California Adoption Laws: 2021 Ultimate Resource

California Adoption Laws: 2021 Ultimate Resource

Each state’s adoption laws can vary, so it is important that if you are considering adopting a child in California that you become familiar with California’s adoption laws.

California adoption laws are in place to protect the birth parents, the prospective adoptive parents, and the child being adopted. You will want to find an adoption agency or an adoption lawyer who is very knowledgeable in the California adoption laws.

We will cover some of the legal specifics for those adopting in California involving newborn adoptions through the domestic adoption process, as well as adopting an infant or older child through the foster care system.


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With so many aspects of California’s adoption laws and their corresponding policies, it is impossible to cover them all in one article. We will, however, dive into many facets of the adoption laws in California.

You are strongly encouraged to contact a licensed adoption agency or an adoption lawyer for specific adoption laws and policies in California, as laws and policies do change.

Can you adopt without a lawyer? How much do adoption attorneys cost? Learn all that and more by visiting Adoption Lawyers in California: Do You Need an Adoption Attorney? where we also give you step-by-step instructions on how to vet an adoption lawyer.

Adoption Requirements in California

  • Must be 18 years of age or older.

  • A background check is required.

  • The home must be clean and safe.

  • LGBT couples may adopt.

  • Single applicants are accepted.

  • If married, the length of the marriage is considered.

It is common knowledge that adoption is costly, but that is not to be confused with a false expectation that a prospective parent should be well off financially. Financial security is important and expected when applying to adopt a child, yet being upper class is not one of those qualifications.

Financial security simply means that you are able to pay your bills, cover your rent or mortgage, and that you have a reliable means of income and transportation. What matters most is that a child is loved, cared for, and kept safe and comfortable.


Learn more about adoption attorneys in our article What Does an Adoption Attorney Do? We Find Out.


Below is a summary including key points of the adoption consent laws in California put together for your convenience and is intended to be quicker to digest. For a complete listing of all adoption consent laws in its legal format and in its entirety, visit Adoption Consent, courtesy of ChildWelfare.gov.

It goes without saying that consent to adopt is a huge part of the adoption process. We may forget, however, that there is more involved than the birth mother’s consent.

Other aspect may come into play that you will want to keep in mind.

  • The adoptee who is 12 years of age or older must give their consent to the adoption. An exception to this would be if the child is mentally incompetent.

  • The birth parents, if living.
  • The agency to which the adoptee has been relinquished or which holds permanent custody and which has placed the adoptee for adoption.

California Subsidies for Foster Care Adoption

Adoption assistance, otherwise know as adoption subsidies, is available for foster children in California who suffer from physical, mental, and developmental challenges.

These children are at a heightened risk of health problems, learning disabilities, as well as mental health issues. Subsidized adoption provides assistance to adoptive families for medical access, special equipment, therapies, tutoring, and other support services.

In the US, about 90% of the children in foster care are eligible for adoption assistance.

Special Needs Eligibility in California

The state of California determines a child to have special needs when they meet the following three requirements, courtesy of NACAC.

  • The parent’s rights were terminated and the child cannot be returned to their home, there was a signed relinquishment, a court order terminating parental rights, or a tribal customary adoption order.

  • The child meets at least one of the following criteria that will mean the child cannot be adopted with providing adoption assistance:
    • Mental, physical, emotional, or medical disability which is certified by a licensed professional.
    • Ethnicity, race, color, or language that makes adoption more difficult.
    • Member of a sibling group that should remain together.
    • Age three years or older.
    • Background of medical or behavioral issues by the parents that can be determined to negatively affect the develop.

  • Adoption has shown to be difficult without providing prospective parents adoption assistance.

California Adoption Advertising Laws

Adoption advertising is defined as using a public medium to express an interest in adopting a child or sharing that a child is available for adoption either by print or electronically.

Common means of advertising include:

  • Newspapers
  • Periodicals
  • Radio
  • Television
  • Internet
  • Billboards
  • Printed Flyers

According to ChildWelfare.gov, advertising for adoption is not allowed in California. No person or organization may advertise by any means in efforts to advertise that a child is up for adoption or the desire to adopt a child.

The exception is when the person or organization is licensed to place children for adoption by the California Department of Social Services.

Birth Parent Expenses in California

In all states, no person or agency is allowed to accept payment for assisting, placing, or organizing the placement of a child, as this is illegal.

There are some things, however, that adoptive parents may be allowed to pay for in California per California Code, Family Code – FAM § 8812, courtesy of FindLaw:

  • Counseling
  • Legal fees
  • Adoption agency fees
  • Prenatal visits
  • Living expenses
  • Hospital costs

Adoptive parents are required to keep a documented record of expenses related to the adoption that they are covering.

Your licensed adoption liaison will help to ensure that all financial aspects of the adoption process run smoothly and legally.

What do you do, though, if said expenses are paid and the birth mother changes her mind in the end? Adoption Disruption insurance is available for adoptive parents to protect them from such a misfortune for those adopting domestically.

Accessing Adoption Records in California

According to the California Department of Social Services, one may request access to their adoption records by filing a petition, under California Family Code 9200, in the clerk’s office of the county superior court where the adoption was finalized.

Your petition will require you to show a good reason why you should be granted your adoption records. The court will decide if you will be allowed access to your adoption records.

Post Adoption Contact Laws in California

Adoptive parents have a right to decide who has contact with their adopted child and when. Many times in an open adoption, the adoptive parents and the birth family have a mutual and informal agreement regarding contact with the adopted child.

For a full explanation of California’s rules regarding post adoption contact, visit 2021 California Rules of Court Rule 5.451. Contact After Adoption Agreement.

When are Adoption Birth Certificates Issued in California?

When your adoption is finalized, court proceedings should immediately include beginning the process of obtaining a new birth certificate for the adopted child that reflects the child’s new last name and adoptive parents.

Do not hesitate to ask your adoption attorney or adoption agency if you need to initiate that process, or if the courts will do that on your behalf.


DISCLAIMER: The above state law information is provided to our readers as a courtesy and is meant to be helpful in offering some insight as to what to expect during your adoption journey. This information is not meant to be viewed as legal advice. In addition, possible changes to state laws may have taken place since the publishing of this article in July 2021.