How do I adopt a family member?

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Depending on the degree of relatedness, state laws often provide a streamlined process for in-family adoptions. Visit to learn about some of the issues and complexities involved in adopting a family member.

Adopting a Family Member

Adoption of a family member is one of the oldest forms of adoption and almost all states give priority to this kind of placement. Adopting a family member can be very challenging, however. Adoption is already a complex process where legal and emotional bonds are severed and reattached elsewhere. Reattaching those bonds within the same family structure intensifies the degree of difficulty all around.

There are occasions where adoption within the family is clearly the best option. For example, the child is already securely attached to extended family members, and the child’s bond to his or her biological parents is severed by death or other severe circumstance that renders the parent permanently incapable of taking care of the child. In that case, if there are extended family members who are capable of adopting the child, the bonds in the family are maintained and can be strengthened by the new legal relationships.

There are other occasions where adoption within the family may not be the best option. For example, when drug addiction is involved and a biological parent is incapable of caring for a child, other family members may step in to protect the child yet be unable to control contact with the substance-abusing parent in a way that is healthy for the child. Especially if the biological parent comes and goes from family involvement, or is in and out of rehab, the child may be on such a roller coaster ride of hope and disappointment that he or she is unable to attach effectively to the adoptive parent or parents. As the child grows, adoptive parents will need to address the sensitive questions of who the biological parents are and why the child was placed for adoption.

Any time a biological parent relinquishes parental rights, or has them terminated, in order to facilitate adoption by a family member, the relationships between affected family members become much more complex. Who is the real parent? If the biological parent is in agreement with the family adoption, does that mean he or she will no longer feel any investment in how the child is parented? That would be difficult for any parent, but a parent that is troubled enough to have lost parental rights may be particularly unable to act maturely, graciously and rationally when it comes to how someone else is parenting their biological child.

One aspect of adopting a family member that is often easier than non-related adoptions is the home study. As long as it qualifies as “relative” adoption, the home study may be much more informal, and in some cases not required at all. If you decide to adopt a family member, check the law in your state to see what degree of relatedness you must have to the child in order to qualify for a relative adoption. Each state defines “relative” differently, including relatives by blood, marriage, or adoption ranging from the first to the fifth degree of consanguinity (i.e., blood-relatedness).

Even when family adoption is the optimal decision, the relationships between affected family members will change and may become strained initially or indefinitely. Professionals and families involved in adopting family members recommend that all affected parties receive counseling both before and after the adoption.

Visitor Comments (5)
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Collette - 2 months ago
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I am living in England Britain. and would like to adopt my 12 year old niece who is not currently living with her birth mother but living at a friend house. Her father is deceased and I am very concerned about her health and well being. she did visit us last year summer and did not want to return to the USA. How do I go about adopting her. #1
Judy - 1 month ago
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My nephew and his girlfriend are having another baby after they had 2 taking from the state and i would like to adopt this one and what would i need to do because they would not let me have the first 2 #2
Guest - 3 months ago
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My parents are trying to adopt my niece who they have had custody over for 8 yrs. My brother and my nieces mother have already given up the parental rights. What needs to be done next? #3
carol - 6 months ago
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I want to adopt my great nephew who has lived with me for the past 9 years. I don't have money and I am on disability, where can I go to get help in Illinois? #4
Michael - 9 months ago
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A non relative has custudity of my grandson, how hard would it be for me to get custity and adopt him. Mother had a drug problem and didn't inform me about all this till it was to late #5
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