A domestic adoption is controlled by laws in the United States, while international adoption is controlled by the laws of the child’s country of origin. While seemingly straightforward, the differences can be overwhelming. Accordingly, it is helpful to first understand the conditions for each, recognizing that adoptive family demographics play a role in the process. Internationally, countries set requirements for adoption around age, body mass index, marital history, and mental health history. Thus, if the adoptive parent(s) does/do not meet the requirements, they would not be able to proceed. Domestically, other than barrier crimes or something indicating that the family is not prepared to adopt or parent a child, there are few things that can prohibit a family from seeking to adopt a child. 

Adoption is a wonderful way to build a family, and starting with a solid knowledge foundation is vital.

There are predictable timelines and expectations for international adoption. While home studies are conducted for both types, the process deviates considerably once the study is completed. With an international adoption, the family is placed on a traditional “waiting list,” and the adoption is put into motion once the family reaches the top of the list. With a domestic adoption, there are no traditional waiting lists. Rather, families create profiles, network, and market themselves (either privately or with an agency), in hopes of being selected by a birth parent. The family, with the help of an attorney or agency, must navigate the different laws of each state involved. As examples, some states prohibit advertising or prohibit private adoption; other states allow biological parents weeks after placement to change their minds, while others only give hours or days. Adoptive parents can adopt in months or years, depending on their profiles, marketing, and outreach, so the timing for a domestic adoption is unpredictable.

The age and information about the child being adopted is another factor to consider. With an international adoption, the child to be adopted is most likely an older infant or toddler versus a newborn with a domestic adoption. In most domestic adoptions, the biological parent(s) provide a written social and medical history that goes back generations. Additionally, the prenatal and delivery records are available to the adoptive parents. In contrast, an international adoption usually does not provide social or medical history on the child, although current medical tests and evaluations are provided.

Adoptive parents can adopt in months or years, depending on their profiles, marketing, and outreach, so the timing for a domestic adoption is unpredictable.

Another key difference is the relationship with the child’s biological parents. In an international adoption, it is unlikely the adoptive parents will meet the child’s biological relatives; although, they may have an ongoing obligation through their agency to send an update to the child’s country of origin. Comparatively, most domestic adoptive parents meet the child’s biological parent(s), whether in person or over the phone. They may also have a post-adoption contact agreement allowing for pictures, letters, and updates as the child grows up. This involved relationship is in stark contrast to international adoption, so the legal landscape is different. Domestically, a family must be prepared to negotiate with the biological parent(s). The adoptive parent(s) must then abide by the terms of the agreement, often enforceable by a court.

There are many important differences on the path to parenthood through adoption.  Learning about all the implications of the path chosen is a critical first step. Adoptive parents should meet with experienced professionals to get the facts and learn nuances about each avenue, and to understand what the road ahead will look like. Adoption is a wonderful way to build a family, and starting with a solid knowledge foundation is vital.