Let me start by saying that you do have the option of working with an adoption agency or directly with an adoption attorney. Because I work in social services, I value the added benefit of an adoption agency in that they are usually offer more social services to both the adoptive family and most importantly the birth mom. There are some that say they have found an adoption attorney to be great without the use of an agency, but since that is not my experience I cannot speak to that further. For my husband and I, when we interviewed a large adoption attorney network, we didn’t like the language they were using and felt more comfortable choosing an adoption agency. The attorney group said, “We are pro adoptive family, ” which left us feeling like there was a risk of them talking a birth mom into placing when she didn’t want to, or that they might not treat the birth mom with the love and respect she deserves. It felt too much like a business and not enough like it was actually about the families and the children…both the birth family and the adoptive family. This is our experience and yours may be different so don’t feel like anything I say in my blog series is the be all end all and right for everyone. Even if you work with an agency the legal side of the adoption will be handled by a lawyer and you want to make sure that lawyer is experienced.
Our saving grace in our son’s adoption was the law office we had. They were so helpful to both us and the birth mom. She knew she could call the paralegal when she had a question or need. We in turn knew that we could depend on the staff to give us sound advice. They handled the birth mom expenses that we paid to our son’s birth mom. They knew what was legal, and they helped us in every way. There were some complicated details in our son’s birth family’s case and they were sure to leave no stone unturned. This was the exact opposite result we received from our so-called agency. If you do not have a good lawyer as part of the adoption process down the road it could make it more complicated for both the birth family and the adoptive family. You want to make sure that the law office has terminated parental rights correctly for both the birth mother and father. You want to make sure that they have filed your temporary custody paperwork, filed for an amended birth certificate for you after finalization, requested the medical records from the hospital, are respected in the courts, and familiar with the adoption process. They should also be able to accommodate the needs of your birth family and you as the adoptive family. The final piece is that you want to make sure if you are dealing with an out of state birth mom is that they know how to work with the Interstate Compact Offices (ICPC) in your state and the birth mom’s state of childbirth. Otherwise, you could end up with a prolonged stay in the state of birth. This adds to your travel costs and prolongs your ability to get home and start real life. In most cases an attorney can determine whether or not it is in everyone’ s best interest to finalize the adoption in the birth mom’s state of residency (or where she gave birth if different) or in your home state. You are usually able to finalize in either state. There are couple of states where you must finalize there if the baby was born in that state.
Some agencies, like the one we are working with now, have a network of lawyers that they work with so the adoptive family does not have to find one on their own. That is ideal. If you have to choose your own attorney, compare a few. Look to the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (AAAA) for some decent choices. Not everyone will be excellent in the Academy, but you are much better off than blindly choosing an attorney. We interviewed 3 different adoption attorneys and asked for itemized fee schedules so we could compare. It turned out that we chose the cheapest one who also sounded the most knowledgeable. We could not be happier with that choice! Little did we know at the time that choosing that attorney would be the saving grace in our adoption.
You might be wondering…
What is the agency responsible for and what is the attorney supposed to take care of? This can vary greatly and largely depends on who is taking temporary custody of the baby until finalization of the adoption. Your family will have temporary physical custody, but until the adoption is finalized once rights of the birth family are terminated either the agency or the attorney’s office take legal custody of the baby. You will be able to use the temporary physical custody paperwork you receive from the court to take the baby for medical appointments and show that you are legally allowed to have the child in your care. It would be helpful for you to ask your agency what they will be handling and what the attorney will do. This may depend on where the birth mom of the baby lives.
How do I know if I need to find my own attorney or if my agency has an attorney or attorney network?
You can certainly ask this question when you are interviewing agencies. In our first adoption, we had the choice to pay a higher price for a legal package or to find our own attorney. We saved about $3,500 by finding our own attorney so we chose to find our own. We didn’t know exactly how much we would save at the time, but knew from the advisement of an attorney we knew that we could likely get the services for less. This time around we have those services provided through our agency’s network of attorneys. We are happy not to have to interview and find our own attorney and are glad for having less work to do. Ironically, we know more what we are doing this time around, but we also have less time because we are already parenting. We trust the expertise of the agency we chose and that is one reason we chose them: we needed one stop shopping. No headaches, they do the work for us.
Some more questions to ask the agency or attorneys you are interviewing:
1) How many placement have you made in the last three years?
2)Who will I be working with during our adoption process?
3)who are your top competitors?
4)What is your disruption rate?
5)How do you advertise? Or what forms of advertising do you use?
6)How many waiting families do you currently have? Do you have a limit?
7) How long has your longest waiting family been waiting and why do you think that is?