Adoption Legal FAQs


“Can I adopt a relative who lives in a different country?”  “How do I adopt a relative's kid who lives in another country?”  “My nephew/niece is in another country. Can I adopt them?”

When adopting a relative from a foreign country, your adoption process will vary depending on a number of factors, including whether or not your relative lives within a Hague Convention country, the age of the person you wish to adopt, the immigration laws that impact your case and more. Your first step if you want to adopt a relative from another country is to consult an immigration attorney to discuss your individual situation. It is never recommended that you adopt a child (relative or not) from a foreign country without having consulted with an immigration attorney. Our office will not meet with you on an international adoption of a relative until you have done so. 

“The father of my baby has never paid child support or been involved in the child's life. Do I have to give him notice in order for my partner/spouse to adopt my child?” 

In Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, you’re legally obligated to give your child’s biological father notice of your adoption decision in order to proceed with a stepparent adoption or second parent adoption, even if he’s been absent from your child’s life. In Maryland and D.C., the notice is of the adoption and is “actual notice” served on him personally. In Virginia, you have to serve him actual notice of the Birth Father Registry to give him an opportunity to register. This is true even if he is not on the birth certificate, never paid child support, is unaware of the child or has chosen to not be involved in the child’s life. There are no exceptions in Maryland, D.C. or Virginia to the notice requirements, so even if the child was conceived by rape or the father is abusive or involved in criminal activity, he is still entitled to notice. If the child was conceived by rape, Maryland allows the adoption to proceed without notice IF you have sought termination of the fathers’ rights in a separate proceeding prior to making the adoption plan.  

“What steps should I take to locate the father of my baby if I don't know where he lives and I need to give him notice of the adoption?”

Reasonable efforts in good faith need to be made to inform the father of your baby about your decision to place your child for adoption. That typically includes searching for him on social media, doing a background check, checking jails, public records and putative father registries, etc. If you’ve made an honest effort to find your baby’s father but weren’t able to reach him, then he generally won’t need to legally consent to the adoption. The attorney involved in your adoption plan will also make reasonable efforts to locate him by running the background check for last known address, checking DMV records for a driver’s license, running Google and social media checks, reviewing your social media, and obtaining records from your phone regarding contact with him. All of these efforts are considered reasonable.

“My baby's father is in jail. Does he have to agree to the adoption of my child?” 

Yes. In all three jurisdictions, the father of the child is entitled to notice of the adoption. In D.C. and Maryland, his incarceration does not bear on his ability to be involved, meaning he is not entitled to an attorney and is expected to participate in the adoption process, even if objecting, as if he were not incarcerated. In Virginia, incarceration is considered a disability, and he is entitled to an attorney to assist him in the adoption. 

“My kid is an adult and wants her/his stepparent to adopt him/her. Does the father have to be notified even though my child is an adult?”

In Maryland, yes — you must notify your child’s other biological parent of an impending stepparent adoption, even if your child is over the age of 18. In Washington, D.C. and in Virginia, however, an adult child’s other biological parent does not need to be notified.

“How do we begin the adoption process?” “How do we begin the process of assisted reproduction?”

The first step to building your family through adoption or assisted reproduction technology is to sit down with an experienced attorney who can explain all of your options and answer your questions.   

“What is the adoption tax credit?”

For 2019, the maximum adoption credit and exclusion is $14,080 per child. The amount changes each year to adjust for inflation. The credit will begin to phase out for families with modified adjusted gross incomes above $211,160 and the credit will go away completely for those with incomes around $251,160.The adoption credit is calculated on Form 8839 Qualified Adoption Expenses. 

Learn more about the Adoption Tax Credit here, and learn more about using the credit and other adoption financing methods here.

“Can a birth mother change her mind about adoption?”

In Maryland, a consenting birth parent has 30 calendar days to revoke their consent to an adoption, whether private or agency. In the District of Columbia, consent is irrevocable upon execution for a private adoption, and a birth parent has 14 days to revoke their consent to adoption if the baby is placed through an agency. In Virginia, a birth mother consents in Court in front of Judge three days or more after the baby is born and has seven days to revoke. In a Virginia agency case, the birth mother signs a relinquishment to the agency and does not appear in court. 

