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What are Eligibility Requirements in International Adoption?


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  Written by Nicole Skellenger, JD on 04 May 2017

When researching international adoption and deciding on a specific agency or country program, one of the initial factors you will want to consider are eligibility requirements. Eligibility requirements will determine who can adopt from a specific program and/or agency.  Eligibility requirements are a combination of requirements from state and federal laws and policies, foreign laws and policies, and agency-specific requirements. There are two main categories of eligibility requirements: legal requirements and policy requirements. Legal eligibility requirements are those that are written in the laws of the U.S. and the foreign country. These will be the minimum standards. However, the that are also requirements that are created by an agency based on experience, cultural knowledge or preference.

By way of example, the eligibility requirements shared by an agency for a specific foreign country may be based on both laws and practice. It is often the case that foreign countries will outline the eligibility requirements for adopters in their laws. The eligibility requirements may be the same for all adopters, or they may distinguish between foreign and domestic adopters, or between relative and unrelated adoptions. The general legal eligibility requirements may also have caveats or exceptions built into them. For instance, a country’s laws may say that the prospective adoptive parents must be 50 years or age or younger when they adopt the child. However, if parents are open to adopting a significantly older child, that requirement may be waived.

Some foreign eligibility requirements may also be based on experience or unwritten policies or practices. For instance, the foreign law may be silent as to whether or not a single man is eligible to adopt an unrelated child from a specific country, but in practice it may not be culturally acceptable. Because of this, agencies may have policies against taking on single male clients for specific countries, because of the risk that a single male would go through the adoption process from that country, pay the associated cost, and be unsuccessful in matching with a child. While legal, it simply may not happen in practice.

Typical eligibility requirements can be broken down into several categories:

  • Age – It is often the case that countries or agencies will have some sort of upper age limit, typically between 45 and 60. However, exceptions for families seeking to relatives or older children may be made depending on the country and agency. Some countries also have a specified lower age; in Burkina Faso, parents must be at least 30 years old to adopt. Yet other countries do not set a lower age limit, but rather specify a required number of years between child and parent; in Bulgaria, parents can be no less than 15 years older than the child.
  • Marital Status – Some countries require that parents be married and others specify that adopters may be married couples or single women. Some countries, like Haiti, have a length of marriage requirement.
  • Finances – All American families must meet certain minimum income requirements set by the federal government. Some states, countries or agencies may have a higher threshold.
  • Health –  Typically, most programs will want confirmation that parents are healthy enough to care for a child. Other agencies and countries may have a variety of other eligibility requirements related to medication taken and medical history.  Eligibility requirements may also include mental health assessments or clearances depending on the specific program.
  • Number of Children in the Home – Some countries, like Burkina Faso, have a requirement of preference for the number of children in the adoptive family.
  • Criminal History – States and countries often have laws of policies regarding criminal history than can vary. Minor offenses often do not disqualify parents, but parents should be forthcoming and consult with their agency regarding any and all criminal history.
  • Faith – Some countries and agencies also have preferences for families of certain faiths.

Eligibility requirements can vary greatly from country to country and agency to agency. 



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