Independent adoption in California

This guide can help you:

  • Understand when you can use the independent adoption process
  • Follow the steps to adopt a child based on your situation

Independent adoption situations

Independent adoption is a direct placement between the birth parent(s) and you, the parent(s) who wish to adopt. An agency is not involved in the choice of who will adopt the child. This guide covers four types of independent adoption. Select your situation for more detail.

This is often a situation where the birth parent(s) meet with and agree to place their unborn child with you, the adoptive parent(s). In this situation, the birth parent(s) select you. An agency is not involved in the selection process. Usually you and the birth parent(s) are not related. If you are related, you can use the independent adoption process for relative adoptions.

When only one birth parent places the child for adoption with you, the other birth parent also needs to consent to the adoption. There are some exceptions. For example, you may not know who the other birth parent is or where they are. These exceptions require additional steps.

You may want to adopt a child who is your relative. Relative in this case means that you are related by blood or by a close connection. This can include aunts, uncles, step-relatives, grandparents (including great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents), as well as many other relatives. You can be related to the child or the child's half-sibling. You can also be the spouse of a relative, even if you are divorced from that spouse or the spouse is deceased.

In this case, both birth parents need to consent to the adoption. There are some exceptions. For example, you may not know who the other birth parent is or where they are. These exceptions require additional steps.

You may have been named in the will of a deceased parent or parents as an intended adoptive parent. In this case, the child must have no other parent in order to file for an independent adoption.

There are certain situations where you can file for adoption if you are a guardian. But there are some requirements based on how long you have been the guardian and how you became the guardian. You may be able to file for an independent adoption if:

  1. You have been the child’s legal guardian for more than one year. This means that you have obtained an Order and Letters of Guardianship more than one year ago. In this case, you must have become the legal guardian through probate or family court, not dependency court.
  2. You have been the child's legal guardian for over 6 months and you believe the child has been abandoned. Adopting a child in this situation is complicated. Consult with your Self-Help Center or a talk to a lawyer familiar with this situation before moving forward.
  3. The parent chose you as a legal guardian for a specific time period for a purpose other than adoption. In this case, you must have been the legal guardian for at least 3 years.
  4. The guardianship was obtained through the dependency court. In this case, you must have been the legal guardian for at least 3 years. You may be required to file within the dependency court system. Consult your local Self-Help Center or talk to a lawyer who is familiar with this subject.

Other adoption situations

If you are a foster parent (resource parent) and wish to adopt, reach out to the social worker assigned to your dependency case. This kind of adoption must be filed through dependency court and will be considered an agency adoption.

Married parents whose children were conceived through assisted reproduction or born through a gestational surrogacy process may be able to use a simplified adoption process to protect the legal parental rights of the parent or parents who did not give birth to the child.

This is a simplified adoption process called stepparent adoption to confirm parentage. Unlike other adoption cases, there's generally no investigation or court hearing.

Reach out to your Self-Help Center for advice. In general, you will need to identify the birth parents and get approval. If you cannot get approval, you typically need to hire a lawyer.

The independent adoption process

You will follow a different adoption process based on your situation. The process you will follow depends on:

  • Your relationship with the child
  • How the child came to be in your care (or will come to be in your care)
  • Whether you have consent from all birth parents
The independent adoption process usually takes from 6-12 months, depending on how quickly you can complete the home study and paperwork. The best way to help speed up this process is to figure out ahead of time if the birth parent or parents will agree (consent) to the adoption and sign the necessary paperwork. If consent is not possible, you may you need to take some additional steps before filing your adoption petition.


All adoptions require you to complete forms telling the court if the child has Native American ancestry. Contact your court’s Self-Help Center if the child does or may have Native American heritage. They can help you with the required follow-up steps.


Consent for an independent adoption

Every birth parent has a right to know about the adoption. They also must agree (consent) to the adoption. If you cannot identify one of the birth parents or do not know where one of the birth parents is, you will need to take additional steps when filing for adoption. This is also true if you have a birth parent who does not consent to the adoption. In some cases, the adoption cannot move forward without consent.

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