Adoption can be long, complicated, and emotional. With the right preparation, gay adoption doesn't have to be overwhelming. Check out these guides, which help break down everything you need to know about adopting as a gay, bi or trans man.
We’ve partnered with some of the most well-regarded and experienced adoption professionals in the country to create this overview of the Gay Adoption process. Watch these videos for a step-by-step overview of the gay adoption process, and then explore the rest of this page for more detailed info.
Adoption is a wonderful way for queer men to build their families — but it can be a long, complicated process. It's important to be prepared!
Each adoption process is unique and comes with its own set of challenges. Our experts break down some of the steps you can expect.
There are three main ways you can adopt in the United States: through foster care system, with the help of an agency or lawyer, or internationally.
There are many adoption agencies and lawyers to pick from in the United States to help complete your adoption journey — but it’s important to find one that is affirming of LGBTQ adoptive parents.
The home study is the process that every adoptive parent must go through, regardless of the path they choose — foster-adopt, private domestic adoption, or international adoption — before they can legally become adoptive parents.
The prospect of matching with a birth mother is an exciting one, but can be complicated, and will be different depending on your “path.”
Today, most adoptions have some degree of contact between adoptive and birth families — just how open will be part of a negotiated process.
The cost of adopting varies considerably — from nearly nothing to tens of thousands of dollars — depending on your chosen adoption path.
Laws surrounding adoption vary by state, and can be different for LGBTQ people. It’s important to work with adoption professionals familiar with the laws in your state.
There are three main ways gay, bi and trans me and couples can adopt a child: private infant or domestic adoption, international or intercountry adoption, or through the nation’s foster care system. Familiarize yourself with all three of these options before making a decision.
Before embarking on an adoption journey, you should assess whether this is the best path to parenthood for you. It is important to realize, for instance, that many people are impacted by an adoption: you and your family, of course, but also the family that child was born into as well — and, most importantly, the adopted child. Adoption is an emotionally journey for everyone involved in the process, and it’s important to be prepared.
For instance, adopting a newborn through domestic adoption is a birth-parent driven process. The birth parents will choose you during the matching process, not the other way around. If you hope to adopt a newborn through an agency or attorney, it’s important to keep the interests of your birth family front and center. In domestic infant adoption, the pregnant person leads the way. Children in foster care, in contrast, will be there because of documented abuse or neglect — the biological families will not have a say in where their children are placed, temporarily or permanently, in the foster care system. Still, the primary goal of foster care is to reunify children with their biological families whenever possible, and it’s important foster parents, even though they hope to adopt permanently, are onboard with that goal.
There are two ways to adopt a newborn in the United States – with the help of an adoption attorney or an adoption agency. Doing so with the help of an attorney is often referred to as an independent adoption. The benefit of working with an adoption agency is your professionals will do most of the work for you — if you go the independent route, you’ll be partly responsible for helping match with a birth family, advertising, and finding an agency to conduct your home study.
The costs for going the independent route can vary more widely than with an agency. Independent adoption can range from $15,000 to $40,000, while adopting through an agency typically averages between $20,000 and $45,000. Both paths average roughly 24 months, start to finish, before an infant adoption is complete.
Independent adoption isn’t legal in all states. Where legal, moreover, restrictions often exist — such as whether or not you are allowed to advertise for a birth parent, or use a “facilitator,” to help conduct parts of the process. So if you go the independent route, it will be especially important to know the laws in your state.
Lastly, private domestic adoption, whichever route you take, is a birth parent driven process. The birth parent will pick adoptive parents, and can decide whether or not she ultimately would like to parent. It’s important to recognize and respect this fact, and to be patient — you will be matched with a family eventually.
International adoption, also called “intercountry adoption,” has been steadily declining in recent years thanks to the tightening of international standards put forth in an international treaty known as the Hague Convention signed by many countries in 1993. This, in fact, is a good development — the Convention is credits with helping safeguard children during the intercountry adoption process and protect against child trafficking.
Still, thousands of people in the United States successfully adoption children from abroad each year. However, for LGBTQ individuals and couples, our option to adopt abroad are limited — most countries don’t allow foreign queer people to adopt. There are two notable exceptions to this rule: Spence-Chapin, a GWK Partner to Fatherhood, runs intercountry adoption programs in South Africa and Colombia, both of which welcome applicants from the LGBTQ community.
The most important difference between choosing adoption through foster care is that the goal of the foster care system is to reunite children with their families. Even if you are hoping to build your forever family through the foster-adopt process, it’s important to be supportive of this ultimate goal.
