Adoption may be a new process for you. Since it is a legal process, you will need an attorney to guide you and ensure that the adoption meets all state laws and regulations. In some states, an attorney is needed from the start of the process (i.e., in New York State adoptive parents must be Pre-Certified through their local court prior to taking custody of a child). All adoptions need an attorney to finalize the parent-child relationship through the court.
Processing an adoption can be a scary prospect. For those who’ve never done it before, you don’t know what you don’t know. A lot is at stake and a lot can go wrong. Issues can crop up as new information comes to light. An experienced adoption attorney can anticipate and preclude these issues. A good adoption attorney will help preclude problems, issue spot risks and potential legal roadblocks, and manage the relationship with the biological family. An attorney is also able to help all parties find appropriate resources depending on their circumstances.
The process is detailed and tedious. While an attorney is not required, it’s recommended. It could take longer and complications may occur if there is not attorney involved. Many people are not aware of the complications of the process until it’s too late. You should always err on the side of caution with the adoption process. It’s an emotional decision and not everyone can handle the logical aspects of the process effectively when emotions are involved. Prospective parents may find some useful information to help with the process online.
We talked with Widrig Law PLLC about using lawyers during the process, and they explained, “Many adoption attorneys will offer a flat fee service. The fee may include document drafting, reviewing, and filing. When the issues are more complex, attorneys will charge by the hour. The rates will vary depending on the complexity of your issue and also based upon the country in which you’re located. You should negotiate the rate up front to avoid any adverse issues later.”
The laws of the state in which the child was adopted determine who has access to the original birth certificate or other adoption records, and whether those records are sealed (unavailable). For information about the law in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, see the: http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/. This links to the Child Welfare Information League’s numerous publications on the legal aspects of adoption.
During the home study, the child welfare agency will review your case and provide the courts with evidence that you are capable of caring for the child. A lawyer is not required for this stage, but it’s nice to have one available. You’ll be asked to supply copies of your birth certificate, income tax returns, medical report, and marriage licenses. All adoptive parents will need to be fingerprinted.
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).
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.
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.
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.