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Adoption is the legal process that allows a person to become the legal parent of someone not born to him or her. Although children are the persons who are typically adopted, adults can be adopted as well.

Adoptions follow a strict set of laws, and these laws vary from state to state. Whether the parents adopt through an agency or find a child to adopt on their own, the legal requirements of the state are the same. No child that already has a parent or parents may be adopted until those parental rights are terminated by order of the court. If the parental rights of the natural parents are not terminated, any later adoption is invalid.

CAUTION: States that have short waiting periods between the birth of a child and termination of parental rights are popular places to adopt. Typically, the adoptive parents take the baby home with them; however, they have no legal right to the child until the natural mother's rights are terminated. In states where termination takes up to a year, losing the child because the mother changes her mind is a wrenching experience.

Any eligible adult may petition the court to adopt a child. Marriage is no longer a requirement, although sexual preference may be a bar in some states. Foster parents may petition the court to legally adopt a child placed in their custody.

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