The Laws of Adoption

For couples or individuals considering adoption, the goal is simple: welcome a child into their loving home. However, the paperwork and red tape that stretch between adoptive parents-to-be and the day they bring home a new family member can seem overwhelming and discouraging. With a little preparation and lots of patience, though, couples can take the adoption journey in stride.

Whether adopting a child through an agency or directly from the birth parent, it’s in a couple’s best interest to consult with a lawyer who specializes in adoption. “A major misconception about having a lawyer is that it means you want to engage in a legal battle,” says Richard E. Garriott, Jr., a partner at Pender & Coward who has helped countless families navigate the adoption process. “Working with an attorney simply means you have someone with a professional obligation to advocate for what’s best for you.”

When arranging an adoption directly from the birth parent, Garriott advises both sets of parents retain their own attorney. “The birth parent should also have legal representation because there are a lot of emotions involved with signing the documents to terminate rights,” he explains. “The birth parent needs to understand the rights being given up.”

Although heartbreaking for the prospective parents, a common obstacle in the adoption process occurs when the birth parents change their minds and decide to keep the baby. This sets back the timeline for an adoption, as the process will have to begin all over again with a new birth parent.

A few other factors can also slow down the adoption process. Adopting a child from another state adds extra layers of bureaucracy. Both states must ensure the laws are complied with, which can add an additional six to nine months to the process, depending on how many cases are being reviewed. However, Garriott notes that recent changes to the Interstate Compact on Placement of Children (ICPC) have dramatically streamlined requirements and made the process quicker. Also, a child who has special needs may require a longer home study, depending on the severity of the child’s disability.

Couples who choose an international route to parenthood and adopt outside of the United States must be extra vigilant about scams. Couples should be on the lookout for unscrupulous agencies that kidnap children or pay parents for their babies and then try to get them adopted outside of their home country. “If you pursue a foreign adoption, make sure you are dealing with credible professionals,” says Garriott. “Trust your inner voice. If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Warning signs that the foreign adoption agency you are working with is not legitimate include not responding to your questions or requests for required documents in a timely manner, high-pressure tactics, and asking for money without an appropriate billing statement. “Any indication that you are paying a parent for a child could void the adoption,” warns Garriott. “You hired that agency, and they’re supposed to be there to help you. If they’re not acting like it, then it could be a scam.”

Finalizing an adoption can be the happiest time in a couple’s life. Welcoming a child into the home is a joy, and the adoption process is a labor of love that requires lots of patience. Taking your time, meeting with an attorney and asking lots of questions is not only best for the child; it could also save money. If legal issues with the adoption are uncovered later on, the adoptive parents could be on the hook to pay for the legal fees. “You will have to pay a consultation fee for an attorney, but investing upfront can keep you from spending more later on for issues you didn’t plan for,” Garriott says. “When it comes to adoption, there is so much to understand, and anything you can do beforehand to help eliminate questions and future litigation can save you money and frustration down the road.”

Jamie McAllister
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