Many adoptions are really straightforward and don’t require an attorney. That said, there are definitely situations where you don’t want to go it alone. It’s important to work with an experienced adoption attorney under certain circumstances because the integrity of the adoption may be at risk.
You should work with an attorney if any one or more of the following applies to your situation.
Work with an experienced attorney if you want to hand a stressful process over to someone else who knows what he or she is doing.
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.
Work with an attorney if the adopting parents and the expectant mother live in different states.
The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) applies in any adoption when a baby is going to cross state lines. How long an adoptive family stays in the state of birth after the birth is entirely dependent on how quickly ICPC clears them to leave the state. Travel and lodging can be a very expensive aspect of an interstate adoption. An experienced adoption attorney should be able to get clearance within 3 to 5 business days after the birth mother has signed her consent paperwork.
The adoptive parents can’t leave the state where the baby was born until they comply with ICPC and the ICPC offices in the sending and the receiving state has cleared the adoptive parents to come home. Clearing ICPC requires submitting several documents (in California this packet can be nearly 50 pages), including affidavits made by attorneys from each state that the state laws have been complied with. Submitting an incomplete packet will delay clearance, leaving the adoptive parents in limbo. Work with an experienced attorney to avoid the stress, delay, and cost of complying with ICPC.
Work with an attorney if the expectant mother, birth father, or child is eligible for membership in a federally recognized Native American tribe.
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).
Work with an attorney if the expectant mother needs assistance with her expenses.
Some expectant mothers need help covering expenses. Each state has different laws about what expenses can be covered, who can distribute the funds, and whether the funds must be paid directly to the provider. Failing to follow the laws regarding expectant mother expenses can potentially result in criminal liability. An experienced adoption attorney will know what expenses are permitted, how they can be disbursed, and who can disburse them.
Work with an attorney if the birth parents ask for an attorney.
Many states require separate legal representation for the birth parents. Given the significant rights a birth parent is giving up to their child, having an attorney advise them and protect their interests is in everyone’s interest.