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Adoptions have been performed for millennia. The Code of Hammurabi, a code of law used by the ancient Mesopotamians as far back as 1754 B.C., mentions adoption. One of these laws dictated that if a man took in a male child and “brought him up” as a son, then had his own children and wanted to cut off the adopted son, he could not do so. Instead, the father would have to give the adopted son one-third of his wealth.
In ancient Rome, adoption was used more for financial and political gain, connecting wealthy families. This occurred commonly in cases where a couple did not have a male heir. The ancient Romans did not commonly practice adoption for orphaned children, electing, instead, to pick up those children for slavery.
In ancient times around Asia, adoption was used occasionally for ritualistic purposes. For example, in India, an individual may adopt a son to the adopting parent could have a son to perform funeral rights. Similarly, in ancient China, males were designated to perform ancestor worship, so adoption sometimes occurred for that purpose. Our modern idea of adoption is most closely aligned with the ancient Polynesian nations, including Hawaii, where individuals would adopt the children of other family members or friends.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, most of Europe rejected the idea of adoption because they believed “bloodlines” to be of great importance, and adoption was seen as a way to circumvent inheritance laws. As there was no “right” to adoption under English common law (after which many of our laws in the United States were modeled), adoption is entirely a creature of statutes created by the different states, the first being Massachusetts in 1851. Prior to that, most parentless children were cared for by religious organizations, and sent out to work or be married off at a young age.
But children are not always the ones being adopted. Adult adoption has an interesting history in the United States. In 1984, Peter N. Fowler published an article entitled “Adult Adoption: A ‘New Legal Tool for Lesbians and Gay Men” in the Golden Gate University Law Review. Fowler pointed out that, in an age where gay marriage was not legal, adult adoption gave members of the LGBT+ community a loophole to giving their partner right similar to married couples.
Fowler noted that these types of adoptions were not always judicially approved. He stated some courts “regard such a motive as an attempt to circumvent either the public policy against homosexual marriage or the legislative intent behind the adoption statutes.” Other courts, however, cited to the constitutional right to privacy for adults guaranteed by the Constitution. While the Constitution does not expressly contain a “right to privacy,” the United States Supreme Court have recognized that such a right exists, rooted in the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.
These adoptions were done primarily for inheritance purposes. If an unmarried individual dies intestate (i.e., without an enforceable will), even a long-term romantic partner may not be able to inherit the estate; instead, it would pass on to the individual’s next of kin. An adoption would make it so the adoptee could inherit their partner’s estate. An adult adoption could prevent the partner’s other family members from having standing to contest a will that leaves an estate (or a portion thereof) to the testator’s long-term partner.
Adult adoption also gave LGBT+ individuals the ability to be recognized as their partner’s next-of-kin. This was a primary argument in the debate regarding gay marriage, as many hospitals, jails, and other facilities may restrict visitation or other authorizations to legal relatives only. An adoption would make the two individuals legally related, so the adoptee could visit their partner in the hospital or make important medical decisions based on their partner’s directive if necessary.
In most United States cities, widespread housing discrimination of LGBT+ individuals were common. Adult adoption also provided a way around these laws. Finally, adoption could allow an adoptee to inherit their partner’s life insurance benefits in the case of death, to be covered by their partner’s health insurance plan, and allow either party to use FMLA leave from work if their partner needed medical care.
In 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, which jettisoned the need for LGBT+ individuals to adopt their partners. So why do individuals decide on adopting adults now? In many cases, adult adoption is done in consideration of estate purposes. When an individual adopts another individual – child or adult – the adoptee is considered the legal child of the adopting parent, securing the adoptee’s right to inherit from the adopting parent’s estate.
In other cases, adult adoption is done to make a close relationship between a step-parent and their step-child “official.” Sometimes the adoption is simply done in adulthood because the step-parent relationship did not begin until the adoptee was an adult. Sometimes a child was always closer to the step-parent or one of the child’s natural parents was not really “in the picture” but the other parent did not have the resources to terminate the other parent’s parental rights so that the step-parent could legally adopt. When the adoptee is an adult, he or she can consent to the adoption and terminating the other parent’s rights is no longer needed.
Adult adoptions are also often done in cases where the adult adoptee has a disability, and their main caregiver is not a natural parent. In these cases, an adoption can give the caregiver the ability to make decisions and provide ongoing care for the adult adoptee.
In Nevada, the laws concerning adult adoptions are contained in Chapter 127 of the Nevada Revised Statutes. NRS 127.190 states that the adopting parent must be older that the adult adoptee, and that the adoptee must consent to the adoption. If the adopting parent is married, consent must be given by that parent’s spouse per NRS 127.200. Likewise, if the adult adoptee is married, their spouse must consent as well. The statute mentions specifically that the consent of the adoptee’s natural parents is not required.
If you are considering adopting an adult or being adopted by another adult, an experienced family law attorney can go over your different options and help you decide if an adult adoption is right for you and your family and, if so, can help you navigate the process.

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