Independent adoption is arranged without an agency. Initial
contacts are made directly between the pregnant woman and the adoptive
parents or by the pregnant woman and an attorney, depending on State
law. Independent adoption is legal in all States except Connecticut,
Delaware, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. In these States, however,
"parties are able to achieve what is, in spirit, an independent
adoption: the adoptive parents and birthparents identify each other
without intervention by an agency and then arrange for the parental
rights to be relinquished through an agency so that the adoption
becomes a 'directed agency adoption'." 2
Locating a Birthmother
To initiate an independent adoption, a prospective adoptive parent
must first locate a birthmother interested in relinquishing her child.
This can be done in several ways. The thirty-four States that allow
adoption advertising are listed in the table on the next page. Ads
placed in the classified section of local newspapers have proved to be
a successful method for bringing birthparents and adoptive parents
together. (Not all States allow advertising for birthparents; in fact,
some States have passed laws prohibiting advertising.) An adoption
attorney can usually advise you on where and how to advertise, or for
a fee, you can use a national or regional adoption advertising
Another way to locate a birthmother is to contact crisis pregnancy
centers, obstetricians, school guidance counselors, and friends and
colleagues who could lead you to the right person. Typically, you
would send them an introductory letter, a photo, and a resume
describing your family life, home, jobs, hobbies, and interests.
Two positive aspects of independent adoption include the usually
shorter time required to locate a child than in agency adoption and
the acceptance criteria being those of the birthparents themselves
rather than those of agencies, which can sometimes be arbitrary or
rigid. The risks, however, are somewhat greater. One fear is the fear
of having a birthparent contest the validity of an adoption and suing
to regain custody after the adoption has been finalized (the
circumstances in the "Baby Richard" case). This possibility has sent
some prospective adoptive parents to other countries for their
children. They would rather not take a legal risk on a domestic
adoption, preferring instead to adopt foreign children who previously
lived in an institution, even if they may have fairly serious health,
developmental, or learning problems.
A second fear of potential adoptive parents is the birthparents
deciding to parent rather than to place their child, within the
timeframe allowed by law. This is different
from contesting a finalized adoption. Because adoptive parents may
have more interaction with the birth family in an independent adoption
than in an agency adoption, they may have made a substantial emotional
and financial investment in an adoption that never takes place.
Birthparents who considered an agency adoption also may decide to
parent their child. Because adoptive parents likely have not had
direct contact with the birthparents or the child, their shock may not
be as intense. If there has been extensive contact with the birth
family and the child, a "fall through," while legal, can be
emotionally, not to mention financially, devastating.
STATES PERMITTING ADVERTISING:
STATES THAT DO NOT ALLOW ADVERTISING BY NON-LICENSED PERSONS:
In addition, if it happens after extended treatment for
infertility, with its attendant disappointments and expenses, the
intensity of a fall through is doubled.
Attorney-led adoptions do not necessarily prepare adoptive parents
or birthparents for the feelings that accompany the adoption process
or the lifelong issues associated with it. Some States do not require
counseling or adoptive home studies before a child is placed through
an independent adoption. Adoptive parents may consider this a positive
aspect of the process because they would save on the cost of the home
study or the birthparents' counseling. But it can become a negative
aspect if they receive conflicting advice from friends or relatives on
different questions that come up rather than solid advice from an
experienced professional counselor. An adoption attorney knows the
legal issues but not necessarily the psychological ones.
The costs for an independent adoption can be unpredictable and
depend on what the law allows in your State or the State from which
you will be adopting. In some States, adoptive parents are allowed to
pay for a birthmother's reasonable living, medical, and legal
expenses. All of these together could run into thousands of dollars,
particularly if the birthmother does not have health insurance or is
not covered by Medicaid and has complications with the pregnancy,
labor, or delivery.
One way to minimize the financial risks in an independent adoption
is to decide ahead of time how much you think you can afford to spend
on an adoption. Consider purchasing adoption insurance. Perhaps you
will decide only to work with a birthmother who has health insurance
or is covered by Medicaid, or to adopt in a State in which adoptive
parents are not allowed to pay living expenses.
Legal Issues in Independent Adoptions
How do you handle legal questions that come up in the course of an
independent adoption? You need an experienced adoption attorney to
answer your questions and address other concerns. You should get
recommendations of attorneys from friends, relatives, and adoptive
parent support groups and also see if the local Bar Association or the
Better Business Bureau has ever received complaints about a specific
attorney. The following questions should be asked at your first
meeting with the attorney.
- How many adoptions have you been involved in?
- How long have you been working in the adoption field?
- With which types of adoptions do you have experience
- What are your fees?
- Do you have references from former clients whom I can talk to?
- Do you work with an experienced adoption counselor, or can you
recommend one to guide us and the birthparents through the
psychological aspects of this process?
You also might want to discuss some of the following concerns with
Does the attorney think that birthparents should have counseling
before the birth and placement of the child, and that it is okay for
adoptive parents to cover this expense? Even if counseling for
birthparents is not required in your State, we recommend that you
suggest it and offer to pay for it. In most of the contested
controversial cases, preplacement counseling did not occur.
This is an important issue. The discussion should include the
frequency of contact, the kind of contact (for example, face-to-face,
correspondence, or telephone), limits surrounding that contact, and
access to medical information that may only become known in the
Separate Legal Representation for the Birthparents
Even if it is not required in your State, we recommend that
separate legal representation be provided to the birthparents, not
representation by your attorney. If the birthmother and birthfather
are no longer together as a couple, they can each have an attorney to
represent their best interests. Although this may cost more, it is the
ethical thing to do and may prevent much heartache farther along in
the adoption process. If an attorney recommends otherwise, you may
want to reconsider using that attorney.
Benefits of a Putative Father Registry
You may decide to adopt only in a State that has a putative father
registry. (You can check State statutes regarding the rights of
putative fathers in various States online at
Otherwise, if the birthfather is not actively participating in the
adoption plan, is unidentified, and is not willing to take a paternity
test or if the birthmother is not able or willing to name a
birthfather, you and your attorney will have to evaluate such
circumstances very carefully. These are the kinds of situations that
involve the most risk.
Overall, fewer than 1 percent of adoptions are contested. Thousands
of adoptions are completed successfully every year. Headlines
notwithstanding, with good adoption practice you can minimize the
risks of a contested independent adoption.
resource: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse