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How does adoption work?

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Adoption is when all the rights and responsibilities of parenting a child are legally transferred from a child’s birth parents to adoptive parents.
  • You can adopt a child from within Australia or from overseas.
  • Adoption is often a long and costly process.
  • Different states and territories have different requirements and processes for families who want to adopt.
  • If you are considering adoption, it is important to think about the impact of adoption on your family, including any children you already have.

What is adoption?

Adoption is a process that permanently transfers all the legal rights and responsibilities of being a parent from the child’s birth parents (their biological parents) to the adoptive parents.

Different types of adoption

There are 2 main types of adoption in Australia.

  • Intercountry adoption is when a child is adopted from an overseas country and brought back to Australia to live.
  • Local adoption is when the child adopted was born or is permanently living in Australia.

You may also consider adopting a child with special needs or a child you already have a relationship with, such as a stepchild or other relative. This is called ‘known adoption’.

What is local adoption?

This is when the child to be adopted was born or is permanently living in Australia. The adoptive parent (for example, a stepparent) may already know the child, or may have no previous contact or relationship with them.

What is intercountry adoption?

This is when a child is adopted from an overseas country and brought back to Australia to live. The Australian Attorney-General’s Department can help arrange intercountry adoptions with the child’s country of birth. They also work with the relevant state and territory departments.

For intercountry adoption, you must first be approved to adopt by your state or territory government. Then, your application will be sent to your nominated overseas country for their approval. If your application is approved by the overseas country and a child is found for you, you will be sent an official document with an offer, known as a placement proposal. If you accept it, you’ll need to go to the overseas country to collect your child and formally adopt them there.

It can often be a long process for people wanting to adopt from overseas. The number of children available for Australian families to adopt is declining. This may be because it is becoming easier to place the children for adoption in their own countries.

Visit the Intercountry Adoption Australia website for more information on intercountry adoption programs. It also outlines the possible waiting times and costs.

If you plan to adopt a child, you will need an adoption order. This document legally transfers all parental rights and responsibilities from the birth parents to you as the adoptive parents.

Any legal rights that the child has in relation to their birth parents, such as inheritance, are removed. The child may also get a new birth certificate recording the adoptive parent or parents' names, as well as the child’s new name, if this was changed.

Each Australian state and territory has its own legal requirements for adoption. For more information about legal requirements in your state or territory, contact the government agency in your state or territory from the list at the bottom of this page.

Am I eligible to adopt?

To adopt a child you must meet the eligibility requirements set out by the Australian state or territory where the application is being lodged. This may cover:

  • if you are an Australian citizen
  • your age
  • if you live in the same state as the child you want to adopt
  • if you are pregnant
  • how long you have been in a relationship, if you are looking to adopt as a couple

You may also need:

  • criminal, violence, traffic and child protection history checks
  • checks concerning your health
  • interviews with you, your family and other adult household members

Each state and territory has different eligibility requirements for adoption. Check with the relevant government agency listed at the bottom of this page.

Can I adopt if I am single or in a same-sex marriage?

All states and territories allow single people to adopt a child, but priority is generally given to couples. For this reason, it can be more difficult for a single person to adopt.

All states and territories in Australia permit same-sex couples to adopt a child.

How long does adoption take?

There is no information currently available about how long it takes for local adoptions to be processed.

In 2020-2021, the median time for an intercountry adoption was 3 years and 4 months. This is from when an adoptive parent was approved by an Australian state or territory to when the child was placed. However, it can also be a long and complicated process to get approval in Australia. Each state and territory is different.

What if I have other children already?

If your family already includes children, there are extra things to think about when considering adoption. It may be difficult for your current child or children to adjust to this change. There may also be potential problems if the adopted child feels that you have a closer relationship with your biological child than with them.

Your biological child may struggle with your new focus on the adoption process and the adopted child. Children may find it especially difficult if the adopted child is close in age or is older than your biological child.

It’s important to think about what you will tell your children and when. You may want to wait until you know you are eligible and have spent time researching the process. You may also want to find out more about what can happen when adopting a child into a family that already has a child or children. Then you can gently explore your child's thoughts about adoption. You may want to involve them in the process, being careful to manage their expectations to avoid causing them stress and disappointment.

If you are adopting a child from overseas, you may also want to discuss with your children how your family will get involved with the adopted child’s culture.

Is there any financial help available to me if I adopt?

It is possible that once you adopt a child, you may be eligible for a range of government payments. You will need to meet certain other criteria, so check with Services Australia to see if you can get financial help.

Resources and support

To find out more about adoption in your state or territory, contact your local government agencies:

To find out more about fostering a child, visit How does foster care work?

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2022

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