on a six-month probation. At the end of the six months, the state conducts a second home study to ensure that the adoption is working out. A final court proceeding is held at which a final adoption is issued. For international adoptions, the child at this point becomes a U.S. citizen.
Family adoptions. Adoption by family members and those involving a step-parent adopting a stepchild are usually far simpler than non-family adoptions. As with other adoptions, it involves the relinquishing of rights by one or both birth parents and the establishment of rights in the adopting parent or parents.