Adult Adoption: Can You Adopt An Adult? Process, Laws, Cost, & More

What Is Adult Adoption? A Guide To Legally Making A ‘Grown-Up’ A Member of the Family

April 6, 2020 Updated May 20, 2021

portrait-of-a-mother-and-daughter-together (1)
Elly Fairytale/Pexels

If you’re looking for more info on other types of adoption, you can find our guides to embryo, open, closed, baby, foster care, private, international, transracialstep parent, military, single parent, Jewish, Christian, and same-sex adoption

We all know that life often follows a design we don’t have the blueprints for, right? For all our careful planning, sometimes things come at us at a different place or time than we expected. Well, adult adoption is a lot like that. Yes, it’s a thing — an uncommon but very valid thing — and there are myriad reasons people go through adult adoption..

Although it’s both legal and possible to adopt a fellow “grown-up,” it can be a complicated process. Even so, adult adoption appears to be on the rise, according to the National Council for Adoption president and CEO Chuck Johnson. And his theory for the uptick, as told to Today, is heartwarming: “No matter how old you are, you never lose the desire for a family.”

Maybe you’ve found your heart-child and they just so happen to be 29. Or perhaps you’re mulling over the legalities of helping an older relative. Either way, you’re going to need to know the ins and outs of adult adoption. You’re not alone in your search for more information here. In fact, according to the latest search data available, adult adoption is searched for nearly 4,400 times per month. Here’s a quick but comprehensive rundown for you.

Definition and legality

Adult adoption is essentially exactly like it sounds. It is a legal process by which a person or couple adopts a person over the age of majority who voluntarily agrees to be adopted. The age of majority is designated by states, who all have provisions for the adoption of adults. Most people assume adoption is only for minors, but that’s not the case. There are specific laws, guidelines, and requirements governing this type of adoption that must be followed. But, yes, you can legally adopt an adult.

Possible problems

Granted, this is adoption — a permanent, legal decision that is not to be taken lightly. As such, you’re not just going to breeze through the door and snag yourself a big red “APPROVED” stamp if certain prohibitive circumstances are found. Since these also vary from state to state, you should always do your research upfront about the laws where you live. We can give you a few examples, though.

Some states require a specific age difference between the adoptive parent and the adopted child. In that same vein, some states have ruled that adult adoption can not be used to legalize a relationship between same-sex partners (if, for example, the state does not recognize same-sex marriage as legal). Other reasons for rejection include certain criminal offenses, a sexual relationship between the potential adoptive parent and adoptee, and failure to obtain spousal consent from both parties — the latter of which is a requirement when either party is currently married.

Reasons for adult adoption

It’s honestly a lot like any other type of adoption in that the motivation for adoption varies from person to person. So, if you’re wondering why adults get adopted, you’ll find that there isn’t just one reason. Adoption is a deeply personal action, meaning each adoption is a reflection of the people involved. There are a few common scenarios when it comes to adult adoption, though.

Deb Castaldo, an adoption therapist and faculty member at the Rutgers University of Social Work, offered one reason from the side of the potential adoptee: stability. “Why would someone want to do this as an adult? Many reasons,” she told Today. “First, wanting to remove the stigma of not having a family, of not having a feeling of permanence. You can imagine what it’s like for someone who has no sense of belonging.”

In that respect, it makes sense that one common scenario involves former foster children being adopted by their long-time foster parents once they become adults. The same premise applies to stepparent-stepchild adoptions.

Other times, the adult adoption comes as more of a surprise — say, a person with no known living relatives befriends an older couple and an unshakeable bond forms. When a situation like this starts to feel like family, the group might decide to just make it official. The emotional attachment is already there; they simply have it solidified legally.

There are other more routine reasons for adult adoptions, though. For instance, many take place because a person or couple needs to provide perpetual care for an adult with special needs, health issues, or a disability. But arguably the most common reason for adult adoption is to create legal inheritance rights within a relationship. In order for property or financial assets to be left to an individual who isn’t a biological family member, adult adoption offers a route that can prove much easier.

Process of adult adoption

Your logical next question is probably how to complete an adult adoption. And, really, the adoption process is basically the same whether you’re adopting a child or adult. Because adult adoption operates on the state level, you’ll start by picking up the required documents from your local courthouse. Actually, scratch that — it’s always advisable to first hire an adoption attorney to help guide you through the legalities. While an attorney isn’t a deal breaker with adult adoptions, the legal system is a strange beast. It’s best to err on the side of caution (and someone more knowledgeable in legalese than you or I).

With your attorney’s insight, you’ll be able to gather up any necessary documentation and address any salient questions. When you’re ready to file, you’ll have to fill out the papers you picked up at the courthouse and give them your Jane Hancock in the presence of a notary. A notary will emboss your paperwork, making it official and ready to be formally submitted. You then request a date with the family court.

When your court date comes, you’ll appear before a family judge, who’ll rule on whether the adoption will be finalized. They’ll probably ask a few questions to make sure the adoption is in the best interest of the adoptee. If all goes well, the court will issue a new birth certificate for the adoptee. Congrats, you just adopted an adult!

A few key ways this process is different from child adoption? Because the adoptee in question is an adult, theirs is typically the only consent needed (and, if required by the state, spousal content). Plus, a home study is not typically required as it would be with child adoption.

What are the requirements for adult adoption?

First of all, the adult in question must actually be an adult and over 18 years of age. Their birth parents need not consent as, well, the potential adoptee is of legal age. This in addition to the aforementioned consent from the spouse of both the adoptee and adoptive parent.

Adult adoptions in California must meet an age gap requirement of at least ten years between the two parties. This means that the adoptive parent must be ten years older than the potential adoptee. The age difference is measured birthday to birthday and must add up to ten years or more.

Adopting Adults From Foreign Countries

You may be wondering if you can adopt an adult from outside the United States. Well, it is possible — but, as you can imagine, it’s going to be considerably trickier for an American citizen to adopt an adult from another country than it would be to adopt an adult from the U.S. In addition to meeting American laws, you’ll also have to adhere to immigration laws. Since the latter are so stringent, you can expect a lot of scrutiny.

If this still sounds like something you want to do, you can find a much more extensive explanation of adopting an adult from a foreign country (along with any pertinent forms) on The US Department of Homeland Security website.

Cost And Duration

As far as how much it costs to adopt someone over 18, the expenses — much like the reasons for doing so — vary greatly. For more straightforward adult adoptions (think step-parent/step-child), the cost could be minimal. However, the cost of adult adoptions involving inheritance and immigration can be exponentially more expensive.

Barring any complications, adult adoptions typically take around 60 to 90 days to complete.