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How to Adopt in California

From Los Angeles to San Diego, San Francisco to Sacramento, there are hundreds of families hoping to strike gold with an adoption in California. Whether you are considering adopting a baby or placing your child for adoption, read on to learn everything you need to know about adoption in the Golden State.


Laws, Rules and Qualifications for Adopting a Child in California

Each state has different laws regarding who can adopt and how they can adopt. If you are interested in adopting a child in California, the following guidelines will help you better understand the adoption process, laws and qualifications in your state.

What are the laws and qualifications for adopting a child in California?

In California, prospective parents must be at least 10 years older than the child they plan to adopt. An exception may be made if the adoptive parent is a stepparent, sibling, aunt, uncle or cousin of the child. Prospective parents must also complete a home study, including criminal background checks. See “Home Study and Post-Placement Requirements in California” for more information.

What adoption expenses can be paid by adoptive families in California?

Every state regulates the expenses that can be paid by adoptive parents during the adoption process. In California, adoptive parents may pay birth parent expenses, including attorney’s fees, medical fees and expenses, counseling fees and living expenses. Birth parents must make requests for payment in writing and must provide the adoptive parents with written receipts of any money exchanged. The prospective parents must submit all receipts to the court when filing the required accounting report.

In accordance with California law, the court will not allow birth parents to accept payments that exceed reasonable maternity-related medical costs and necessary living expenses. It is unlawful for any person or agency to pay or receive payment of money or anything of value for the placement of a child or the consent to an adoption of a child. It is also unlawful for any parent to obtain financial benefits when there is no intent to complete or consent to the adoption.

What are the laws to become a foster parent in California?

To become a licensed foster parent in California, a licensing worker must visit the prospective foster home and meet with all family members and ensure that all personal, safety and space requirements are met.

What are the requirements to finalize an international adoption in California?

California will recognize foreign adoption decrees that have been issued in compliance with the laws of the United States and the country that granted the adoption, as long as the adoption was finalized in a Hague Convention country.

Readoption is optional in California but may be required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Readoption is the process of a state court reviewing and legitimizing the foreign adoption. The process includes at least one postplacement in-home visit, as well as filing of the adoption petition, the intercountry adoption court report, accounting reports, the home study report and the final adoption order.

Each California resident who adopts internationally may obtain a California birth certificate. The state registrar will establish a new birth certificate upon receipt of an adoption report from the court or a readoption order.

Is it legal to use advertising or facilitators to adopt in California?

In California, only the state social services department or a licensed agency may advertise to birth parents or adoptive families. If an adoption facilitator’s or intermediary’s services are used, state laws require that the facilitator or intermediary provide written information about their services, verbally explain any written contract to the prospective adoptive parents and birth parents, provide in writing all available background information about the birth parents and the child, and report to the court all fees and expenses paid.

Laws, Rules and Qualifications for Placing a Baby for Adoption in California

If you are considering adoption for your child, you likely have several questions about the rules and regulations of placing a baby for adoption in California. The following will help answer some of your questions about California adoption law.

When and how can birth parents consent to the adoption?

In agency placements, birth parents may consent to adoption any time after the child’s birth. The consent form must be signed before two witnesses and acknowledged before an official of the agency.

In direct placements, the birth mother must wait to consent until she has been discharged from the hospital following the child’s birth. Consent must take place in the presence of an Adoption Service Provider or other agent who has advised the parents of their rights.

For children of Indian heritage, California imposes a 10-day waiting period before birth parents can consent to the adoption. The consent must be executed in writing and recorded before the judge. The judge must certify that the terms and consequences of the consent were fully explained in detail in English and were fully understood by the parent, or that the terms and consequences were translated into a language that the parent understood.

Who must consent to the adoption?

In California, consent must be given by:

  • The child’s living parents
  • The parent who has custody of the child, if the other parent fails to communicate with and support the child for 1 year or fails to respond to notice of adoption
  • The spouse of the adopting parent if the adopting parent is married
  • In an older child adoption, the child must give consent to the adoption if he or she is 12 or older.

The presumed father is not required to consent to the adoption unless he became the presumed father prior to relinquishment, before consent becomes irrevocable, or before the mother’s parental rights have been terminated.

The consent of a birth parent is not necessary when the birth parent has been judicially deprived of custody and control of the child, voluntarily surrendered the right to custody and control of the child, deserted the child without provision for identification of the child or relinquished the child for adoption.

(See “What rights does the father of the baby have in California adoptions?” for more information about when parental consent may not be necessary.)

When does the birth parents’ consent become irrevocable? If a birth parent revokes consent, is the child automatically returned to the birth parent?

In a direct placement, the parents are allowed to withdraw consent within 30 days. In an agency adoption, consent is final and may only be withdrawn by mutual consent or if placement is not finalized with the specified adoptive parent within 30 days.

For an Indian child, the parent may withdraw consent for any reason at any time prior to the entry of the final adoption decree. Upon finding that consent was obtained through fraud or duress, parental consent can be withdrawn for up to two years after the adoption is final.

What rights does the father of the baby have in California adoptions?