About a fourth of the over 400,000 children in foster care, however, have been “legally freed” for adoption — meaning the rights of their biological parents have been severed, legally, and they are eligible for permanent placement in a forever home. The average age of a child in foster care is 8, which is also about the age children typically become freed for adoption. While it is certainly possibly to adopt a younger child through the foster care system, it may take more time. If you have your heart set on parenting a child from birth, the private domestic adoption process may be your best path forward.
Children in foster care have been placed there due to documented neglect or abuse. There are many resources available to help — but as a prospective adoptive parent, it will be important to ask yourself if you feel confident in your ability to build the capacity, and seek out the education and training necessary to successfully parent a child with special needs.
A benefit to adopting through foster care is that these placements come with resources the other paths lack — the process is typically free and includes a monthly stipend to help cover the costs of childrearing up until the child turns 18 (or 21 in some states). The process is also typically much quicker than in other adoption paths: once you’ve completed the home study process you can expect to receive a placement relatively quickly.
Regardless of which path you ultimately choose, it will be important to work with an adoption agency or lawyer with a commitment to and long track record of success working with LGBTQ families. The first place prospective adoptive parents should look is “All Children, All Families” database maintained by the Human Rights Campaign. This project partners with dozens of child welfare agencies across the country and include both foster care and private domestic adoption agencies. These organizations earn the “Solid and Innovative Tiers of Recognition” from HRC — meaning they have conducted a rigorous internal self-assessment, provided professional development to staff, and implemented benchmarks to ensure LGBTQ inclusion. The LGBT Bar Association’s Family Law Institute and the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproductive Professionals also maintains a directory of lawyers committed to diversity.
Regardless of the agency you choose to work with, there are some other ways to see if your adoption professionals are LGBTQ affirming. Visit the group’s website to see whether the agency or lawyer has a mission statement that specifically mentions the LGBTQ community. Check to see if the agency’s client non-discrimination statement include the terms “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”. Look for LGBTQ inclusive advertising and paperwork.
- adoptive dad Erik Alexander“Take it one day at a time. Before you know it, that baby will be snuggled into your loving arms.”
Let’s first get this question out of the way: Can LGBTQ people legally adopt in the United States? Many people are surprise to learn that the answer in every state in the country is unequivocally: yes! This is thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, on June 26, 2015, which struck down all bans on same-sex marriage in the country. This ruling, in turn, paved the way for gay adoption to become legal across the country. On March 31, 2016, a Mississippi federal judge ruled that the state's ban on same-sex couples was unconstitutional, making Mississippi the last state to have such a law overturned. Since then, gay adoption has been legal in all 50 states and Washington, DC.
Still, many states have started passing bills that allow tax-funded child welfare agencies to legally discriminate against prospective LGBTQ parents on the basis of religious objections. (Some others have passed pro-LGBTQ bills forbidding this.) These laws also often target single people and have even been used to target people of different faiths. For this reason, it is important to know the adoption laws in your state. But it bears repeating — though certain agencies may discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is still legal for queer people, in all 50 states, to adopt and serve as a foster parent. You will just need to make sure to find an LGBTQ-affirming adoption agency or professional. Every state should have at least one inclusive agency available for you to work with.
No part of the adoption process causes adoptive parents as much concern as the home study — but the process is meant to be helpful. It will include both education for prospective parents, and an evaluation of your fitness to serve as an adoptive or foster parent.
A home study is a required step for any family wanting to adopt any child. It is used not only for private and public adoptions, but also for foster care, stepparent adoptions, kinship adoptions (when grandparents or other family members are raising a child), and second parent adoptions following a surrogate birth or sperm donation.
The name is misleading — this process is about much more than your home. It generally lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 months, and will involve everything from background checks, interviews with the members of your household, examinations of your physical and financial health, education and training where needed, and much more. It sounds overwhelming, but the process is meant to help build your capacity to be the best, and most prepared, adoptive parent you can possibly be.
1. Who will conduct my home study? You will need to work with a licensed social worker or case worker. The home study will reflect your social worker's assessment and approval of you as an adoptive family. It is also a vital tool in preparing your growing family for the questions and realities ahead: race, identity, belonging, grief, curiosity about birth family, answering nosy questions from strangers and teaching your child how to respond to racial bias are some of the common themes addressed during this process.
