Who can adopt: eligibility to adopt

The eligibility criteria for intercountry adoptions are the same as for national adoptions, provided by article 6 of Law No 184/83 (as amended by Law No 149/2001) governing adoption and fostering, which we are reprinting here because these are the most relevant provisions for couples wishing to adopt.

"Couples may adopt if they have been married for at least three years, or have been a stable couple for at least three years taking into account the period of pre-matrimonial cohabitation, and who are not separated de facto, and are able to educate, instruct and maintain the children they intend to adopt."

With regard to age, the law provides that:
- there must be at least 18 years' difference in age between the adoptive parents and the adopted child;
- the maximum age difference between the adoptive parents and the child is 45 years for one of the couple and 55 for the other. An exception may be made to this if the couple adopt two or more siblings, and also if they already have a child of their own, whether natural or adopted.
This means that if the prospective mother is 47 years old and the prospective father is 56 the couple may adopt a child aged 2 years and above. If the prospective mother is 54 and the prospective father is 63 they may adopt a child who is at least 8 years old. If the prospective mother is 50 and the prospective father is 68, they may adopt a child aged 13 or above.
The purpose of introducing these age restrictions is to ensure that the parents are in a position to bring up and care for the child into adult age, under conditions that are the same as those of biological parenting.
This is what Italian law says. But since it is the foreign authority which decides which parents are eligible to adopt a child, the higher age limits permitted by Italian legislation to enable couples to adopt when they are no longer young are not actually effective, because most foreign countries prefer younger couples.
Accordingly, in order to adopt:
- the adoptive parents must be a couple;
- they must be married when they submit the statement of willingness to adopt;
- they must provide documentary or witness evidence, in the event that the marriage was contracted less than three years earlier, that prior to their marriage they had lived together on a stable and continuing basis long enough to reach the three-year eligibility period;
- the adoptive parents must not be in the process of separation, including de facto separation.
Lastly, the prospective parents must be able to educate and instruct, and to maintain the children they intend to adopt.
It is obvious that with regard to the latter requirements it is not simply a matter of formally checking to ensure that they are met, as is the case with the other requirements. For in this case, a more comprehensive examination is required "on their merits", that is to say, the substance and the type of relationship between the couple which is conducted by the Children's Courts throughout the local social services, in conjunction with the local health authorities; this is because an interdisciplinary approach is needed to ascertain the exact relationship that exists between the couple, and their genuine readiness to parent a child, and to ensure that they have adequate resources for dealing with any future problems that may arise with regard to enabling the child to settle in its new home.