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What is Adoption Law?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Adoption law is the legislation that regulates and governs the adoption process. Adoption is the legal process by which a person or couple assumes guardianship of a minor. Unlike other forms of legal guardianship, adoption makes the minor a permanent member of the family, with all the rights and obligations that status includes. Adoption law varies by nation and sometimes by state, province, or region. As international adoption becomes more common, these laws must be applied to those attempting to extend family bonds across national borders.

Early forms of adoption did not resemble the current, family-oriented institution. Some early societies such as Rome allowed adoption on the basis of property inheritance; others outlawed adoption for the same reason. Many early adoptees became wards of the church, while others became indentured servants, this was the case until the 19th century. The first modern adoption law was passed in the U.S. state of Massachusetts in 1851. This law, intended to create families for orphaned or abandoned children, influenced later laws and helped create the present-day adoption system.

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Modern adoption law is intended to ensure the process works in the best interests of the adopted child. Most nations require would-be adoptive parents to demonstrate their suitability for long-term parenting. They must prove this status to government officials, a licensed adoption agency, or both. These legal requirements contribute to what can often be a complicated and time-consuming adoption process. Adoptions that take place outside this legal system are sometimes colloquially referred to as black market babies.

Adoption law also entails changing the adopted child’s legal status, making him or her an official member of the adoptive family. In many nations, this is comparable to the legal status of naturally born children with regard to parental rights, inheritance, and the like. Adopted children will sometimes use the phrases birth parents or biological parents to distinguish those people from their legal parents. For international adoptions, adoption law can also change the adopted child’s citizenship. In the United States, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 automatically gives American citizenship to children from foreign countries adopted by American parents.

Another important element of adoption law deals with the identities of biological parents. For many years, it was routine for state agencies to seal the records pertaining to an adoption. This meant that neither the birth parents nor the adopted person could access information about their identities or connection, even after many years had passed. In the late 20th century, many adopted persons had to fight or circumvent these laws to explore their natural curiosity about their origins. Current adoption law sometimes allows adopted children to contact birth parents, or vice versa, if the other party gives consent.

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