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Adoption in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)

Adoption Law in CNMI

CNMI adoption law is liberally construed to promote the best interests of adopted children.1

Residency requirement

Any resident of the CNMI under 18 years old can be adopted.2 To qualify as a “resident” of the CNMI, if one year of age or older, an individual must be physically present in the CNMI for at least one year prior to the filing of the adoption petition; if under one year of age, then the infant is a resident as long as she or he is physically present and living in the CNMI.3

Similarly, any adult resident of the CNMI may petition to adopt a minor child who qualifies for adoption.4 A single adult, a married couple, or the new spouse of the mother or father of the child may petition for adoption.5

Adoption process

The potential adoptive parent, in most circumstances, will need to obtain the notarized written consent of the mother and father of the minor child, or any person or agency who has legal custody of the child.6 However, in some circumstances consent of the natural or legal parents or custodians is not required, such as where where a parent has deserted the minor child, or failed to reasonably communicate with or provide support for the child, or where a parent’s rights have been terminated or relinquished.7 If the child to be adopted is more than 10 years old, the child must consent to the adoption, in the presence of the court, unless the court determines that requiring such consent is not in the best interests of the child.8

Once the potential adoptive parent obtains the necessary consents, or determines that consent is not required, she or he files a petition with the court. The required contents of an adoption petition are described in detail in 8 CMC § 1408.

When the court receives the petition, the court will set a hearing.9 The potential adoptive parent must provide notice of the hearing to any person whose consent to the adoption is required, but who has not yet consented.10 The court may order a home study of the potential adoptive parent, and the potential adoptive parent may be required to pay for the home study.11

Adoption proceedings are confidential, and will be held in closed court on the request of any interested party.12 At the hearing, the potential adoptive parent and the minor child to be adopted must appear, unless their appearance is excused for good cause.13 The court may issue a final decree of adoption at the hearing, may issue an “interlocutory decree of adoption” which becomes final on a set date if the established conditions are met, or may continue the proceeding to allow additional time for observation, investigation, or consideration of the facts or circumstances of a particular case.14 As part of the adoption proceedings, the court may change the child’s name.15

Best Interests of the Child Govern Adoption Proceedings

The court will only grant a petition for adoption and change the child’s name if the court finds that the adoption and name change is in the best interests of the minor child to be adopted.16 In making that determination, the court considers a variety of factors including:

  • The fundamental relationship of the child and the natural parents;
  • The interests of the adoptive parents;
  • The child’s age;
  • The extent of the bond or potential bond between each natural parent to the child;
  • The fitness or unfitness of either natural parent, taking into account whether the child was abandoned, neglected, or physically or mentally abused;
  • Whether either parent is a convicted felon where the nature of the crime is inconsistent with being a fit parent;
  • The extent of the bond, or potential bond, between the adoptive parents and the child; and
  • The ability of the natural parents and the ability of the adoptive parents to provide adequate and proper love, care, attention and guidance to the child.17

Effect of Adoption

When an adoption is granted, it has the effect of giving the adopted child the same legal relationship to the adoptive parent as if the adopted child were a legitimate blood relative, and severing that legal relationship between the child and the natural parents.18 The exception, of course, is that when a stepparent adopts the minor child of his or her spouse, only the relationship between the child and the non-spouse natural parent is terminated.19 Similarly, if one of the child’s natural parents dies, and the child is later adopted by the living parent’s new spouse, the child may still inherit from the deceased parent.20

When an adoption is granted, if the child was born in the CNMI, a new CNMI birth record will issue.21 The process for obtaining a new birth certificate will be more complicated if the adopted child was born outside the CNMI.22

Note that an adoption in the CNMI does not automatically grant any kind of immigration status. The requirements for international adoptions are not discussed in this article. If you have concerns about the immigration consequences of a potential adoption, you should consult an attorney.

Appeals and Finality of Adoptions

A decree of adoption may be appealed.23 However, subject to the disposition of an appeal to the contrary, after one year has passed from the time the decree was entered, and adoption cannot be questioned in any manner or on any ground unless the adoptive parent has not taken custody of the minor.24

Illegal to Adopt for Pay or Sell Child

While adoptions are generally happy occasions, the CNMI has acted to protect the interests of children by criminalizing child trafficking or adoption for pay. It is illegal to offer to sell or sell a child, born or unborn, for adoption in exchange for money or anything of value; or to adopt a child in exchange for anything of value.25 If convicted, these acts are punishable as felonies and may result in up to one year in prison, a fine of $10,000 or both.

Note: This article covers the legal adoption of minor children and does not include a discussion of customary adoption of persons 18 years or older.

Note: The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands includes the islands of Rota, Tinian and Saipan. The information provided here applies to all three islands.

Note: The CNMI statutes referenced here can be accessed online for free at the website of the CNMI Law Revision Commission.

Note: We hope the information provided on this page helps you understand the basic legal framework for adoption in the CNMI. The information provided here, however, is general, and is not a substitute for obtaining legal advice. For a more in depth understanding of the adoption laws, and for advice on how those laws apply to the facts of your specific case, you should contact an attorney.


1 8 CMC § 1419
2 8 CMC § 1402
3 8 CMC § 1401
4 8 CMC § 1403
5 Id.
6 8 CMC §§ 1404, 1406
7 8 CMC § 1405
8 8 CMC §§ 1404(a), 1406(a)(1)
9 8 CMC § 1410(a)
10 Id.
11 8 CMC §§ 1410(a),(e)
12 8 CMC § 1414
13 8 CMC § 1411(a)

14 8 CMC § 1411(c) & (d)
15 8 CMC § 1416
16 8 CMC § 1411(c)
17 In re Adoption of N.I.L.S., 2007 MP 31 ¶ 6.
18 8 CMC § 1412(a)
19 8 CMC § 1412(a)(1)
20 8 CMC § 1412(b)
21 8 CMC § 1417
22 Id.
23 8 CMC § 1413(a)
24 8 CMC § 1413(b)
25 8 CMC § 1420


This article was written by Claire Kelleher-Smith. Claire is an associate attorney at O’Connor Berman Dotts and Banes practicing family law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. She has represented clients in a variety of family law proceedings. Claire has a client-centered practice, and works with each client to seek an outcome suited to the client’s unique situation. She enjoys practicing family law and believes that although people usually need a family attorney during the most difficult periods of their lives, the legal system can be used to navigate those trying times and to establish the framework for moving towards brighter futures and healthier relationships.

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