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Editor’s note: This blog is has been updated republished from its original release date.

Adopting a child is undoubtedly one of the most exciting, terrifying, and most stressful things any Marylander can do. If you’re thinking about adopting a child in Maryland, then consider:

  • The types of adoption in Maryland – yep, there’s more than one!
  • The general legal steps from application to the final adoption of children in Maryland; and
  • The legal requirements to be met before the adoption can be completed.

The 5 (+ 3!) Types of Legal Adoption in Maryland

Depending on the adoptive family’s circumstances and priorities, Marylanders can adopt a child through:

  • Public agency adoption: When you adopt a child through the Department of Social Services in a Maryland city near you, such as through the Maryland Public Child Welfare Adoption Program.
  • Private agency adoption: When a private adoption agency oversees and coordinates your adoption.
  • Independent adoption: When the birth parents and adoptive parents arrange the adoption without the involvement of any adoption agency. Some parents prefer independent adoptions since they have more control over the process.
  • Kinship adoption: When a family member (such as a grandparent or older sibling) adopts a child.
  • Stepparent adoption: When a stepparent adopts their spouse’s child.

Additionally, you can choose the type of post-adoption relationship that the child has with their birth parents, including open vs closed adoption.

  • Open adoption: Birth parents receive information about the child, interact with the child, and maintain some level of relationship.
  • Semi-open adoption: There is less face-to-face contact, but the adoptive parents send the birth parents information about the child’s activities and well-being, such as pictures and letters.
  • Closed adoption: The child does not have continuing contact with his or her birth parents.

Open and semi-open adoptions are increasingly popular in the United States, but there are pros and cons to each form of post-adoption relationship. A Maryland adoption attorney can help you understand these issues and structure your adoption to meet you and your child’s needs.

The Maryland Public Child Welfare Adoption Program

In Maryland’s Public Child Welfare program, children that need to be taken from their original homes due to safety or health concerns are placed temporarily into foster homes that have been approved by a local department of social services.

These departments are legally required to attempt to place the child back with their birth family first, before considering adoption.

However, when the situation with the original family cannot be resolved, the department may recommend to the relevant Maryland court that the child’s “permanency plan” be changed to adoption.

Barring any other eligible blood family relationships that might get preference in the adoption process, the foster family would be the first person the court considers to adopt the child. In most cases, the child has been with their foster family for 12 months or longer.

Some children are placed “at risk,” which means the child is not yet legally free to be adopted by the foster family, but the department has started the process of removing their parental rights.

In this situation, the foster parents risk having the child removed from their home and placed back with their biological family. However, the child will stay in one home until the court decision is made.

If the child becomes legally “free,” the foster parents may become the child’s legal adoptive parents.

The (General) Maryland Adoption Process

No matter what type of adoption you pursue, you should ask yourself the following questions before you begin the process and invest too much time or money.

  • How old do you want your child to be?
  • Are you willing to adopt a child with disabilities or special needs?
  • Do you want to adopt a Maryland child, pursue a “domestic” (American) adoption, or apply to an international adoption program?

How you answer these questions will determine how you approach your adoption search.

For example, you might meet with prospective birth parents. Or, you might travel repeatedly to your child’s birth country if you are pursuing an international adoption.

Most adoption processes also require a home study, so the birth parents or agency can determine if you can care for a child.

As part of the home study, you will participate in training, interviews, and a criminal background check. The inspector will ask you questions about your work, interests, morals and values, and financial stability. If you already have children, they might also participate in the home study.

Once you complete your adoption search and home study, you must file a formal petition for adoption. Typically, the birth parents must consent to the adoption. You must also submit reports and other documents to the court.

Legal Requirements for Adopting a Child in Maryland

Generally speaking, there are no major requirements to adopt a child – all you need is enough resources and stability to adequately provide for the child. (That’s basically what the home visit evaluates.)

Public Maryland adoption programs recognize that good parents come in many forms and from many backgrounds. In legal terms, the Maryland departments of welfare will consider adoptive parents of any:

  • Relationship or marital status;
  • Current home status, whether renting or owning;
  • Religion, if any;
  • Race;
  • Sexual orientation; and
  • Gender.

That said, Maryland state regulations do outline some requirements of would-be adoptive parents.

  • Adoptive parents must be a resident of the United States, though not necessarily a citizen.
  • Adoptive parents must complete a minimum of 27 hours of training.
  • Adoptive or foster family parents must be at least 21, with no maximum age set by law. However, if a potential adoptive parent is 60 or older, the local department will observe and document whether their strength is adequate to meet the needs of children in care.

Adoption is a wonderful way to try to start a family. Due to the nature of putting a child into a home that isn’t with their birth parents, however, adoption can also be legally long and complex.

If you’re wondering about possible legal hurdles facing your adoption – or just want to set your application up for the best possibility of success – our family lawyers would be happy to sketch out a game plan during a free initial consultation.