An adoption is a complicated process. When the prospective adoptive parent is a military member, the situation is even more complicated. Nevertheless, treating an adoption as a military operation allows military families to devise an operational plan for a successful mission to add a new recruit to the family unit.
Service members participating in a military operation must be fit for duty. Likewise, prospective adoptive parents must be determined fit for duty as parents to be able to adopt; completion of a favorable home study is a prerequisite to adopting a non-related child. Even though a military member has already passed muster to go on active duty, he or she must still pass this required background investigation to be deemed legally fit to receive an adoptive placement.
Military operations occur in a specified location. Similarly, adoption home studies are conducted in a designated location—where the prospective adoptive parent currently resides. For military members residing in the United States, their current duty station’s state will be the location where the home study takes place. The service member’s residence of record is irrelevant. Thus, if Airman A’s home of record is Texas, but he is currently stationed at Eglin AFB, Florida, his home study must be conducted in Florida.
A home study for a military member stationed overseas will be conducted in the country where the member is assigned. Airman B stationed in Germany has to have a home study completed in Germany. Not all U.S. home study providers are authorized to conduct home studies for individuals living abroad. Therefore, a military member stationed overseas should confirm at the outset whether an identified home study provider is able to work with prospective adoptive parents physically located outside the United States.
Planning for a military operation takes into account the availability of the resources (planes, equipment, supplies) required to complete the mission. An adoption may hinge on a prospective adoptive parent’s financial resources. The ability to pay for an adoption is a concern for military and civilians alike. While the federal adoption tax credit is available to assist anyone adopting with the cost of an adoption, military members have a financial resource specifically for those in uniform—a military adoption reimbursement program.
The military reimbursement program is available for various types of adoption—single parent adoptions, adoptions of special needs children, adoption of stepchildren, and foreign adoptions. Reimbursement is permitted only if the child to be adopted was placed with the military member by a qualified, legally authorized source.
Active duty and reservists may be eligible for reimbursement of up to $2,000 per child for adoption expenses of a child under 18; reimbursement is capped at $5,000 per year. Key to this military financial resource is that it is a reimbursement program. The military member pays for the adoption out of pocket through personal assets or loans; he can then seek reimbursement from the military after the adoption is finalized. Reimbursement is only authorized if the military member finalizes the adoption prior to leaving active duty and submits a reimbursement request within two years from the finalization of a domestic adoption.
To request reimbursement, a specific Department of Defense form, Form 2675 (Reimbursement Request For Adoption Expenses), is submitted along with supporting documentation such as a copy of the adoption decree. Each child adopted requires a separate form; thus, if twins are adopted, two DoD Form 2675’s must be completed. A determination on the claim is made within four to six weeks. Approved reimbursement is paid via direct deposit. DoD Instruction 1341.09 provides more details on the Department of Defense’s Adoption Reimbursement Policy.
As with a military mission, logistics are critical to the adoption process. Getting adoption paperwork signed by a deployed spouse, having a child enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, and obtaining leave to care for a child after placement are concerns prospective adoptive parents in the military have to consider upfront.
Adoption is extremely paper-intensive. Prospective adoptive parents must complete an untold number of forms and documents during the adoption process. What happens, then, if the military member is absent due to deployment or temporary duty while an adoption is underway? How can he sign the required paperwork?
Today’s technology allows paperwork to be sent a military member at a location which has email or fax capability. If possible, the paperwork can be signed, scanned, and emailed back. Documents requiring a notarized signature may be taken to a JAG office; federal statutes expressly authorize a commissioned officer to handle document execution in the manner a notary would.
If the service member is in a remote location, the spouse back home may be able to sign adoption paperwork as the member’s attorney-in-fact through use of an existing special power of attorney. Military members deploying are typically directed to execute a general power of attorney allowing a spouse to conduct business on his behalf. Adoption, however, is an out of the ordinary transaction; thus, the military member needs to sign a special power of attorney expressly granting his spouse the authority to execute any paperwork or document required in connection with the adoption process.
Obtaining medical care for a child being adopted is a critical concern, especially if the child is an infant who will require frequent well-baby checks. Military families can obtain medical coverage for their child through the military prior to the finalization of an adoption. A child may be enrolled in Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, before an adoption is finalized; however, the child must be in the legal custody of the military member. The child’s “Sponsor,” as the military member is called, must add the child to his family coverage by making an application in person with the appropriate documentation. Such documentation would include an original or certified copy of a court order granting the military member guardianship of the child. Since adoptions can take months to finalize, a guardianship order is typically entered in such cases to name the prospective adoptive parents the child’s guardians pending finalization of the adoption.
Not only will a child in the home need medical care, but he will also need parents to provide care for him on a daily basis. Service members may be eligible for 21 days of non-chargeable adoption leave to care for a child being adopted. Adoption leave is authorized by federal law, specifically 10 U.S.C. 701.
Operation Stork Drop
Members of the military seeking to adopt should treat their efforts like a military operation requiring advance planning. Operational planning steps include:
1. Documenting fitness to parent by arranging for a home study conducted in the location of their residence at a current duty station.
2. Budgeting for the adoption with possible eligibility for reimbursement through the military of up to $2,000 per child taken into account.
3. Executing a special power of attorney allowing the non-deployed spouse to sign adoption paperwork in place of the absent military member.
4. Requesting that a guardianship order be obtained from the court immediately following placement to allow the child’s enrollment in DEERS.
5. Planning for child care which includes 21 days of adoption leave for one military member.
Service members taking these steps will not drop the ball on their adoption mission and will be more likely to enjoy a successful Operation Stork Drop.