Although the laws and policies that regulate who can adopt will vary from state to state and from agency to agency, there are general requirements that most adoption agencies will look at when they talk to people about adopting. It is important to realize that, with the exception of the actual provisions of state law which cannot be waived or modified, there are usually very few requirements or rules that are inflexible. If you run up against a guideline or rule that gives you a problem, you should always ask if it could be waived in your particular case. You might be surprised by what exceptions can be made under the right circumstances and for the right people.
Frustrated adoptive parents have been heard to claim that they feel they should have a "right" to adopt, and they demand the cooperation of others in protecting those rights. Although it is true that everyone has a "right" to desire and to attempt an adoption, from a practical standpoint, no one has an absolute "right" to adopt.
As you do your research and examine the rules and guidelines that are imposed by different adoption agencies on adoptive parents, you will begin to recognize the interaction that exists between the following four levels of qualification criteria that must be satisfied in order for any adoption to take place:
Mandatory Legal Criteria: These are the legal and procedural requirements that are imposed by the laws of the state and county where the adoption will actually take place, which is generally the county and state where the adoptive parents reside, although there are some states that will permit adoptions to be processed in their courts by non-residents of that state. In most cases, these requirements are not very flexible and cannot be waived or modified.
Preferred Agency Criteria: These are practical requirements that are imposed by individual adoption agencies, which are above and beyond the legal requirements imposed by state law. These requirements will vary from agency to agency, based on the focus of the agency, the type of adoptions the agency handles, the human and economic resources that are available to the agency, the social philosophy of the agency and/or the commercial, non-profit or public entities that provide support to the agency. Each agency is free to establish its own criteria, but within the framework of its charter, may also be able to waive or modify the criteria under the right circumstances. A good example of this might be the maximum age restrictions that are imposed on adoptive couples. Because of the type of adoptions they handle, some agencies will not work with couples over 40 years of age, while other agencies will work with individuals who are older. In almost every case, there are very valid reasons for these restrictions. Adoptive parents will need to shop around until they find an agency that has criteria they are comfortable with.
Criteria Sought by Birthparents: Especially in cases that involve independent open adoptions, birthparents are playing an ever-increasing role in the selection of the families who adopt their children. This means that birthparents can impose whatever individualized criteria they feel are important in their situation. Adopters are free to walk away from an adoption opportunity if it is felt that the qualifying criteria are unacceptable. They cannot "force" a parent to place a child for adoption on terms find unacceptable. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, most often it can be a wonderful thing, but it does throw criteria into the matching process that will be totally subjective and individualized to the particular circumstances of each adoption. To a great extent, this level of criteria will be absent when the adoption involves a non-infant adopted through a public agency, because in most of these cases, by the time the adoptive parents get involved, the parental rights of the biological parents will already have been legally terminated by the court.
Adopting Parent Limitations or Criteria: All adopting parents have practical limits beyond which they will not go in an adoption. These self-imposed limitations may involve financial considerations, age considerations, health considerations, or a wide variety of other considerations, which are specific to their personal comfort level. If they cannot feel good about the totality of factors involved in a particular adoption opportunity, they will not move forward with that adoption.