For LGBTQ people, it’s important to work with professionals who are affirming and inclusive, which can be a struggle in certain parts of the country. Sometimes families find themselves working with an agency or social worker who is overtly homophobic or simply ignorant of how to appropriately address the unique aspects of being same-sex parents or a single gay, bi or trans parent. When contacting an agency, ask for references and inquire if the organization has experience and success working with the LGBTQ community. The agencies listed on HRC’s “All Children, All Families” database is a good place to find inclusive professionals.
2. What is expected of me during the home study? Once you have identified your home study provider, be prepared to be an active participant! In addition to the documents you will collect, you will be asked to read articles and books, take parent preparation classes at your agency or online, revisit your expectations, and openly discuss your upbringing, relationships, medical, mental health or legal history, employment, hobbies, interests, experience with children at various developmental stages, and even your plans for disciplining your future child.
An experienced adoption professional will value this information to inform her or his practice, guide you through any rough patches, and ultimately write a 10- to 12-page document outlining everything she or he has learned about your family. The actual home study document must comply with local, state, federal, and in some cases, international document guidelines. This means your social worker may need to schedule additional visits, training hours, or include very detailed information about certain aspects of your life. It is common for families to feel this process is intrusive and takes too long, which is completely understandable. However, it can be helpful to remember that social workers are not in a position to bypass the legal requirements, nor would they want to, as these regulations are in place to protect the interests of children. Understanding these requirements can be a helpful tool. Most states have their adoption requirements posted for public access; agencies can provide these to families as well.
3. How much contact will I have with my home study provider? Through email, office meetings and home visits, you and your social worker will be creating a relationship that can carry you through this adoption. It can also be a post-adoption resource for you and your future child. You will be communicating with your social worker frequently over the three- to five-month time span that it takes to complete most home studies. While it's understandably anxiety-provoking to have a social worker in your home, it's important to keep in mind that adoption social workers should be approaching families from a "strength-based" perspective, meaning they look first for the strengths any family brings to the table, identify areas of growth, and provide education to make sure that your skills and expectations match what your child will need. They are in your home to make sure your child will be in a safe space, to get an idea of what life in your family will be like, and to simply talk in the comfort of your home about anything on your mind as you move forward. They are not there to judge the cleanliness of your closets, your particular decorating style, or how well you vacuum under the bed!
4. What might disqualify me during a home study? Of course, families still want to know what would prevent them from being approved for a home study. These issues include a criminal history of abuse or violence, especially against children, an untreated and severe mental illness, financial resources that place families below the federal poverty line, active and untreated use of illegal drugs, or a medical diagnosis that severely impacts the applicants' ability to raise a child to adulthood. In some cases, there may be presenting issues that will not disqualify applicants but may require more discovery and assessment.
If you are hoping to adopt a newborn through private domestic adoption, the birth mother or parents will select you after reviewing your profile among other prospective adoptive parents — there are 36 potential adoptive parents for every one infant eligible for adoption in the U.S., so this process can take some time.
In private domestic adoption, the process is driven by the birth family – it will be entirely their decision who they decide to match with. And in some cases, they can change their mind and decide to parent — which is their right.
Your adoption professionals will help you build a profile that will help match you with a birth family. This will be a look into your life, community, interests, parenting philosophy — and much more. It's meant to be a 360-degree guide that provide the basis on which a birth parent will choose you. When building your profile, make sure to include lots of good, current photos — these will help birth parents envision what life might look like within your household for their child. You may also be able to create an adoption video to introduce yourself to potential birth parents. This gives you an opportunity to showcase your unique personalities and give birth parents a sense of your lives.
You may also want to create your own blog or website, in which you can write about your journey, what’s led you to want to build your family through adoption, showcase your hopes, fears, and dreams, and help humanize you. It may feel scary to share that you are hoping to adopt with friends, family and colleagues online well before you’ve matched — but you never know where a potential connection might come from.
When it comes to questions the birth family may have about you, make sure to answer honestly. This will assist in creating the potential for a genuine and authentic relationship with the birth family. Follow the pregnant person's lead and respect what they decide is best in their life. Remain aware that changes may occur, such as meetings or changes in communication frequency. Flexibility is key. And if you are flexible with her, she will be flexible with you in return.
The pregnant person may need the space to process what is happening. Be open and welcoming when the pregnant person does respond with texts, phone calls, or means of communication. If you are pursuing adoption through foster care the matching process will be different. You will work with a case worker who will help find a placement that works for you and your needs.
