You’ll need an experienced attorney to guide you through the legal process. By Steven M. Kirsh
In a private or independent adoption (the terms are interchangeable), prospective adoptive parents take an active role in identifying a birthmother, usually by networking, advertising or using the internet.
In most states, adopting independently is just as legal and just as accepted as adopting through an agency. However, some states—Massachusetts and Connecticut, for example—mandate that all adoptions be handled by adoption agencies. Before trying to adopt independently, be sure that you understand the requirements and limitations of the laws of your home state.
In selecting an attorney to assist with an independent adoption, prospective adoptive parents should do careful research. Not every attorney has the expertise, knowledge, experience and sensitivities to handle an independent adoption. Just because an attorney has handled stepparent adoptions does not mean that he or she is familiar with the intricacies of a private or independent adoption. If the adoptive and birth parents live in different states, the adoption attorney must also have a good working knowledge of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.
Another factor—one that is harder to measure—is the prospective adoptive parents’ comfort with the attorney. Can the attorney answer questions in an understandable way? Does the attorney seem sensitive to the needs of both the adoptive parents and the birth parents? Is the attorney available to provide assistance outside regular business hours? Does the attorney seem likable? (Niceness is not typically a concern when you are looking for an attorney to litigate a case, but in an adoption, when the attorney is going to have direct contact with the birth parents, you need your legal representative to be a likable person.) Most important, do you trust the attorney? If you don’t implicitly trust the person, then find another attorney.
In addition to experience and trustworthiness, membership in the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys is a good sign, since it is granted only to experienced adoption attorneys who meet high standards of ethics, competence and professionalism (see the online directory at www.adoptionattorneys.org).
Above all, prospective adoptive parents should get involved only with adoptions that are handled in accordance with state law. Violating the law may result not only in criminal penalties, but also in the setting aside of the adoption and the removal of the child from the adoptive home.
Once you have selected an attorney, you will need to consider the degree of openness or confidentiality in the adoption. In some states, such as California, an exchange of identifying information is mandatory in a private or independent adoption. In most other states, however, only nonidentifying information must be exchanged. Clearly the trend in both independent and agency adoption is toward greater preplacement involvement between adoptive parents and birth parents. An exchange of nonidentifying written information is routine, and more and more adoptive parents are talking by telephone and meeting in person with birth parents, usually on a nonidentifying first-name basis. This exchange of information benefits all parties to the adoption.
A common misconception about adoption is that birth parents do not want their children or do not care about them. This is as far from being true as possible. Birth parents make adoption plans because they truly love their children and want more than they can offer at that moment in their lives. Understanding this motivation, prospective adoptive parents can more easily understand why a birth parent would want to talk with them or meet them.
From the adoptive parents’ perspective, obtaining nonidentifying information, both in writing and in person, will be critical in explaining adoption to their child when the child begins asking questions. The adoptive parents’ firsthand account of meeting the birth parents will be far more satisfying for the child than a written report from the attorney.
Both agency and private adoptions generally require adoptive parents to provide updates after the placement of the child. In most cases there is no physical contact between the birth parents and the adoptive parents after placement, but often there is an exchange of letters and photographs, at least during the first few years. Adoptive parents should not see these updates as a threat. Birth parents make adoption plans because they love their children and want the best for them. It’s not surprising, then, that a birth parent might be curious to know how the child is developing.
Adoption is a wonderful option. Not only does it satisfy the desire of families to have children, but it also provides a good solution for birth parents who find themselves unable to give their children the kind of lives that they so desperately want for them. Most important, the children obtain good homes with secure and bright futures.
Steven M. Kirsh and his brother, Joel D. Kirsh, practice adoption law only. They can be reached at PO Box 80614, Indianapolis, Indiana 46280-0614, 800-333-5736, or www.indianaadoption.com.
©2003 Adoptive Families. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is prohibited.
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