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  • InsideTrack
  • May 05, 2021

    Legal Research 101: Online Adoption Law Resources

    As a lifetime commitment, adopting a child in the U.S. requires an attorney experienced in adoption law to guide a client through the lengthy adoption process. This guide is a quick introduction to available online adoption resources.

    Jenny Zook

    adopted child plays with parent

    May 5, 2021 – As a lifetime commitment, adopting a child in the U.S. requires an attorney experienced in adoption law to guide a client through the lengthy adoption process. This process includes not only navigating a complicated legal procedures, but if the client is a prospective parent, all the long-term financial and emotional responsibilities of becoming a parent.

    This guide is a quick introduction to available online adoption resources and is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to the adoption process.

    Recommended Books on Adoption Law and the Adoption Process

    If you seek a guide to the adoption process, check out these books on the topic:

    • The Adoption Law Handbook, 2d edition, by Jennifer Fairfax;

    • Adoption Law & Practice by Joan Hollander. This loose-leaf practice treatise is also available online on Lexis+; and

    • Internal and intercountry adoption laws, edited by International Social Service, Geneva.

    Genevieve ZookGenevieve Zook is the reference & instructional services librarian at the U.W. Law Library. She is currently chair of the Public Relations Committee and past president of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin, a chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries.

    These three books are available at the U.W. Law Library. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the law library is unable to extend on-site access to users not with the law school.

    Please contact the library at or 608-262-3394 for assistance with these materials or other books and articles on adoption law.

    Another quick law review resource is to search Google Scholar for scholarly adoption law articles. If you have a library card with the Wisconsin State Law Library, you can access HeinOnline and Index to Legal Periodicals, two excellent legal article indexes with full text scholarly and practice ready articles. To obtain a library card, fill out the form here, visit the State Law Library website.

    50 State Surveys on Adoption Law

    Adoption law in the U.S. is statutory law. At present, there are 51 adoption laws in the U.S., one for each state and the District of Columbia.

    Although state law is the controlling law for adoption, there are federal laws that provide guidance and funding to the states. For instance, the Title IV-E funds are found in the Social Securities Act, 42 U.S.C. section 673. Adoption organizations and agencies have made it easy for legal professionals and those interested in the adoption process to locate 50 state surveys on adoption law.

    More on the Child Welfare Information Gateway

    The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Administration for Children & Families Children’s Bureau, is a great one-stop site for adoption law information. It also includes a directory of organizations dedicated to the adoption process.

    Types of Adoption

    There are several different types of adoption:

    • adoption through a public or private agency;
    • independent adoption;
    • adoption by a stepparent;
    • same-sex couple adoption;
    • international adoption;
    • relative adoption; and
    • adult adoption.

    For a brief definition of the types of adoption, provides a definition of each.

    Federal Law

    While adoption law is mostly a controlling matter by the states, there are a few governing federal laws on adoption:

    Agency Resources


    The Health & Human Services Department provides adoption law resources, includes the full text of their Child Welfare Policy Manual.

    HHS Children’s Bureau has a website listing resources on interstate adoption as well as a FAQ on adoption questions.


    The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) Adoption and Guardianship in Wisconsin webpage provides law, policy, and regulatory information on adoption in Wisconsin.

    More on Wisconsin Law Resources

    The quickest route to locating adoption law resources in Wisconsin is through the Wisconsin State Law Library’s guide to adoption law. This guide include links to Wisconsin statutes, adoption organizations, forms, county information, intercountry adoption resources, and has a sidebar for books and articles on adoption.

    Wisconsin is a Safe Havens for Newborns State. For information, see the DCF webpage Safe Haven for Newborns Information.

    A note on special needs children and adoption law: In most cases, the states govern the welfare of special needs children, many of whom are part of the foster care program. Wisconsin DCF provides guidance on adopting a child with special needs. Each state has its own legal definition of what constitutes a special needs child.

    On the federal level, part of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, 26 U.S.C. section 23, addresses a financial aspect of adopting a special needs child, by providing credit for adoption expenses.

    Resources for Other States

    To locate information on adoption assistance in other states, use the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s site. There is a tab at the top for state resources. This gateway also provides links to state child welfare manuals, where available.

    Legislative and Regulatory Resources

    You can search for current and archived federal legislation on adoption at

    For regulation, you can search the Federal Register online.

    In November, 2020, a proposed regulation on intercountry adoption was published in the Federal Register. The comment period on this proposal has ended, but you can read the text of the proposed regulation on the website. As a side note, the Code of Federal Regulations website (eCFR) now has a Beta version you can test out for free.

    To search for current proposed state legislation, see the Wisconsin State Legislature website, where you can search by keyword. The most current bill on adoption was proposed during the 2019-20 session (scroll to AB561 to review the text of the past Assembly bill on postadoption contact agreements).

    Finding Adoption Statistics

    Statistics on adoption can be found at the Adoption Law History Project, created by the University of Oregon. The project, however, does not include links to current law or legislation, and is not recommended as a site for legal research, but it is designed to be used as a historical resource and does have some links to adoption laws. The project also includes a timeline of adoption law, a list of recommended reading material and adoption statistics. Think of the project as a resource for the raw documents used by historians researching adoption law.

    The Child Welfare Information Gateway also has a webpage on adoption statistics. Information includes trends in foster care and adoption over the past decade, child welfare outcomes report data, and intercountry adoption statistics.

    Intercountry or International Adoption

    Find out more about The Hague Convention Adoption Process on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

    For information about individual countries, see the Intercountry Adoption page on Travel.State.Gov, the website of the U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs. On this site you can also find information on individual countries, and find out more information on federal requirements regarding who can adopt.

    Library Guides on Adoption Resources

    For additional information on adoption law resources in library research guides, see:

    An Introduction

    Note that the resources shared in this guide do not attempt to cover every aspect of adoption law. This article is meant as an introduction or starting off point for your legal research.

    For in-depth coverage, including sample forms, I recommend the books listed in this guide. You can search for additional books and material on your specific issues using these library catalogues:

    Contact Information for Law Libraries in Wisconsin

    To consult a librarian, reach out to a law librarian at the following law libraries in Wisconsin for help. Please note that due to COVID-19 health restrictions, library hours and library services may have changed. For more information review the individual library’s COVID FAQ page.

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