All states but five permit independent adoption. The five that do not are: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and North Dakota (although they do offer a form of direct adoption via agencies which is close to independent adoption). Among the 45 states that do permit independent adoption, each state has different laws regarding how the home study must be done, when the birth parent signs their consent and how much time, if any, the birth parent thereafter to change their mind.
How do we select an attorney?
It is recommended to select an attorney who specialized in adoption. There is a national organization, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, which accepts only experienced attorneys as members, and has more than 300 members nationwide. Their website is www.adoptionattorneys.org.
Talk to your friends who have adopted and learn which attorney they used, and how they felt about his or her services.
Join a local infertility association, like Resolve, with chapters throughout the nation (Rresolve.org) and attend their meetings. Because most adoptive parent are infertile, you will often meet many people with experience in adoption.
Ask for materials from any attorney you are considering regarding fees and services. Make sure their fees are reasonable. Once you've compiled some attorneys' names, contact the state bar and make sure there are no disciplinary actions against them. Finally, set a consultation to ask questions and make sure the attorney seems knowledgeable and ethical.
Do we need a home study?
Yes. Most states require a home study before the child is placed with you, but some states do not require one until after the placement. Some states have a governmental office perform the home study, while others have private agencies do it.
A typical home study will involve one or more visits to your home to make sure it is an appropriate environment for a child, fingerprinting each adoptive parent to make sure there is no criminal history, a physical to make sure there are no health issues making the placement inadvisable, verification of marriage and employment, and letters of reference.
Contrary to common belief, usually there is no maximum age for adoptive parents in independent adoption, as the birth parent makes the sole determination of who the adoptive parents will be. Single adoptive parents are welcome, and owning your home is not required. The concern is simply to make sure there is nothing indicating the adoptive parents will not be inappropriate parents for the child.
How soon do we get the baby?
Although some agencies require foster care of the child initially, in independent adoption the child normally goes directly from the hospital to the adoptive parents. Some states require a court order, but most simply have the birth mother authorize release of the minor to the adoptive parents.
When and how does the birth mother give up her rights.
Every state is different. Normally, the consent can't be signed until after the baby's birth, and after the birth mother's discharge from the hospital. Some states require a social worker, attorney or notary to witness the form, while some make it a judicial process and it must be done in court. The revocation time also varies. Some states make the consent permanent and irrevocable immediately, while others give her a set time in which to revoke consent, such as 72 hours, or ten days.
This is a key legal issue and an example why selecting an experienced attorney is key. As a practical matter, few birth mothers elect to change their mind when the adoption was handled correctly and with sensitivity.
Do birth fathers have rights?
Yes, although they usually vary based upon his relationship with the birth mother. For example, when he is married to the birth mother, most states deem his rights equal to hers, and his consent is required. Most adoptions, however, involve non-marital fathers, often short-term relationships, or ex-boyfriends. As a practical matter, most of these men support adoption (often for fear of paying child support as the alternative, and also feeling adoption is best for the baby). Typically, these non-marital fathers can sign documents even before the birth waiving their rights and assenting to the adoption.
When a birth father can't be found, some states use what are called "registries," where he must list his name with the government to be entitled to notice, while other states require a specific search for him.
If a birth father objects, his rights vary by state, but usually the court will examine what is best for the child, and make a ruling accordingly.
What are the costs?
There are several basic areas of potential expenses. The home study will cost from $500 to $5,000, depending upon your state's requirements. Your attorney can direct you to the best and most affordable source. The birth mother may have expenses, and almost all states allow the adoptive parents to pay any pregnancy related fees, such as medical costs, counseling, and living costs such as food and rent. Some birth mothers have no expenses (due to living with their parents, having a job, or being on public assistance), while others need help. The attorney will make sure any expenses are lawful. The attorney's fees are usually several thousand dollars, but each state's laws will dictate how much work he or she must do.
There is a federal adoption tax credit of $13,460 (as of 2016). This is a dollar for dollar elimination of the adoptive parents' tax owed to offset lawful adoption expenses.
How do we find a birth mother?
In independent adoption, many adoptive parents find their birth mother through their adoption attorney. Typically, birth mothers are referred to the attorney, and then the birth mother will select adoptive parents from among those clients. In almost all cases she personally interviews them, names are exchanged without secrecy, and the determine if they are a good match.
Some adoptive parents find their birth mother on their own, either through concerted networking efforts, or simply by learning of someone facing an unplanned pregnancy via a friend.
Do we stay in contact with the birth parents after the birth?
Many birth mothers like to stay in touch after the adoption. Most consider it natural and healthy for her to want to make sure you are all still alive and doing well as the years, pass, even though her rights are terminated and she has no further legal rights. Adoptive parents should put themselves in a birth mother's place and ask themselves if they were giving up their child, would they want to stay informed.
A common adoption arrangement is for the adoptive parents to send the birth mother updating pictures and letters twice a year (often the child's birthday and Christmas) until the child reaches adulthood. Some adoptions are more open and involve occasional face-to-face contact. The key is that the adoption is arranged to the mutual satisfaction of both birth and adoptive parents. Adoptions are like marriages. They are all different.
Birth fathers rarely desire post-birth contact, as their role in the adoption is usually small to non-existent.
When and how is the adoption finalized?
Most states require a 6 month evaluation via your home study. When it is complete, the court can grant the adoption. The court hearing is just for the adoptive parents, the child and the attorney, not the birth parents. Usually, this is a casual and happy day, not formal to the degree of most court hearings. In fact, courts usually waive the "no cameras in court" rule and allow pictures during the hearing, and with the judge afterwards. At this point the adoption is final and the child is the lawful child of the adoptive parents.
Does the child get a new birth certificate?
Yes, when the adoption is completed in court, the state's vital records office will issue an amended birth certificate. The original birth certificate (naming the birth mother) is sealed, and the new one takes its place. It will name the adoptive parents as birth parents, as if they gave birth to the child themselves, and allows them to select the name they desire for the child, even if completely different from the name initially chosen by the birth mother.
Additional resources provided by the author
RAISING ADOPTED CHILDREN, by Lois Melina
DEAR BIRTHMOTHER, by Kathleen Silber and Phylis Speedlin
ADOPTING IN AMERICA: How To Adopt Within One Year, by Randall Hicks
ADOPTION: The Essential Guide to Adopting Quickly and Safely, by Randall Hicks
THE COMPLETE ADOPTION BOOK, by Laura and Raymond Godwin