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Understanding Your Adoption Maternity Leave Rights

Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Adoption Leave

Whether it has been weeks of waiting or even months, finalizing your adoption can be a huge sigh of relief because you now have the child of your dreams. And at the end of this process, most families feel they need a break. This leads many adoptive parents to question:

  • Can you get maternity leave for adoption?

  • Is there an opportunity for adoption paternity leave?

  • Are there FMLA adoption protections like there are for biological births?

There’s good news for anyone asking these questions. This guide will explain what you need to know about:

  • The adoption process

  • FMLA adoption leave

  • How to advocate for your adoption leave rights

If you want more free FMLA adoption information now, you can call us at 1-800-ADOPTION or fill out our online contact form today.

Do You Get Maternity Leave for Adoption?

In short, yes.

As long as you work for a covered employer and are eligible to take leave, you can take paternity or maternity leave for adoption (more on eligibility below).

While there is no specific adoption leave act, adoptive families are protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). There’s even a chance your employer will provide adoption leave pay during this time.

On the other hand, there is also a chance that your employer won’t be as supportive in this situation. That’s why it is vital to understand your adoption leave rights, and this guide will help you do that.

What is Adoption Leave?

Parental leave for adoption works similarly to traditional maternity leave in most cases. Your employer’s child adoption leave rules will determine whether this leave is paid and how long it lasts. But, both maternity leave for biological children and maternity leave for adoptive parents are protected by the FMLA.

Time away from work and other obligations to bond with a child is crucial for all new parents — whether through biology, adoption or other means. That’s why adoption leave exists.

Paternity and maternity leave for adoption allow new parents time to adjust to their new family dynamic and give their children the care they need.

What Is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

This federal protection was first passed in 1993. According to the Department of Labor, “The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.”

There are a couple qualifiers to unpack in this adoption leave definition.

Eligible Employees

You are an eligible employee for FMLA adoption leave if you:

  • Work for a covered employer (more on that in the next point)

  • Have worked 1,250 hours in the previous calendar year (that comes out to about 26 hours per week)

  • Work for a company or agency with 50 or more employees

  • Have worked for your employer for at least 12 months

Covered Employers

Most, but not all, employers are required to meet FMLA standards for employees. Covered employers include public agencies and local education agencies, as well as private sector employers of 50 or more people. This means that if you work for a smaller private company, the company may not be federally required to provide unpaid maternity leave for adoption.

Specified Family and Medical Reasons

An eligible employee is protected under the FMLA under many different circumstances, such as:

  • After the birth of a new baby

  • Following the placement with a child through private adoption or foster care

  • To care for a family member with a serious medical condition

  • If the employee has a serious medical condition

Keep in mind: Those considering adoption are guaranteed adoption leave rights if they meet the FMLA qualifications.

While the FMLA provides federal protection for child adoption leave, many people have advocated for a more inclusive version of the FMLA. The qualifications for employees and employers can leave many people outside of the protection, and there is a significant push in the U.S. for guaranteed paid maternity leave. These things, however, have yet to manifest in all 50 states.

The Department of Labor provides more answers to frequently asked questions on its website.

FMLA Adoption Leave

Maternity leave for adoption and paternity leave for adoption can be very important to hopeful adoptive families for several reasons.

First, because they may need to plan to stay in the state where their child is born for an average of 7 to 10 business days to comply with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC).

And second, because new adoptive parents understandably desire additional time to form a connection with their child when they get to bring him or her home. FMLA adoption leave can provide the time needed to complete a placement and begin the lifelong process of bonding with the baby.

Knowing Your Adoption Leave Rights

If you are an eligible employee working for a covered employer, you can take protected child adoption leave.

Many employers are supportive of parents during this time, especially employers who go above and beyond federal requirements to offer adoption leave pay.

The best way to approach adoption leave is to speak with your director or HR representative early on in the adoption process. Ask about your company’s adoption leave policy and if it does include something like adoption leave pay.

The FMLA does protect your right to adoption maternity leave but does not guarantee both adoption leave and pay. Working with your employer early on can help clear this up and make the whole situation better for both sides.

But, there will be employers who are not as generous or supportive. Pregnancy discrimination is awful, but it’s real. The same type of thing can happen to adoptive parents whose employer is disgruntled about losing productivity because of adoption maternity leave or paternity leave for adoptive fathers. If you feel your employer is not honoring your adoption leave entitlement, you should speak to an attorney immediately.


Understanding the FMLA and adoption will help you protect your adoption leave rights and receive the time off needed for an adoption. You can learn more about the FMLA from the Department of Labor. You can also get free information now when you speak with one of our adoption specialists at 1-800-ADOPTION.

If you're a birth mother, you can fill out this form to connect with a professional and learn more about your rights under FMLA.

Information available through these links is the sole property of the companies and organizations listed therein. American Adoptions provides this information as a courtesy and is in no way responsible for its content or accuracy.

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