Megan Cohen is an adoption and assisted reproductive technology attorney. She is the owner of Family Formation Law Offices in Lafayette, California representing birth parents, adopting parents, intended parents, surrogates, and gamete donors. She serves on the board of the birthmother-focused On Your Feet Foundation of Northern California. She is also a birth mother. Vist her website www.helpwithadoption.com.
Because of the complexities of the adoption process and the potential for negative consequences, it is not recommended that you attempt to do an adoption pro se. Even a consent adoption within the family, for example, an aunt and uncle adopting a nephew with full consent of the birth parents, should still be prepared and shepherded through the court by an attorney.
Handling Challenges – Although adoption is in every way a heart-warming decision and tremendous benefit for children, it is not always the easiest legal process. That’s due to numerous requirements established by the court, as well as complex laws, extensive paperwork, and the potential for disputes or challenges, including those involving biological parents who contest an adoption. Having an attorney by your side can help ensure you take the proper steps, have the support to resolve challenges as they arise, and prepare for all that’s required of you from any agency or court.

Decide who you want to handle the legal side of your adoption. In a private adoption, the birth parents transfer their rights directly to the adoptive parents rather than the state or an adoption agency. However, the adoption is still governed by state law and there are many legal procedures and requirements you must meet for the adoption to be granted. Most adoptive parents work with an attorney to guide them through the process.
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) protects the break-up of Native American families through adoption. Every state has its own rules about how to comply with ICWA, and the laws that regulate this are specific and serious. The main thrust of ICWA is that you must ask the biological family about their potential Native American heritage and document their answers. The courts will want proof that this inquiry was made and completed correctly according to the law. This usually involves completing specific, preprinted forms that vary from state to state. If a birth parent has heritage, notice of the adoption must be provided to every band and tribe of eligibility. Identifying and researching the proper person for notice can be laborious and time consuming, especially if you’ve never done it before. An experienced adoption attorney will know which forms must be completed and by whom. She or he will also know where and with whom to file the forms so as to be in compliance with ICWA. The attorney will also know the proper consent documents a birth parent must sign if the child is deemed Native American. The adoption is at risk if ICWA isn’t properly complied with. (See in re Baby Veronica).
The services offered by adoption lawyers vary from one attorney to the next. If you choose to work with an adoption attorney, you may need to take a more active role throughout the adoption process, and you may have to consult additional adoption professionals for some services not provided by your attorney. However, the right adoption attorney should be able to refer you to professionals that can assist you with these services.
If you are adopting an infant through private adoption, your attorney will play a larger role, and you will want to take care in selecting the right individual. You may want to read the documents found at: http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/adoptive/considerations.cfm. This links to the Child Welfare Information Gateway’s numerous publications on the legal aspects of adoption.

A private adoption where the adoptive parents and the birth mother have not agreed beforehand can cost over $20,000. Before you make the financial and emotional investment in the adoption, you want an attorney who is familiar with all federal, state, and local laws and procedures. Depending on your location, expect to pay $100 to $200 per hour for skilled legal assistance.


They may not provide matching services. You may need to work with another adoption professional, such as an adoption agency, to be matched with a waiting adoptive family. Alternatively, you may need to independently identify an adoptive family that you would like to pursue an adoption plan with. This can potentially limit the number of families you have to choose from. In addition, there are other services your attorney may not be able to provide throughout the adoption process, such as counseling and support. If adoption counseling is offered, it is normally through an unlicensed paralegal with little adoption counseling experience. The attorney also will not usually be able to keep up with post-adoption agreements, such as receiving pictures and letters, whereas adoption agencies often have programs in place to coordinate these services.
5. WHAT ARE THE COSTS OF THE ADOPTION? – You will want to know who helps guide you in appropriate adoption fees, what is legal and what is paid to whom and when. For the attorney specifically: How do they bill? Do they have a consultation fee, a retainer, a set rate or do they bill by the hour? You should have an estimated adoption budget before you begin the process, and know what part is for legal fees.
Thank you for all your help. I do have one adopted child and that was private and we used a lawyer. I do know about trying to find the mother and I am in touch with the birth mothers father ( the child's grandfather) He told me she moves around alot and goes from state to state and friends to friends and that she never leaves an address or phone number. Since the father is unknown and the birth mother originally told me he died ( not sure if that's true) what will happen with that? My husband still wants to try and do this without a lawyer. We have all the papers from our local courthouse but just need to know the order in which to do them. I'm not sure we will be required to have a home study, my husband is reading up on the laws in PA a little each evening but this takes time and patience.
You still have to find both parents (or make every attempt to locate them) in order to do TPR. Once TPR is completed by the court, then you can begin adoption process. If you can't locate the birthparent, you have to show valid attempts at really trying to locate them. A judge won't TPR because you said you can't find them. You have to SHOW PROOF that you really tried - for example, by contacting motor vehicles to get address, putting notices in newspapers, sending certified mail to all known addresses..etc. If a judge isn't 100% convinced that you did everything possible short of going door to door in the state, he will not TPR. He'll tell you to hire a private investigator to find the parents. There is no way to adopt a child without the birthparents finding out about it. You have to locate that birthmother & get her consent or prove that you went through great lengths to locate her. Once she is found, they will try to find out who the birthdad is-and then probably have you post a notice in the newspaper and check the putative father's registry to make sure he has been notified of the adoption. Once you have birthparents consent OR a judge agrees that you made a 100% effort to locate the birthparents & signs TPR, THEN you can file your paperwork to adopt. You can't do it without birthparents consent.

A private adoption where the adoptive parents and the birth mother have not agreed beforehand can cost over $20,000. Before you make the financial and emotional investment in the adoption, you want an attorney who is familiar with all federal, state, and local laws and procedures. Depending on your location, expect to pay $100 to $200 per hour for skilled legal assistance.


Personalized Service – For many parents, especially those who work with adoption agencies, legal challenges are only half the battle. This is why it becomes critical to work with professionals who take the time to personally understand your situation, needs, and goals and who are committed to advocating on your behalf at all stages of the process. Our attorneys place an emphasis on personalized service and support, and draw from not only our legal experience with adoptions, but also our understanding of this major life event. Clients who work with us receive the personalized service they deserve.
So when exploring ways of controlling the cost of an adoption, one has to ask if all of these lawyers are really necessary. I am told that there is no legal requirement to seek legal representation. A quick search of the internet will try to convince you that there is but the majority of these websites are owned by attorneys. Of course, the laws differ in each state and so it is incumbent upon those involved to ensure that they are aware of their particular state laws and are in compliance with them.
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