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Adoption Fraud Issues

Posted by attorney Brian Lerner

As in all immigrant visa cases, consular officers adjudicating adoption petitions must exercise due diligence, carefully scrutinizing the statements made to them and the documents presented to them.

Officers will be well versed in the host country’s adoption, custody and guardianship laws and procedures, and should rely on competent local authorities to make responsible decisions about the facts surrounding child custody decisions and final adoptions, not second guessing whether such authorities are correctly implementing their own laws or regulations.

At the same time, officers must keep in mind that terms used by such local authorities (such as "abandonment") may not always be equivalent to definitions for such terms in U.S. immigration law. In all cases, the requirements of U.S. immigration law must be met.

Many internationally adopted children come from countries where record keeping may be unreliable. Birth, marriage and death certificates as well as other civil documents may be easily forged or altered or real documents may be fraudulently obtained. Civil registrars and other officials may sometimes accept payment to alter such records in order to facilitate an adoption. Posts should develop good working relationships with the key local officials responsible for maintaining civil records as well as those with the authority to accept birth parent relinquishment statements. The reciprocity schedules for each country provide information on the availability and reliability of civil documents in that country.

Some posts have encountered cases in which impostors presented themselves to local officials as the children’s birth parents in order to relinquish "their" parental rights. In addition, U.S. citizens may seek to adopt children from countries that have recently gone through civil wars or other strife. In such situations, children may have been separated from their birth parents, sent to live with relatives, or even placed in orphanages for temporary care until the birth parents could return for them. The Department is aware of cases in which unscrupulous individuals have attempted to take advantage of such circumstances by presenting as orphan’s children whose parents whereabouts are simply unknown. Posts in countries coming out of wars or other unrest should be particularly alert to such scenarios.There should be documentary proof of the various claims.

Adoption facilitators or orphanage personnel may sometimes offer to U.S. prospective adoptive parents a child who is not in fact the child whose documentation is being presented in support of the case. Consular staffs should remain alert for cases in which a child’s stated date of birth does not seem to correspond to the age of the child physically present in front of them. In other scenarios, photographs of the same child may show up in multiple cases although the actual children being taken out of the country of origin are different. This latter type of fraud is especially difficult to detect since many babies may look similar and the consular facial recognition program may not detect the difference.

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