In California, a man is presumed to be a child’s father, and therefore has parental rights, if:

  • He is or was married to the child’s mother and the child is/was born during the marriage or within 300 days of the end of the marriage
  • He and the child’s mother attempted to legally marry each other before the child’s birth, but the marriage is or could be declared invalid, and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days of the end of the marriage
  • He and the child’s mother attempted to legally marry each other before the child’s birth, but the marriage is or could be declared invalid, and the child is born during the marriage or within 300 days after the marriage or cohabitation has ended
  • He has acknowledged his paternity of the child in writing
  • He gives consent to be named as the child’s father on the birth certificate
  • He is obligated to support the child by voluntary agreement or court order
  • The child lives in his home and he openly claims the child as his own

In California, the court may terminate the father’s (or mother’s) parental rights without consent if:

  • A court finds that reunification services shall not be offered. Reunification services need not be provided in the following circumstances:
    • The whereabouts of the parent is unknown
    • The child or a sibling of the child had been removed from the custody of the parent as a result of physical or sexual abuse, was returned to the parent’s custody and is being removed again due to physical or sexual abuse
    • The parent has caused the death of another child through abuse or neglect
    • The parent has subjected the child under age 5 to severe physical abuse
    • The child qualifies for child welfare services or placement as a result of severe sexual abuse or the infliction of severe physical harm to the child, a sibling or a half-sibling by a parent
    • The parent or guardian has been required to register as a sex offender
  • The whereabouts of the parent have been unknown for six months
  • The parent has failed to visit or contact the child for six months
  • The parent has been convicted of a felony indicating parental unfitness

Home Study and Post-Placement Requirements in California

Prior to adopting or fostering in California, you must complete a pre-placement home study. Following the adoption, you will be required to complete a post-placement assessment. The home study is an assessment of prospective parents that evaluates your ability to provide a stable, nurturing home to a child.

What is included in the California home study process?

To complete the home study in California, each person filing an adoption petition must submit fingerprints and obtain criminal records to establish whether he or she has ever been convicted of a crime other than a minor traffic violation. The home study will also include a physical investigation of the adoptive home.

Who is included in the home study process?

In California, each person filing an adoption petition must be investigated.

Who will conduct the home study?

The home study will be conducted by the Department of Social Services or a delegated county adoption agency.

What are the qualifications to complete a home study?

Prospective adoptive parents must be at least 10 years older than the child. An exception may be made if the adoptive parent is a stepparent, sibling, aunt, uncle or cousin of the child, and if that person is married, is adopting jointly with his or her spouse.

On what grounds will the home study not be approved in California?

In California, the home study will not be approved in any home where the prospective adoptive parent or any adult living in the adoptive home has been convicted of:

  • A felony for child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, crimes against a child including child pornography, or for a crime involving violence, including rape, sexual assault or homicide
  • A felony that occurred within the past five years for physical assault, battery, or a drug- or alcohol-related offense

What is a post-placement study in the adoption process? What are the post-placement study requirements for California?

The post-placement study takes place from the time the child is placed with the adoptive parents to the time a final decree of adoption is granted, for a period of at least six months. If the adoptive parent has successfully adopted another child within the past five years, or if they are in the U.S. military or the American Red Cross and completion of the supervisory period would delay completion of an adoption the agency has determined should be completed, the post-placement supervisory period may be shorter.

The post-placement study will consist of at least one agency-conducted interview in the home of the adoptive parents with the parents and the adoptive child, as well as three additional interviews with the prospective adoptive parents.

As needed during this period, the agency will provide liaisons between the family and schools, mental and physical health agencies, rehabilitation service agencies and other community resources and will update the psychological and medical history form and assessment of the child to reflect any additional information discovered during the supervisory period.

What are the home study requirements for stepparent or relative adoptions in California?

If the prospective adoptive parent is the child’s relative caregiver who has an ongoing and significant relationship with the child, the assessment may require only the following elements:

  • Criminal records check
  • Determination that the relative can support the child financially
  • Determination that the relative has not abused or neglected the child and will likely not abuse or neglect the child in the future
  • Determination that the relative caregiver can address racial and cultural issues that may affect the child’s wellbeing
  • An interview with the relative, each resident of the home and the adopted child

Unless ordered by the court, no home study may be required in a stepparent adoption. In a stepparent adoption, a probation officer, court investigator, licensed social worker, licensed marriage family therapist, private licensed adoption agency or county welfare department will make the investigation and file a report and recommendation with the court.

What are the home study requirements to adopt a child from another state?

Any interstate adoption is subject to the provisions of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). For California residents adopting across state lines, within 60 days of receipt of a request from another state to conduct an adoption home study, a county child welfare agency must conduct and complete the home study and return a report the results of the study to the requesting state.

What are the pre-placement requirements to adopt a child that is currently in my care?

If the prospective adoptive parent has fostered the child for at least six months, the assessment or home study procedure is the same for a relative caregiver. See “What are the home study requirements for stepparent or relative adoptions in California?” for more information.

In California, you are required to obtain a home study performed by a licensed professional in your county. Contact one of these trusted home study providers to get started:

  • The Family Network, Inc.
    The Family Network, Inc. is a nonprofit agency licensed to perform international and domestic home studies and other adoption-related services in California.
  • AAC – Alpha Adoption Centers
    Alpha Adoption Centers is a nonprofit adoption agency licensed by the state of California to provide domestic home studies and post-placement services for Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles and San Diego county residents.

Visit 1800HomeStudy.com to learn more about California home study providers.

California Adoption Professionals

When you are ready to begin your adoption journey, your adoption professional can help guide you through the process. These licensed professionals are experienced in completing local adoptions and can help ensure that you meet all California legal and home study requirements:

For more information about foster care in California, visit the California Department of Social Services.

Things to do in California

If you find yourself spending some time in California, whether you are waiting for ICPC clearances so you can return to your home state, or you are visiting a prospective birth mother in her home state of California, here are a few fun things you can enjoy while in the Golden State:

For more information about traveling to California, visit www.visitcalifornia.com.

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