Bringing a new child into your home can be one of life’s most exciting gifts. For those who are unable to have their own biological children or who simply wish to expand their family in other ways, adoption is a way to bring that much-desired child into your life. While adoption can be a joyous event, however, the road to get there can often be complex and at times overwhelming.
For many, the questions start at the very beginning: Who can adopt a child in Illinois? What are the regulations or requirements for being allowed to adopt? Will I be able to become an adoptive parent?
Who May Adopt a Child In Illinois?
The Illinois Adoption Act (full text available here) offers broad parameters for who may adopt a child under state law. Broadly speaking, anyone who is “a reputable person of legal age and of either sex” may institute an adoption proceeding. (The Adoption Act also clarifies that “a minor” may be able to complete an adoption “by leave of court upon good cause shown.”)
In order to adopt, the person may be under no legal disability,” defined by the Illinois Statute on Statutes as a person 18 years or older who “is not fully able to manage his or her person or estate,” due to mental deterioration, physical incapacity, mental illness, developmental disabilities, or who “because of gambling, idleness, debauchery or excessive use of intoxicants or drugs, so spends or wastes his or her estate as to expose himself or herself or his or her family to want or suffering.”
The adoptive parent may be single, married, or in a civil union. Importantly, if the individual hoping to adopt is married or in a civil union, both spouses or partners must be a party to the adoption proceeding unless they have been living separate and apart for 12 months or longer.
LGBTQ+ individuals and couples have been allowed to adopt in Illinois since 1995, when an appellate court ruling determined that the language used in the law applied to same-sex couples.
Illinois also has a residency requirement in place in order to institute an adoption proceeding, with the Illinois Adoption Act stating that a person must have resided in the state of Illinois continuously for a period of at least six months immediately preceding the commencement of an adoption proceeding, or have been domiciled in the state for 90 days if a member of the U.S. armed forces. Importantly, this residency requirement does not apply to related adoptions (e.g., an adoption in which the child is being adopted by a family member by blood or marriage, such as a grandparent, an older sibling, or an aunt or uncle) or for an adoption of a child placed by an agency (e.g., an adoption carried out through a public or private adoption agency licensed by the state’s Department of Children and Family Services).
Do Adoptive Parents Need to Submit to Background Checks in Illinois?
Broadly speaking, in order to successfully petition for the adoption of a child other than a related child, an individual must submit to an investigation by either:
- a child welfare agency approved by the Department of Children and Family Services
- a person deemed competent by the court, such as a guardian ad litem
- The Court Services Division of the Cook County Department of Public Aid (in Cook County)
- The Department of Children and Family Services if the court determines that no child welfare agency is available or that the petitioner is financially unable to pay for the investigation
This agency or investigator will investigate “accurately, fully, and promptly” the contents of the petition for adoption, as we well as “the character, reputation, health and general standing in the community” of the petitioners; the “religious faith” of the petitioners and, if ascertainable, of the child sought to be adopted; and “whether the petitioners are proper persons to adopt the child and whether the child is a proper subject of adoption.”
The investigation required will include a fingerprint-based criminal background check conducted through the Illinois State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation. In some cases, this can be waived in a related adoption. There may be additional requirements for other types of adoption. For instance, in the case of a private adoption (e.g., an adoption in which the adoptive parents are not related to the child, and the placement is not made through an agency), anyone 18 years of age or older who resides in the adoptive home must submit to background checks from the state police and child abuse registry from every state of residence for the given years preceding the filing date of the petition, the FBI, the National Sex Offender Registry, and, if Illinois residents, from the Illinois State Police and Child Abuse and Neglect Tracking System. A guardian ad litem or court-appointed investigator must also perform an initial assessment, including a home visit. In the case of a child born outside the United States or a territory, in addition to required investigation, a post-placement investigation must be conducted in accordance with the requirements of the Child Care Act of 1969, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, and the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000.
In any case, the court will determine whether the costs of the investigation should be charged to the petitioners. The information obtained as a result of this investigation is then presented to the court in a written report for its review. The court may, at its discretion, weigh the significance of the results of the criminal background check against the entirety of the petitioners’ backgrounds. The report is treated as confidential and withheld from inspection unless findings adverse to the petitioners or to the child sought to be adopted are found, in which case the court shall inform the petitioners of the relevant portions pertaining to the adverse findings.
What are the Rights and Responsibilities of Adoptive Parents in Illinois?
Adoptive parents in Illinois are granted some protections, though they must also commit to executing certain responsibilities.
Adoptive parents in the state of Illinois have the right:
- To be treated with dignity and respect
- To make decisions free from pressure or coercion, including the decision to accept or reject the placement of a particular child
- To be informed of the rights of birth parents, including the birth parent’s right to request to receive counseling before and after consenting to adoption
- To receive a written schedule of fees and refund policies from the entity who will handle the investigation of your adoption for the court
- To explore the possibility of a subsidy for a child with special needs, if the child meets certain criteria
- To share information and connect in the future with the birth parent(s) of the child in order to voluntarily share medical, background, and identifying information, including information on the original birth certificate
- To access the state’s Confidential Intermediary program, which provides a way for a court-appointed person to connect and exchange information between adopted persons, adoptive parents and birth parents, and other biological family members
As an adoptive parent in the State of Illinois, it is important to remember that you will have the responsibility:
- To work cooperatively and honestly with the person or entity handling your investigation and appointed by the court, including disclosing information requested by that person or entity
- To pay the agreed-upon fees to the investigating person or entity promptly
- To keep the person or entity handling your investigation informed of any new pertinent information about your family
- To cooperate with any post-placement monitoring and support
- To consult with your attorney prior to offering any financial assistance to the birth parent(s)
- To obtain training in parenting an adopted child, which may include online and in-person training on adoption related topics.
Have Any More Questions About Adopting a Child In Illinois?
Curious about what goes into the Illinois adoption process? Ready to learn more about how you can begin your personal journey toward adoption? We are here to help give you confidence and peace of mind, from beginning to end.
At The Law Offices of J. Jeltes, LTD., our compassionate and skillful team can help handle both related and unrelated domestic adoptions, including grandparent adoptions, stepparent adoptions, and adoptions of a ward through the state or a reputable adoption agency. After adoption, we can continue to provide access to information and resources that may help make the adjustment easier.
Founded in 2009 and offering more than 20 years of combined experience, the attorneys and staff at The Law Offices of J. Jeltes work together to provide skilled, efficient, and affordable legal representation to individuals and families. We know that restructuring a family or making a huge life change can be a vulnerable time, and we endeavor to remain thoughtful and effective in helping achieve the best possible results.
We know that every situation is unique, and our attorneys can provide you with a comprehensive one-on-one consultation to discuss your legal concerns and goals. Don’t hesitate to contact us to begin the conversation.