How to adopt a child and adoption by foreigners

Family watching changing of the guards in Zagreb, Croatia
Family watching changing of the guards in Zagreb, Croatia

LAST UPDATED: 27/05/2022

Adoption is a specific legal form of protection for a child who is without proper parental care that creates a lasting relationship between the parent and the child and is regulated by the Family Act, section Adoption, in Articles 180 to 217.

By adopting, an inseparable relationship of kinship arises and all the rights and duties that result from it. The process of adoption is carried out in social welfare centers (called “Centar za socijalnu skrb” in Croatian).

Adoption of a child is possible by Croatian citizens as well as by foreign citizens if it is in the best interests of the child and with the prior consent of the Ministarstvo rada, mirovinskog sustava, obitelji i socijalne politike (Ministry of Labor, Pension System, Family, and Social Policy), the ministry responsible for social affairs.

[Read: All the ministries in the Croatian government and what they do]

In this article, we cover:

The facts are these…

Things to know about adoption in Croatia

Basic things to know when considering the adoption of a child in Croatia:

  • Adopters have the right to parental care
  • Adoption can only be based on compliance with a child’s well-being
  • A child has the right to know that they are adopted
  • An adopted child and their descendants have the right to inherit heritage from the adoptive parent, their blood relatives, and relatives by adoption
  • In adoption proceedings, brothers and sisters of the adopted child should also be adopted by the same adoptive parents if possible and if it’s in the best interest of the child

Age limitations

A child can only be adopted if under the age of 18 years. The adoptive parent must be at least 21 years old. The age difference between the adopter and the adoptee must be at least 18 years.

If there are particularly justified reasons, the adoptive parent may be under 21 years old.

Conditions for adopting

A child may be adopted by:

  • A spousal couple together
  • A non-married couple together
  • Same-sex life partners
  • One marital/non-married partner if his/her marital/non-married partner is a parent or adoptive parent of a child
  • A marital/non-married partner with the consent of his marital/non-married partner
  • A single person who is not in a marital or non-married relationship

The adoptive parent cannot be a person:

  • Who has been deprived of the right to parental care
  • Who has been deprived of the ability to work
  • Whose past behavior and characteristics indicate that he or she should not be entrusted with the parental responsibility of a child

How to adopt a child in Croatia

There are detailed procedures and particular documents required to adopt a child in Croatia. Below, we have described the process step by step.

Step #1 Visit Centar za socijalnu skrb

The first thing to do is to visit the social welfare center closest to your residence. It is called “Centar za socijalnu skrb” (CZSS) in Croatian. You may start the application here and gather all the necessary information about the procedure.

The staff is usually quite friendly and extremely helpful. Now is the right time to ask all the questions. You will submit all paperwork and go through the process with this same center.

A list of social welfare centers in Croatia can be found here.

Step #2 Prepare the official adoption request packet

After you have gathered all the necessary information from the CZSS, you can collect the required documentation.

The adoption request packet must include:

  • Written application
  • Request for the evaluation on suitability for adoption
  • Official documents

We will now review each part of this adoption request packet one by one.

Written application

A written application is also referred to as a “letter of intent”. It is beneficial to write from the heart.

The letter of intent should include:

  • Statement of your intention to adopt
  • Reasons why you want to adopt a child
  • Number of children you want to adopt
  • Ages of children you would like to adopt
  • How you decided to adopt
  • Essential contact information
  • Description of yourself (and partner, if applicable) along with your interests.

Request for the evaluation on suitability for adoption

The request for the evaluation on suitability for adoption is called “Zahtjev za izdavanje mišljenja o podobnosti i prikladnosti”.

This evaluation applies to physical, mental, legal, and social prerequisites that potential adopters must meet to adopt the child. Depending on which center you apply at, this may be an application form or a free form letter.

Official documents

You also have to enclose the following documentation:

  • Birth certificate for each potential adoptive parent
  • Marriage certificate (for married couples)
  • Proof you are in an unmarried relationship, which is proven with a court decision from Općinski sud (for couples in common-law unions/marriages)
  • Proof of citizenship
  • The doctor’s confirmation of the psychophysical health condition – Make this request to your family doctor and tell them why you need it.
  • Employer’s certificate of employment
  • Evidence that there are no running criminal proceedings against the applicant and the members of the household. The list of criminal offenses is defined in Article 6 in the rulebook on elements related to eligibility and adequacy for adoption, the content of expert’s opinion on suitability and fitness for adoption, methods for determining suitability, the content of child records, a register of potential adopters and the manner of maintaining a register of adoptions.

