After sitting down with an adoption assistant and birth mother in Baton Rouge, Louisiana a few weeks back, I had the wonderful opportunity to pick the brain of the firm’s founder and lead attorney regarding the benefits of an adoption attorney. He happened to be the very same attorney that we worked with when adopting our own daughter in 2018. In the past couple of years since our daughter’s adoption, I’ve watched his practice switch gears and place more focus on post-placement care of the precious birth mothers they work with daily. This focus brings a sense of awareness and a voice of change to the adoption world.
From pre-birth to post-placement, adoption attorneys can help provide guidance and support throughout the adoption process to not only adoptive couples but also birth mothers. Just as agencies have networks of adoptive couples, adoption attorneys also have a list of waiting couples for expectant mothers to review if they decide on adoption for the precious life they are carrying to term. In addition to this type of adoption, there are other types of adoption such as foster care adoption, adult adoption, relative adoption, and step parent adoption wherein an adoption attorney would be needed for finalization. Depending on the type of adoption, the requirements vary and requirements also differ from state to state. The adoption process is guided by state and federal laws and regulations from beginning to end that apply to adoptive families and to prospective birth mothers. An adoption attorney provides the knowledge and expertise of the law and the requirements needed to finalize any type of adoption in the state they are licensed to practice.
When my husband and I initially began our adoption journey as adoptive parents a few years ago, we jumped head first into an adoption situation in the State of Alabama. We were already linked up with an adoption attorney in Louisiana, but we were also in contact with an adoption attorney in Huntsville, AL who had a relationship with the expectant mother. We knew it was important to have an adoption attorney in our corner, but more importantly when parts of the process began to disintegrate, it helped to have a professional explain and breakdown the laws. The adoption attorney helped decipher which state was preferable for our situation, what exactly would happen through ICPC (InterState Compact on the Placement of Children), and whether we should continue with an adoption. This was a foreign world to us at the time but having a legal professional with the expertise and knowledge to walk us through it was invaluable. There are many variables to an adoption process. Beyond the initial match between an expectant mother and an adoptive couple, the legal details through finalization are woven throughout the process and having an adoption attorney to guide you is extremely beneficial.
Differences between Adoption Attorney and Adoption Agency
As an adoptive parent, an adoption attorney may already be on your radar as a way to navigate your adoption plan or finalize a private adoption, foster care adoption, adult adoption, relative adoption or step parent adoption. As an expectant mother, this type of adoption professional may not be the first one that comes to mind but it is one to consider.
There are many things to consider when selecting an adoption professional for your situation. Attorneys are regulated by their State Supreme Court’s ethical rules, juvenile statutes, and what makes sense practically. Adoption attorneys have a level of flexibility.
Also, an expectant mother may view working with an adoption attorney an independent process that allows her flexibility in her decision making. An adoption attorney does not control or supervise the everyday activities of an expectant mother. Adoption attorneys will use their broad knowledge of their state’s laws to help their clients with not just adoption, but any of their other legal needs as well. This usually eases stress, anxiety, and any fear an expectant mother may have when deciding on an adoption plan. Throughout the experience an independent expectant mother continues to manage and control her own life while the adoption attorney offers legal assistance.
In the state of Louisiana, there can be different surrender time periods for a birth mother, based on whether you are using an adoption agency or an adoption attorney. With an agency, a birth mother may surrender her rights starting three days after birth. With an adoption attorney, a birth mother may surrender her rights starting five days after birth. In either case, it is up to the birth mother to weigh her decision about adoption after giving birth. Taking time to reflect on the pending decision is vital in making sure you are comfortable with your choice. The length of time that it takes birth mothers to make this decision varies and some birth mothers prefer to complete the paperwork as soon as possible. Others prefer to take their time. As an adoptive parent myself and working with an adoption attorney, having a longer surrender time period didn’t necessarily bother or affect me. Ultimately, making sure our daughter’s birth mother made the best decision for her and had more than enough time to evaluate her life decision was our utmost concern.
Adoption attorneys tend to be less involved than adoption agencies. Some agencies will work closely to support expectant mothers to ensure mental, emotional, physical, and sometimes even spiritual health throughout a pregnancy. Adoption attorneys will not typically offer this type of support. Depending on the level of involvement that an expectant mother requires from her adoption professional, she may prefer one over the other.
Adoption attorneys can offer advice on adoptive parent placement as well. Because attorneys set their own guidelines and restrictions regarding age, lifestyle, and other adoptive parent requirements, potential adoptive parents may be evaluated on a case-by-case basis rather than being grouped under generic restrictions.
In his own practice, our adoption attorney works hard to implement best practices across the board when it comes to age and other factors in determining positive candidates for adoptive parenting. He made sure to point out an adoption attorney isn’t a social worker giving the final stamp of approva. Only an unbiased and licensed social worker will make that determination during the home study process which covers a couples’ health, their finances, criminal background checks, community and personal relationships as well as ample references.
In my own adoption process, the evaluation by the social worker was the ultimate deciding factor on whether we could proceed with adopting. Our lives were analyzed and the social worker gave her opinion after reviewing documentation provided and a thorough investigation into our life as a married couple. Once the home study is complete and approval is granted, steps with an adoption attorney may proceed.
Lower Costs for Adoptive Parents
From an adoptive parent perspective, one important factor is always the financial implications to consider when adopting a child. There can be a significant cost difference between an adoption attorney and adoption agency. Keep in mind, whether adoptive parents choose an adoption attorney or an agency, the adoption tax credit may be utilized following the year of adoption finalization.
Minimum requirements exist in law for the number of counseling sessions that birth mothers must complete, and one best practice aspect of the adoption process which seems to get ignored more times than not is post-placement care for the birth mother. Adoption attorneys will always arrange for the mandatory counseling requirements but an evolution that we are beginning to see amongst adoption professionals is the presence of additional support for birth mothers to handle their trauma and loss post-placement. Our adoption attorney provided a customized birth mother support program engineered by Big Tough Girl’s Ashley Mitchell. Ashley’s support curriculum through the Lifetime Healing Foundation is tailored for the birth mother grappling with the grief, loss, and trauma of placing a child for adoption, the aftermath of her decision and how to cope and handle life going forward. There are now monthly support groups, counseling resources, and a more hands on approach to care for birth mothers provided at no cost to the birth mother. The continual post-placement support is becoming more commonplace and the face of adoption is beginning to change as birth mother and adoptee voices are being heard on a bigger stage.
Something that my adoption attorney said to me that stuck well after our candid visit was his passion for respecting each birth mother. There is a massive misconception that adoption attorneys are only looking out for the best interest of the adoptive parents. In our attorney’s mind, a fundamental way he or any other adoption attorney can ethically serve clients is to care for birth mothers and you cannot have one without the other in the world of adoption. It is a relationship, not just a transaction. The ethical support, guidance, and compassion for a birth mother are some of the cornerstones of any adoption practice.
At first glance, adoption agencies may seem to have everything an adoptive parent or a birth mother may need all under one umbrella. There are benefits when signing on to work with an adoption agency. Take the time to review the benefits of an adoption attorney as well. Every adoption situation is different and in many cases, choosing an adoption attorney can be beneficial.Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.