Adoption Frequently Asked Question #5

Publication Date: September 16, 2012



How do I adopt my relative’s children? What if they live in another country?


Increasing numbers of relatives have stepped forward to care for vulnerable children who cannot live with their parents. Many relatives or “kin” proceed to adopt the child, while others prefer to be the child's guardian in order to preserve the child's legal ties to one or both parents.

If the child is in the custody of a public agency, you should contact that agency to express your interest in adoption. Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children’s Bureau, provides a State-by-State listing of public adoption agencies in the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory at Visit disclaimer page.

Most often, relatives care for children as foster parents before adoption takes place. State regulations vary, but you may be required to take training classes and complete a family assessment before you are licensed as a foster parent or allowed to adopt the child. Child Welfare Information Gateway provides additional information about adopting your relative's child from foster care in its factsheet, Kinship Caregivers and the Child Welfare System at Visit disclaimer page.

For information regarding adopting a relative’s child who is not in foster care, contact an attorney familiar with the adoption laws in the State(s) where you and the child live. If you need assistance in locating and/or paying for an attorney, the American Bar Association (ABA) provides a lawyer referral service at Visit disclaimer page (scroll to the bottom of the page for a map of the U.S. which links to local resources) and the Consumers’ Guide to Legal Help at Visit disclaimer page provides pro bono attorney referrals and more. In addition, the following ABA website may also be of assistance, especially to anyone needing free legal help Visit disclaimer page. This site provides links to: free, State legal hotlines for individuals to call and speak to a lawyer; pro bono services for special populations; “unbundled" legal services (which means that individuals can handle part of the legal work themselves to save costs); and links to legal forms.

Adopting a relative child through intercountry adoption is difficult and may not be possible. The requirements depend on the country in which the child relative lives. The relative child must be 16 years old or younger when the petition for adoption is filed. If the relative child lives in a Hague country ( Visit disclaimer page), he or she must meet the child requirements outlined in the Hague (e.g. the child must be a habitual resident in a Hague country.  The birth parents may be living but may release the child for adoption if they are incapable of caring for the child).  If the relative child lives in a non-Hague country, he or she must meet the definition of an orphan according to U.S. Immigration law. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website explains the various ways in which a foreign-born child can be brought to the United States, including as an orphan, at Visit disclaimer page

If the child meets this requirement, an adoption agency that places children in the child’s home country may be able to help you with the adoption. If the child does not meet this requirement, a lawyer familiar with immigration law can help you explore other options. The U.S. Department of State provides information on adopting relatives online at Visit disclaimer page.

Child Welfare Information Gateway has comprehensive information about adoption on its website at Visit disclaimer page. In addition, the web section on Adoption by Family Type: Kinship/Relative Families has additional resources for kinship families at Visit disclaimer page.  

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