The first conversation you have with your birth parent is an exciting, if nerve wracking, experience. And every adoption journey is unique — so there is no cookie cutter approach to building a relationship,. But here are some best practices.
If a birth parent or family is interested in your profile, an initial call or video session will be set up for you. This is an opportunity for everyone involved to get to know each other and determine that both sides want to move forward together. During this call, it will be important to listen more than you speak; be respectfully inquisitive, and an active listener.
It’s common for the birth parents to want to spend time getting to know you better before making an official decision — this is a time when you can build trust with one another, and help determine the degree of openness you all are comfortable with. Be open, honest and willing to listen. Once again, it’s important to follow the birth parents’ lead — in terms of frequency of contact, and what that contact looks like. Be ok if the pregnant person doesn’t want to talk to you — they may need space to process what is happening.
Also, it's important to know that being "matched" does not mean your adoption is final — birth parents will still have the ability to change their minds. And a court will still need to finalize the process after the birth. That said, being matched is one of the most exciting steps in the process, so be sure to give yourself room to celebrate.
In most adoptions today, there will be some degree of contact between adoptive and birth families — just how open or involved your arrangement is will be part of a negotiated process.
Previously, most adoptions in the United States were “closed,” or “anonymous,” meaning little to no contact existed between birth and adoptive parents. Today, there is typically some degree of contact between birth and adoptive families, thanks in part to ongoing research that has found benefits for all involved. DNA testing and social media have also accelerated the trend toward more openness — it’s simply harder to maintain anonymity. Even in the few remaining cases of a “closed” adoption in the United States, children will still be able to access some identifying information about their birth parents when they turn 18.
In an "open" adoption, the birth and adoptive families will maintain some degree of contact — just how much contact is maintained with vary greatly, from family to family. An open adoption does not mean you will co-parent with the birth parents. As the adoptive parent, you will hold all legal parenting rights, while birth parents will have their legal rights severed. During the open adoption process, however, your adoption professionals will help draw up an agreement between birth and adoptive parents that includes specific details on how much, and what kind, of contact will exist.
Recent research into open adoption has shown a wide array of benefits for all involved. Here are some of those benefits:
Just how “open” your arrangement is will be the result of a negotiated process between you and your child’s birth family — often facilitated by your adoption agency or professionals.
Fully open adoptions: In a completely open adoption, you will be able to have direct and ongoing contact with the birth family. During an open adoption process, you will likely have several video or in person meetings with the birth family so that you can better get to no one another and make sure the match is right. Following the finalization of the adoption, you may opt to continue this relationship by exchanging each other's home addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. You may agree upon a regular interval of contact between you, your child and the birth family — via home visits, video sessions, or simply email exchanges. The frequency of this contact will vary from family to family. Your needs, and those of the birth family and adopted child, may also change over time — it will be important to adjust your fully open adoption accordingly. A successful fully open adoption, then, will require regular, ongoing communication and trust building between the adoptive and birth families.
Semi-open adoptions: You and you birth parents may instead decide to opt for a "semi" open adoption, in which your adoption agency or professional will serve as an intermediary. This means any form of contact — such as letters, photographs, emails, birthday presents — will first go through your intermediary. Families that chose semi-open adoptions often do so to maintain some form of privacy, for whatever reason. Some semi-open adoptions may still include anonymous, in-person meetings or video sessions in which identifying information — like names and contact info — are kept confidential.
Openness in foster care: In the foster care system, openness will look a bit different than in private infant adoption. When serving as a foster parent, family reunification is the number one goal. So that openness will the birth family starts on day one — when adopting through foster care, adoptive parents are encouraged to form a relationship with the birth parents early on whenever possible. It can be as simple as sending some emails or text messages back and forth to start. When adopting through foster care, the adoptive parents will be involved in a negotiation with the birth parents, and your adoption professionals, about the best form an open adoption can take in your instance.
The final step in the adoption process is also the most exciting — finalizing your adoption and bringing your child home. To do so, it will be important to prepare your home to welcome your child. This involves simple activities like making sure your child’s bedroom is set up and ready, and you have all supplies you need for the age of the child you will be parenting. You will need to determine at this stage if you require the support of a childcare provider — and arrange for that care in advance of your child joining your home. Again, your adoption professionals will help guide you through this process.
Part of preparing for your child is identifying and preparing your support network as well — adoption is an amazing way to form your family, but it can be an emotional and challenging process, before and after the child joins your home. You should speak with your family, friends, and anyone else who you hope to be a part of your support network and discuss the ways in which they may or may not play a role in your child’s life.
