In California, there are different options for adopting a child. Each option entails its requirements and costs depending on the child’s age, where the child is being adopted from, and if the family hires an attorney.

What Are The Requirements To Adopt?

When adopting a child, the requirements are primarily based on a case-by-case basis. For example, Family Code 8601 requires that couples or single parents must be at least ten years older than the child they wish to adopt. However, there can be exceptions if adopted within the family, such as a step-kid, sibling, cousin, niece, or nephew.

All couples or persons seeking to adopt must go through a home study and criminal background check. During these procedures, an applicant can expect to:

  • Submit fingerprints
  • Complete a physical examination
  • Attend adoption training and parenting classes
  • Complete individual interviews with a social worker
  • Undergo a home investigation and in-home visits with a social worker

In most cases, adoption applications will be denied if one or more of the following occupants of the house have committed a felony. While not all felonies deem an automatic disqualification, felonies for child abuse, spousal abuse, neglect, violent acts, rape, or sexual assault will qualify for a disqualification.

Unlike other states, California does not require a couple to be married to adopt a child. A single person can apply for adoption if they meet all of the requirements. Additionally, a couple or person does not have to own a home to adopt a child; renting or owning an apartment can be deemed acceptable if it is safe and has enough room for each family member.

The purpose of these requirements is to ensure that the child will be in a safe environment surrounded by people prepared to take care of them. Therefore social workers and adoption agencies will check to see if:

  • The family or person is financially stable
  • Each member of the couple are eager to adopt
  • If the couple or person has experience with children
  • Is the house or apartment clean and safe
  • If the couple is married and how long

Different Types Of Adoptions

There are multiple ways a couple or person can adopt a child. While each option has its costs, processes, and requirements, they are all valid options. These adoption types include:

  • Step-parent/ domestic adoption—This adoption process is when one spouse or domestic partner applies to adopt the child of their spouse or domestic partner
  • Agency Adoption —This adoption process is when a couple or person goes through the California Department of Social Services or a state-licensed adoption agency
  • International Adoption—This adoption process occurs when a couple or person goes through an international agency supervising throughout the application and adoption process.
  • Foster-to-Adopt—This process goes through a foster care system where a couple or person fosters a child for a period of time and can finalize the adoption when the “foster period” has concluded.

Step-Parent/ Domestic Adoption

For the Step-parent/ Domestic adoption process, only the step-parent is required to go through the application process, such as criminal background, fingerprinting, and physical examination. This adoption process is the quickest, cheapest, and more relaxed out of all the types of adoption because one biological parent still has custody. The adoption process will be approved as long as the step-parent does not have violent or abuse-related felonies or extensive financial circumstances.

Application requirements for domestic adoption include:

  • Consent from the biological parent giving up their legal custody (only if they are alive and able to be contacted)
  • Birth certificate of the child and step-parent
  • Marriage license if applicable
  • Proof of divorce if the biological parents were married

This adoption process does require a home visit from a social worker to conclude that the house is clean and safe. If the child is older than twelve years of age, they also will have to sign a document consenting to be adopted.

Private Agency Adoption

An agency adoption is when the couple or person goes through a licensed private adoption agency. In most cases, the child’s birth parents will work with the Department of Social Services agencies to find a potential adopting family. The agency is legally required to take care of the child during this process until the adoption process is finalized.

Adopting parents must meet the home visit, investigation, and all application requirements to approve the adoption, and the birth parents must give up their legal rights to the child. Once the application is approved, the child will live with the adopting family for 180 days, with multiple visits from a social worker, before the adoption is finalized.

Home-study or requirements for this adoption type include:

  • Letters of reference from people who know the prospective adoptive parents
  • A medical professional letter confirms that the adoptive parents do not have any life-threatening or life-shortening illnesses.
  • Confirmation of employment status and income
  • Fingerprinting and background checks

A private agency adoption takes about six months from submitting an application to the matched child living in the adopting parent’s home. Once the child has been living at the adopting parents’ home for 180 days, it can take up to a year for the adoption to be finalized.

International Adoption

International Adoptions is the most time-consuming and expensive option. It entails a six-step process with numerous applications, such as an immigration visa. The process for international adoption is;

1. Choose a country to adopt from— This step usually involves personal preferences for each adopting family. However, cost and eligibility can factor in which countries families want to adopt from.

2. Choose a California International Adoption Agency— Like private adoption agencies, the international agencies will oversee all applications, home visits, and monetary transactions.

3. Apply— all applications must be approved by the international agency and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

4. Wait for Adoption Opportunity- Once the application has been approved, the couple or person must wait for an adoption opportunity. The adopting family will either receive a referral if they have specific age or gender preferences or be matched with a child when they travel to the chosen country.

5. Apply for child’s adoption eligibility— Once a couple or person has been matched with a child, they must fill out a form with the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services for immigration approval.

6. Apply for a child’s immigration visa—If all applications are approved, the family can fill out a form for the child’s immigration visa.

International adoptions can take months to years, depending on the country, the adoption parent’s preferences, and the application process.


Foster-to-adopt is when a couple or person partners with a foster care agency to foster a child to adopt. The application requirements are similar to private agency adoptions, where the primary purpose is to ensure the child will be in a safe environment with financially stable parents. Once the applications are complete, a specialist will help find a match for the adopting family through a California foster care agency.

Once the family has been matched with a child, the child will be under the foster care of the adopting parents with monthly visits from a social worker. If the family and child seem like a good fit, the adopting family can finalize the adoption at a minimum of six months after the child has been in their care. The foster-to-adopt process usually takes 12-18 months for everything to be finalized from beginning to end.

How Much Does Adoption Cost?

All adoption costs cover all legal and application fees, social workers’ pay for home visits, medical exams, fingerprinting, travel expenses, and adoption training.

For Step-parent/ domestic adoption, it costs between $350-$2,000. The costs depend on if the family processes the application and paperwork themselves or hires an attorney.

For Private Agency Adoptions, it depends on the agency and age of the child being adopted. The estimated cost is around $30,000 to adopt a child through private agencies but can cost more than $40,000 for a newborn.

International fees are just as expensive as private agency fees; however, international adoptions can cost up to $50,000 due to immigration visas and travel expenses. It also depends on what country the adopting parents choose to adopt from and the child’s age.

Foster-to-adopt costs around $2,000 for all expenses and training. However, charges can be cheaper if the adopting family works with a public state or county foster agency.

How Can I Afford Adoption?

While adopting a child can be a significant financial task, there are multiple funding options available, including:

Most agencies will also have their own funding options available or have specialized workers able to assist adopting agencies to figure out their adoption and funding goals. It is important to remember that all adoption costs are not required to be paid in a lump sum but are rather spread out through the adoption process.

Contact Pride Legal

If you or a loved one has more questions about child adoption in California, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further inquiries. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.