Held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, National Adoption Day strives to bring awareness to the 125,000 foster children waiting to be adopted. Court systems across the U.S. are encouraged to open their doors on this day to facilitate adoptions. Since 2000, 75,000 foster children have been adopted on National Adoption Day.

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Here’s some information for people who may be thinking of adopting.

How Do I Start the Process of Adopting a Child in the U.S.?

Adoption can be a daunting process for people starting out. It can take time and be emotional for everyone involved. Once prospective parents have made the decision to adopt, they need to start thinking about the kind of child they are looking to adopt. Are they interested in an infant or an older child? Is there a preference for ethnicity? Do they want to consider foster care as a precursor or do they want to directly adopt?

Once those decisions have been made, prospective parents should consider finding a licensed adoption agency to facilitate their adoption. Finding the right agency can be a time-consuming process. The agencies work to match prospective parents with the child of their choice.

Once you find the right agency, it may take time for the agency to match a child with the prospective parents, notes Elizabeth Yang, IP and family law attorney at the Law and Mediation Offices of Elizabeth Yang. Infants and newborns are in high demand while waiting parents may have a shorter wait time if they want an older child.

What’s a Home Study?

Agencies do more than pair parents with children; they also work to ensure that the prospective parents are a good fit. They must conduct a home study, often conducted by a social worker or a state agent. Prospective parents have to background checks, provide financial statements, medical information, personal references and much more. With this information, agencies “look at the amount of support, education, and guidance that can be offered to a child,” Yang explains. “They want to make sure that the parents are well prepared. It’s not something they can just do and then change their mind.” Some agencies may require parents to take classes to prepare them for the challenges of parenthood.

Mark A. Momjian, attorney at Momjian Anderer, LLC notes that being single should not be a hindrance to adoption. LGBTQ people should be able to adopt as well but the current political environment may make it harder in certain states. Agencies should focus on a person or couple’s ability to provide a financial and emotionally stable household for the child.

Do I Have to Go Through the Same Process to Adopt My Foster Child or Stepchild or Relative?

If you have a pre-existing relationship with the child, either as a foster child or through your spouse, you do not have to work with an agency. Finding a child to adopt is often the hardest step of the process, depending on what the prospective parents want. With a foster child, you’ve found a child and you’ve already done the hard work of proving to an agency that you can be a fit parent, says Momjian.

Similarly, with stepchildren and other relatives, such as a niece or nephew or grandchild, the child is already known to the prospective families. With a stepchild, one spouse is likely to already be a biological parent of the child.

What’s Next in the Process?

For agency-based adoptions, once a child has been identified as a match, and the prospective parents have successfully passed their home study, the child may be placed in their home. Then the agency will help facilitate the legal process to finalize the adoption. There may be additional paperwork if parents adopt from another state.

Adoption procedures, however, do vary state by state so the process may be slightly different. In general, to formally finalize the adoption, a petition of the intention to adopt must be filed with the court. Part of the petition must require that the biological parents have relinquished their parental rights voluntarily, or in some cases, involuntarily.

After the petition has been filed, for agency-based adoptions, the agency may be required to supervise or visit the new family for a court-mandated period of time. Once that period has been completed and the prospective parents pass the post-placement study, there is a finalization meeting to complete the adoption.

Do I Need an Attorney?

For agency adoptions, a lawyer may not be necessary since the agency will facilitate the process. An attorney may be needed to help with the adoption of stepchildren and other relatives like nephews/nieces. If there is an issue with getting a biological parent to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights, a lawyer may be consulted. If there are concerns about discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity or other factors, people may want to consider an attorney as well.