Finalizing your adoption will look a bit different depending on where you live. For private domestic adoption, there is a “post placement” period, lasting several months — usually 4 to 6 — after you bring your baby home, during which the state maintains legal authority over the adoption. After this period, a hearing will be scheduled — that is typically more of a formality by this point — during which you will become the legal guardian of the child.
Though the finalization of your adoption won't occur until after the birth of the baby, there is some legal work you and your adoption professionals can begin to sort through once you've been matched with a pregnant person — being prepared on the early side can help your adoption go smoothly following the birth. Some of this legal work includes: documents that will allow hospitals to discharge the baby into your care, and others that will grant you the ability to make medical decisions prior to the adoption's finalization.
The costs of adoption vary widely in the United States — from practically nothing, when adopting through foster care, to $50,000 or more if adopting internationally. Below is a breakdown of the costs associated with each adoption path available to gay, bi and trans men.
Adopting a newborn through an agency can cost from $20,000 to $45,000 according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Expenses will include those associated with completing your home study — the process everyone parent must go through in order to become a legal adoptive parent — advertising, documentation and authentication, postage and telephone costs, and any birth mother and birth family counseling needed. The biggest expense will be the lawyer's fees — both for the prospective parents' lawyer and the birth mother's lawyer.
Adopting independently, without an agency, can cost between $20,000 to $45,000. The main variable to be aware of here involves advertising expenses. If you are working with an agency, the costs associated with advertising for a birth family will typically be included in your agency fees. If you are working independently, with an adoption lawyer or facilitator, advertising fees will vary — and be dependent on your own eagerness. Less advertising means less expense, of course, but the flip side is that your match may take longer to find.
One huge advantage to adopting through the foster care system is that it is affordable for anyone. Fostering is low to no costs — just requiring time, love, and patience. There are no out-of-pocket costs, no costs to engage with the agency, no cost to get the necessary training or required classes, and no cost to have your home study done. Additionally, foster parents are provided a stipend to cover medical expenses, transportation, food, and other necessities — the total amount of your stipend will depend on your state. . “If you are financially challenged and think no agency will have you, think again. They want you for what you bring to the table as a caregiver, as a stable and loving adult.”
Though no money is required, particularly for those hoping to adopt permanently, fostering is not without emotional risks. When children are first placed with your family, Ellen notes, efforts are focused on reunification with the family of origin, which is usually about a year-and-a-half’s worth of time. Those 18 months can be harrowing for foster parents who are forming attachments to the children in their care.
Those with expendable income may be able to fast track the process by partnering with a private agency that works in conjunction with the state or county — such agencies should exist in every state, and the costs of doing so may be somewhere near $2,000. The advantage is time. Additionally, however, through some research, you may be able to find a private agency that is LGBTQ-affirming, and not worry about a public agency assigned to you by the state.
Again, it's important to note that many countries prohibit LGBTQ people from adopting within their borders. Moreover, thanks to the implementation of the Hague Convention in 1993 — a positive development, as it helps reduce child trafficking — international adoptions are significantly more complicated than they were in years past. Still, there are several programs available to queer men who have their heart set on adopting abroad. Most notably, GWK partner Spence-Chapin runs programs with two countries that are welcome and affirming to LGBTQ people — in South Africa and Colombia.
It is often slightly more expensive to adopt internationally through these programs that it would be to adopt domestically. This is in part due to the costs associated with travel and lodging. Most all international adoption programs require the adoptive parents to finalize the adoption within their boards for a period of several weeks. You will be responsible for flying yourself to your child's country of origin, and paying for lodging. You will also need to pay additional costs for things like immigration and documentation for your child in order to bring them back to the United States legally.
There are some resources available to help offset the costs. First, check to see if you qualify for the adoption tax credit. Then check out HelpUsAdopt.org — it is one of the few grantmaking groups that will work with LGBTQ adoptive parents. They also work with single parents. Be sure to check on employer-provided adoption benefits. If your employer doesn’t offer these benefits, it can be worth the effort to talk with your human resources department about instituting these them. Some families have also successfully crowdfunded for adoption using GoFundMe or Indiegogo.
What are the most common questions gay, bi and trans men have about adoption?
In our Learning Center you'll find video responses to the most common questions answered by our adoption experts, as well as access to pre-recorded webinars, previously published feature stories, and an-ever growing list of additional resources to help you become a dad through adoption.