Adoption is an incredibly popular way for couples and individuals to have a child. Around 135,000 children are adopted in the United States every year from the foster care system, family members, private agencies, and even other countries. As gay marriage has been legalized in the United States, gay couples have also been looking into adoption as an alternative to surrogacy. One of every 30 U.S. families with children has an adopted child. If you’re interested in joining this number—as a couple without a child, a couple with kids, or a single individual—here is how adoption works in the state of Missouri.

Step 1: Check Your Eligibility

Not all people are eligible to adopt in the state of Missouri. You must be at least 21 years of age, be in good physical and mental health, have a stable income, be willing to partner with the child’s family, live in a home that meets licensing standards, and have a steady income. You also must be prepared to complete a child abuse and neglect check and criminal record check, which will include giving fingerprints. Likewise, you will be asked to participate in and complete a free training and assessment process.

Step 2: Determine Who You Will Work With

You can either adopt through the foster care system, by going with a private adoption agency, going through a lawyer or counselor, or adopting as a step-parent. Private agencies can cost you anywhere from $4,000 to $30,000 to adopt and may include a home study, living expenses, counseling, medical expenses, legal fees, and potentially foster care. If you go through a public agency, the state will usually pay for the home study and other services, and it will cost you anywhere from $0 to $3,500.

Step 3: Hire a Lawyer

Even when you go through the state, it may be advantageous to hire an attorney to look over the process. Any paperwork you need to sign should be looked over by an advocate familiar with the adoption process in Missouri. Likewise, if you’re adopting internationally, having a skilled attorney familiar with international adoption can save you a lot of trouble later.

Step 4: Apply

Once you’re ready to begin, you can start contacting the agency you’re interested in working with. Make sure to ask questions if you have any. Ask the agency how long the process might take, and discuss the kind of child you’re looking for with them. Each agency should have an application for you to fill out. They will likely want your basic information, such as your name, race, income, education, and age.

Step 5: Decide on an Open or Closed Adoption

Some adoptions will have the possibility of keeping the biological parents involved in the child’s life. If you choose an open adoption, you can meet and know the identities of the birth parents. You can also decide to remain in contact with one or both of the birth parents. Some open adoptions involve visitation with the birth parent, while others merely involve the child receiving letters and cards from the birth parents. In a closed adoption, you and the birth parents will never meet and will never have contact after the adoption.

Step 6: Meet the Birth Parents

If you decide on an open adoption, you will meet with the birth parents. The parents will typically choose which family gets to adopt the child. Prepare to meet them by putting together an album of your family or arranging to tell them a short story about your life. They don’t need to fall in love with you, but they will ultimately make the decision of who will be the best choice to raise their child. If they decide to choose you, you can also determine whether or not you want to pay any expenses to the birth parents. Buying a child is illegal in Missouri, but you can help the parents by offsetting part of their legal costs, food, shelter, utilities, or transportation until the adoption is finalized.

Step 7: Undergo a Home Study

Home studies might take the longest time. A social worker will review your family history, life, and home situation. Courts will look at the home study to determine your ability to provide a stable home for the child you wish to adopt. This process can take up to eight weeks and may require important documents, such as marriage license, birth certificates, income statements, and health forms. The social worker will likely ask you questions about why you wish to adopt a child, what your childhood was like, and what your thoughts are on discipline. Make sure you check your home to ensure no potential dangers are exposed. The social worker will be looking for obvious hazards that may endanger the child, so give your home a once-over and fix any possible hazards you find.

Step 8: Get Your Background Check

A background check will involve giving fingerprints, so you can coordinate with your agency to get this step done. Criminal offenses will not exclude you from the process, but you must prove you are a fully rehabilitated and contributing member of society.

Step 9: Matching with a Child

After finishing the paperwork and any training that may be required, matching with your potential child is the next step. This could take a long time or could happen in the next week or two, depending on the circumstances. With private agencies, you can be more specific about what you’re looking for, but public agencies have different criteria for matching children with parents. Social workers will be looking for the best situation for the child while they look for a child that will be a good fit for your family. Remember, you are not the only person or family looking to adopt a child. If you match with a child or sibling group, you will get more information about them, so your decision to proceed is well-informed. If you decide to meet with the child, you will then be introduced.

Step 10: Finalizing the Adoption

If you match with a child you would love to adopt, you can fill out the appropriate paperwork and take your child home. You should be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires most employers to give their employees unpaid time off for welcoming a new child into the family. You will see your social worker in the next few months after you bring your child home, and he or she will ensure the situation remains a good one for both parents and child. The state requires you to wait six months before finalizing the adoption. Once your adoption is approved by a judge, you will have the same rights as biological parents, and a new birth certificate will be printed with your name as the adoptive parent.

If you’re still interested in beginning an adoption, talk to one of our skilled St. Charles family law attorneys. We can help you through the process from start to finish. Smith Law Offices, LLC has more than 20 years of combined legal experience to offer your case. Talk to us about your situation in a case review.

Call us at (636) 400-1177 or fill out our online form to schedule a case consultation with us today.

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