Step #3 Apply for the adoption

Visit the same Centar za socijalnu skrb and submit the request for the adoption of the child. The application must contain all the documentation that you collected in the previous step.

A list of social welfare centers in Croatia can be found here.

Step #4 Assessment of the suitability

The CZSS will conduct an assessment of the suitability and fitness for adopting for potential adoptive parents. As part of this assessment, social workers, psychologists, and lawyers will evaluate the data provided as part of the adoption application, the home visit, interviews with close relatives and friends, and the results of psychological tests.

Step #5 Complete the adoption education

If you meet all the requirements for the adoption of a child, you must complete the Program stručne pripreme za posvojenje edukacija (“Program of Professional Preparation for Adoption”). These programs are held by the CZSS or other social welfare institutions and civil society organizations that are authorized for the implementation of programs for adoptive parents.

One of these organizations is ADOPTA whose program is called “Adoptaonica – stručna priprema za posvajanje” (Adoptaonica – professional preparation for adoption).

Step #6 Professional opinion

Centar za socijalnu skrb will give its opinion on the suitability for adoption within six months of the receipt of the written application. If the outcome of the evaluation is positive, you will gain the right to be added to the register of potential adopters in the Republic of Croatia.

You will receive the decision on the suitability for the adoption of potential adopters from the CZSS to your home address. You will also be added to the register of potential adopters within 8 days from the date of delivery of the decision.

Note: If you want to give up on adoption, you can do it even after you are entered into the register of potential adopters. In this case, you must deliver written notification on the withdrawal to the CZSS according to the place of your residence. Your decision on the withdrawal will be entered into the register of potential adopters.

Step #7 Matching a child with parents

Centar za socijalnu skrb decides among the potential adopters in the register who to match with which child. They will choose the most suitable adoptive parent for each particular child, taking into account the characteristics and needs of the child.

This decision will be brought according to the child’s residence (prebivalište or boravište).

[Read: Prebivalište and boravište: two addresses that must be registered with the police]

If it has been more than a year between the preparation of the opinion on the suitability for adoption and the initiation of the adoption procedure, CZSS will check whether any circumstances have changed.

Step #8 Preparing the child for adoption

When a child is matched with the most suitable potential parent(s), Centar za socijalnu skrb along with the person currently in charge of the child will prepare the child for adoption. As part of this preparation, the child will meet the selected adoptive parent(s) in order to assess whether the adoption is in accordance with the child’s well-being.

During this time, the child will live together with the potential adopter(s). The potential adopters have the obligation to take care of the child and financially support them.

Potential adopters will be provided with professional assistance and support during this process. The assessment of the future relationship of adoptive parents and a child will also be completed.

Note: If potential adopters give up from the adoption at this point, CZSS responsible for the adoption process will notify the regional CZSS office. The withdrawal will be entered into the register of potential adopters. The professional opinion on suitability for adoption will also be examined within 3 months from the date of withdrawal. After this, a new professional opinion will be entered into the register of potential adopters.

Step #9 Approval of the adoption

If the adoption is approved, Centar za socijalnu skrb will issue an official decision called “Rješenje o posvojenju” (Decision on adoption).

The decision on adoption must include:

  • Personal data of the adoptee/child
  • Personal data of child’s biological parents
  • Personal data of the adopter
  • Determination on whether or not the adoptive parents will be registered as the child’s parents
  • Determination for a new OIB and matični broj that will be entered into the book of births (only if this change is necessary to protect the rights and interests of the child)

[Read: How to register a person in the book of births]

Step #10 You become a parent

After the issuance of the decision on adoption, you have 8 days from the date of the receipt for the appeal. The appeal must be submitted to the Ministarstvo rada, mirovinskog sustava, obitelji i socijalne politike (The Ministry of Labor, Pension System, Family, and Social Policy).

