Can Adults With Bipolar Disorder Adopt?

Understanding the Process and Challenges of Adoption

Couple talking to lawyer
Getty Images/H-Gall

Adults with bipolar disorder often assume that they are excluded from adopting a because of their illness. This couldn't be further from the truth. While the process may be slightly different, any person with a mental illness is not automatically banned from adoption if they meet certain essential criteria.

This is true whether you are a heterosexual couple, a same-sex couple, or a single parent.

Understanding Who Can Adopt and Who Can't

Many years ago, only married couples were permitted to adopt.

Today, the definition of parenthood has been expanded to remove barriers which had previously barred people with certain illnesses from adopting.

With that being said, certain medical or psychological conditions can affect the status of an adoption. These include life-threatening illnesses such as cancer or any chronic condition for which a parent's health may likely deteriorate.

Other disabilities, including mental illnesses or addictions, can also influence the decision as to whether an adoption is granted.

With bipolar disorder, the main concern to authorities is whether your condition will prevent you from properly caring for the child once the adoption is granted. To determine this, you would be asked to provide additional medical information as well as letters from specialists to support your "fitness" as adoptive parents.

To Disclose or Not to Disclose

One of the biggest dilemmas facing prospective parents is whether to disclose a bipolar diagnosis when submitting the adoption application.

After all, there is no definitive test to confirm bipolar disorder and, in some cases, a person may not even have been officially diagnosed.

But is it necessarily a good idea to lie? Remember that the aim of the adoption process is to consider the best interests of the child and to assess your fitness as potential parents.

While any fears you may have about stigma are understandable and often very real, secrecy won't necessarily make things better. In the end, if you have discomfort or uncertainty about your condition, it is important that you address that first as well as your motivation for adoption. Ask yourself:

  • Am I adopting because I can't have children?
  • Is it because I'm concerned that pregnancy may trigger a bipolar episode?
  • Am I worried that my psychotropic drugs may cause birth defects?
  • Or do I simply feel an emotional kinship to an orphan or a child in need?

By answering these questions, you can focus less on bipolar disorder as a barrier and more on your goals as parents.

Going Through the Process

Adoption laws differ by state. By and large, so long as the child's well-being is the reason for the adoption and the adoption is in the best interest of the child, a history of mental illness will not exclude an individual from adopting.

What it may do is require a review either by an independent psychiatrist who will review the evidence on a case-by-case basis or the submission of evidence your own doctor. The evaluation will ultimately aim to determine:

  • The potential parent's motivation, intellectual capacity, and judgment with regards to caregiving irrespective of the bipolar disorder
  • The degree to which the bipolar disorder may or may not interfere with parenting
  • If any changes caused by adoption are beyond the capacity of the bipolar parent

Because there is no consensus on the determination of mental fitness in a bipolar parent, it is a good idea to consult with an experienced adoption attorney before submitting an application.

You should also take the time to learn the laws of your state. This is especially true if you live in Alaska, Arizona, California, Kentucky, North Dakota, or Puerto Rico where parental mental illness is still regarded as an "aggravated circumstance."

To find a qualified adoption attorney nearest you, contact the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (AAAA) at 317-407-8422.


Jain, S. and Jain, R. "Adoption by mentally ill individuals: What to recommend." Current Psychiatry. 2013; 12(7):52-51.

Continue Reading