10 Tips for Growing Your Family Through Adoption

Family/Kids, Relationships

Imagine placing an ad for a birth mother and finding the perfect person. She is five months pregnant, attends college, and wants the best for her child, which is you. You pay a few thousand dollars to move her out of a dorm and write checks for the agent fee and hospital expenses, but you economize and don’t hire an attorney. On the blessed day, you’re handed your baby, but a few days later, the biological mother changes her mind. What rights do you have?

Before starting the adoption process, you should know what to expect.

1. What is adoption? Adoption is the permanent legal transfer of all parenting rights to the adoptive parents. Each state has different rules, and missing one element may affect the legality of your adoption.

2. Public adoption. In a public services adoption, the focus is on the child, who is usually in the foster care welfare system. These adoptions are less expensive than going through a private adoption and there are websites, such as AdoptUsKids, which feature profiles of available children.

3. Private adoption. In a private adoption, the adopting parents choose a child who best fits their family. Private adoption is generally expensive, unless you already have a child in mind, such as a spouse’s child. Finding a birth mother and child can cost thousands with the final toll exceeding $15,000 or more.

4. International adoption. Approximately half of all children adopted internationally are by families in the United States. International adoption is different in many countries, and some follow the Hague rules focusing on the best interest of the child. Some countries require residency, which means adoption is unlikely, so it is important to understand the laws of the country where you want to adopt.

5. Open adoption. In an open adoption, the birth parents can send and receive calls and letters, and are integrated into the child’s life over the years. In a closed adoption, birth parents are separated from the child and the adopting family. Even in a closed adoption, once a child turns 18, she can check reunion registries and also petition the court to have records unsealed. The best rule of thumb is to expect a U.S. adoption to not be secret.

6. Same-sex adoption. In the United States, some states will not allow a same sex couple to petition for adoption. In those states, a same sex couple may not be considered married, even if a legal wedding was performed in another state. If an LGBT person adopts, but the partner cannot, then there may be legal problems if there is a later dissolution of partnership or a death.

7. Home study. Whether you choose a private or public services adoption, you will need a home study by a social worker. The study will review your health and criminal history, financial status, personal references, and your reasons for adoption. Home studies sometimes have expiration dates, so make sure to keep current.

8. Petition for adoption. Your petition for adoption will tell the court that the parents’ rights have been legally terminated, and whether the child falls under Indian Welfare Act and the Soldiers/Sailors Relief Act. You will also have to let the court know the home study results and some states may require the birth parents to have counseling before the adoption will go through.

9. Adoption expenses. Some states allow adopting parents to pay for hospital costs, the birth mother’s temporary living expenses, attorney fees, counseling, and travel costs. A few states prohibit payment to the mother for monetary gain. In some states a fee cannot be used to obligate a mother to give up her child. Some states do not allow an agent to receive a fee. The good news is there is a federal credit and exclusion for qualified adoption expenses including reasonable adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, travel and other expenses on behalf of the adoption process of a child under age 18, or one who is physically or mentally incapable – provided the adoption is not for a spouse’s child. Most adoption attorneys will have advice on filing for credits and exclusions.

10. Undoing the process. Some states will not allow a birth parent to give up rights until 48 hours after birth, and some states allow presumed fathers an opportunity to intervene if they file with a registry within 15 days of birth. Birth parents in some states have 180 days after the adoption to undo the process, which can be devastating to the adopting family. That’s why it’s important to know the laws of the adopting state.

Adopting is one of the most stressful and significant times for a family. Just remember to hire a knowledgeable family attorney and have a box of candy cigars on hand for the big day.