If you don’t want to appeal, the decision on adoption becomes valid and after the expiration date of the appeal period (8 days from the receipt). This means that you are now officially the child’s parent. Congrats! 🙂

[Read: All the Croatian government ministries and what they do]

Step #11 Entering a child into the book of births

The CZSS is obliged to deliver the decision on adoption to the competent Registrar’s office. The registrar will enter the child into the book of births according to the child’s new residence. The CZSS must deliver the same decision to the CZSS according to the residence.

Step #12 CZZS follows up

Centar za socijalnu skrb is obligated to follow up after the adoption for six months from the date of adoption. The child and adoptive parents have the right to professional assistance and support after the adoption.

[Read: Family services and child benefits in Croatia]

Other adoption process scenarios

Adoption process for couples with foreign citizenship

Croatia is a party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption (also known as the “Hague Adoption Convention”). This means if it’s in the best interest of the child, a couple from a foreign country can apply for adoption in Croatia.

If the adoptive parent is a foreign citizen, adoption can only be based on the prior approval of the Ministarstvo rada, mirovinskog sustava, obitelji i socijalne politike (“Ministry of Labor, Pension System, Family, and Social Policy”). The term “best interest” generally refers to the welfare of the child.

Such welfare is determined by various individual circumstances, such as:

  • Age
  • Level of maturity of the child
  • Presence or absence of the parent
  • Environment in which the child grows up
  • Development of the child

Adoption process for single people

While there is no official discrimination between couples and singles, it is unknowingly noticeable that couples still have a slight advantage and the Centar will preferably give a child to a family where they will have both father and mother. Despite this bias, the criteria for adopting children are the same for married couples as well as singles.

Adoption process for same-sex couples

Currently, there isn’t a law in Croatia that explicitly allows same-sex couples the right to adopt a child. The Family Law regulates adoption and also defines marriage and extramarital relationships as a community of women and men. Within this law, there is no recognition of same-sex couples.

The Act on the Life Partnership of Persons of the Same-Sex does define same-sex couples and their respective rights, but it does not regulate adoption.

In practice, adoption requests by same-sex couples have been declined until April 2021 when a historic decision was brought by Upravni sud u Zagrebu (Administrative Court in Zagreb). It is based on a case of two same-sex life partners who fought for the right to adopt for 6 years. Upravni sud decided in their favor, but the competent Ministry submitted an appeal.

In May 2022, Visoki upravni sud Republike Hrvatske (High Administrative Court of the Republic of Croatia) brought the same decision as Upravni sud. As a result, same-sex life partners in Croatia are now able to adopt children.

This case created the opportunity for all same-sex life partners to adopt children without discrimination. To start the adoption process, life partners must contact the closest Center for Social Welfare (Centar za socijalnu skrb) and apply for the evaluation for adoption.

Furthermore, if one partner already has a child, then the other partner can request the status of custodian.

We will keep tracking news on same-sex adoption and update this post with the latest information.

[Read: How to obtain a life partnership for same-sex couples in Croatia]

Challenges of the social welfare system in Croatia

In March 2021, there were about 3.000 children living in homes and foster families and only 204 were ready for adoption.

The biggest roadblock to adoption is that the Centar za socijalnu skrb where these children live has been too late in initiating the process to remove parental rights.

The existing family law has defined deadlines for parents to fix a situation so that the child can live with them again. This period of time, however, is often lengthened in the system, giving parents multiple chances, while the child continues to live in an orphanage or with a foster family.

In 2020, only 136 children were adopted in Croatia, while until September 2021, there were 79 children adopted. In 2020, 2.270 children were with foster families. Until September 2021, 2.294 children were placed with foster families.

According to HRT, the president of the Association for Adoption ADOPTA, Andreja Turčin, supports the acceleration of parental care deprivation procedures and introducing incentive measures to encourage more adoptions, especially for hard-to-adopt children including older children, minorities, and children with disabilities.

Centar za socijalnu skrbu chooses the best adopter who can provide the best care for a child. Unfortunately, children who have been waiting for adoption for a while are children who are not desired by previously registered adoptive parents. Usually, those left behind are older and/or have health or developmental difficulties.

When adopting, the parent defines the type of child they want by age, gender, or ethnicity. Some people are ready to adopt a child regardless of health status, nationality, skin color, or age, and some are not. Specific requests are why some parents wait for a longer time, leaving more children in the system.

If you are interested in adopting, contact your nearest social welfare center today.

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Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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