“What expenses can be paid to the birth parent(s)?”

In the District of Columbia, an adoptive family in a private adoption may only pay for medical, counseling and legal services related to the adoption for the birth family. The District of Columbia prohibits paying for living expenses or providing clothing, food or gifts to a birth family unless the adoption is handled by a licensed child-placing agency, in which case reasonable and necessary (verified) expenses can be paid. In Maryland and Virginia, a birth mother may obtain reasonable and necessary living expenses for food, shelter and clothing if she obtains written confirmation from her doctor that she is unable to work due to the pregnancy. Adoptive parents cannot pay for things like cars, cable television, gifts, unverified expenses and the like.  

“What’s a Public Agency?”

The adoption of children who have been placed in foster care in Maryland, D.C. or Virginia is conducted as an agency adoption. In those cases, the county department of social services acts in its capacity as a public child-placing agency. The public agency works to terminate the parental rights of the biological parents. The agency may then place the child for adoption with an existing foster family or another family selected to adopt the child.

“What is a home study?”

State law dictates whether an individual social worker, a private licensed child-placing agency, or a public social service agency may perform the home study. The process is designed to evaluate the adoptive parents to assure that there is nothing in their homes or backgrounds which would be contrary to the best interests of the child. It is an independent investigation to verify your suitability as adoptive parents. It includes criminal and child abuse clearances and is valid for one year and can be updated annually. 

“What are the types of domestic adoption?”

There are three types of domestic adoptions: Private Agency, Public Agency and Independent (sometimes called private or parental placement). 

“How long does it take to adopt a child through private adoption?”

There is a wide variety of waiting periods dependent upon a host of controllable and non-controllable factors. Generally, the average waiting period to find a woman who is expecting a child and wanting to make an adoption plan is 12–36 months. Waits can be dramatically shorter or longer depending on individual situations and clients’ specified parameters for adoption, such as gender preference, race, age of adoptive parent, number of children in family, financial limitations, and state of residence of adoptive parents and birth parents.

“What’s an Agency Adoption?”

Agency adoptions are adoptions that are handled by a licensed child-placing agency in the State where the adoption is occurring. Agency adoptions are conducted through either public or private agencies. Residents of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia may work with public and private agencies located anywhere in the United States. In agency adoptions, the birth parents are placing the child with the agency, which assumes guardianship of the child.  The agency then places the child with the adoptive couple.  

“What’s an Adoption Tax Identification Number?”

An ATIN — Adoption Tax Identification Number (ATIN) — is obtained for your adopted child when you are not yet able to get a Social Security Number. It is a temporary number that can be used until the SSN is issued. To get an ATIN, adoptive parents must file a W-7A form, which can be downloaded from It takes 4-6 weeks to obtain an ATIN, and it expires two years after being issued (by then you should have the SSN!).

For information on getting a social security number, go to or call 1-800-772.1213.   

“Can same-sex couples adopt in Virginia/Maryland/Washington D.C.?”

Yes. In Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia, gay and lesbian parents can adopt as single parents and as married parents. Some other states will not grant same-sex adoptions, so talk to your attorney before you get started to ensure your adoption plan can be completed. Maryland and D.C. allow both second parent and stepparent adoptions for same-sex partners, and Virginia will allow for a stepparent adoption (thus, you must be married in Virginia to adopt your partner/spouse's child). 

“I believe in working with each of my clients—in support of their family dynamic—to make the dreams of parenthood a reality. Whether you are single or married; or gay; a step-parent, a surrogate or intended parent or a child of adoption, it is my mission to serve as your advocate. With a dedication to the ethical and sensitive nature of each situation, I will help you understand the laws within Maryland or Washington, DC for adoption or surrogacy, and pledge to be your partner throughout the journey.” - Jennifer Fairfax