Family ties: The challenges and rewards of sibling adoption

Family/Kids, Relationships

Adopting a child is a monumental decision. And if that child is a brother or sister, this situation is further complicated. The relationship changes from sibling to parent and takes on all the responsibilities that accompany that new role.

While one sibling adopting another is not a common occurrence, it is considered a relative adoption. Federal law requires states that receive certain federal funds to give preference to an adult relative over a non-related third party when determining an adoption placement for a child. Typically, however, grandparents have a preferred status over an adult sibling.

Reasons for a sibling adoption

Usually when a sibling adoption occurs, it happens for a very specific reason. For example, the parents of the children are both deceased and, rather than see a younger sibling go into foster care, the older sibling decides to adopt. Sibling adoption can also occur if there is a problem with the biological parents; that is, perhaps they are abusing or neglecting the younger sibling, or perhaps they are both in jail or otherwise incapable of parenting the younger child.

While there is the occasional story about one sibling adopting the other to receive certain benefits or freedoms not received from the biological parents, these situations are extremely rare, especially due to the many steps that adoption entails.

Termination of parental rights

Generally, if the parents of the child to be adopted are alive and do not consent to the adoption, a court will determine if termination of parental rights is appropriate. If so, the court will then decide whether placement with the sibling is feasible and in the child’s best interests.

Involuntary termination of parental rights is very difficult in most states, especially because of the overriding public policy of keeping children with their biological parents. For that reason, it is unlikely that an older sibling will be allowed to adopt a younger child unless the parents are found to be abusive. Of course, state laws differ on criteria for adoption, and one needs to investigate specific state laws when considering sibling adoption.

Determining if an older sibling is fit to be a parent

Most states require an investigation to determine the adopting party’s fitness as a parent. A home study is fairly typical, and the below factors are examined:

  • Age: The older sibling should be the “age of majority,” which is age 18 in most states.
  • Life stage: It is also helpful if that individual is established in life. He doesn’t need to be married, although that could prove beneficial when considering the stability of home life, but he should have at least finished his education.
  • Employment and income: It is helpful if the older sibling is gainfully employed and has the necessary level of income to support the younger sibling, who will now be his child.
  • Criminal history: Having a criminal record will often affect the older sibling’s ability to adopt.
  • Relationship: It’s important to establish clarity in the relationship, so the younger sibling respects the older sibling as a parent and follows his rules.

Courts make final decision in adoptions

A court will ultimately determine whether the adoption takes place.

Once a younger sibling becomes the adopted child of the older sibling, he is the responsibility of the older sibling. While this prospect is daunting, it can also be highly rewarding. Family ties are maintained, and the younger sibling grows up with the familiarity and comfort of a close relative.

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