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Thursday, August 11, 2011

How To Choose An Adoption Attorney

No matter where you are in the adoption process, whether you have just started your Home Study or have already connected with a Birthparent, choosing an attorney to help you through the process is one of the most important choices you will have to make. I have worked in adoptions for over nine years and I want to stress to you that choosing an attorney that specializes in adoptions or has significant adoption experience is highly important. Although as an agency we do a lot of the legal work ourselves with our own attorney, we also conduct Home Studies for couples who are doing independent adoptions, meaning they are going through an attorney rather than an agency. Most of the mix-ups and botched adoptions we see are typically associated with attorneys that do not practice adoption law or who know very little about adoption law.

When choosing an attorney to use in an independent adoption, I always recommend choosing one that is a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (also known as AAAA or Quad A Attorneys). Adoption law is typically state specific except for a few federal laws, so you want an adoption attorney that is well versed in the adoption laws of your state. Things get even more complicated if Birthparents live in one state and the adoptive family lives in another. This is called an interstate adoption. Not only are you dealing with the laws in each state, but you are also dealing with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, a Federal law that regulates children being placed for adoption in a different state than where they were born. The adoption disruptions that we see played out in the media typically happen because something was not done legally the way it was supposed to be done. For this reason it is imperative that you use an attorney that knows the adoption laws for your state.

I teach monthly adoption seminars, which include a section on adoption law. During this session I always share the example of how both the lawyer and judge in a rural county in my state did not do things correctly, which ended in an adoption disruption. In this case the adoption was finalized in Juvenile Court, which cannot happen in my state as adoptions are finalized in Chancery or Fourth Circuit Court. But, even worse, the Birthmother never signed a Surrender to surrender her parental rights. You cannot finalize an adoption if one or both of the Birthparents still have parental rights to the child. Since her parental rights were still in place, when she went to the court five years later the adoption was overturned and her daughter was returned to her

The purpose of sharing this story is not to scare prospective adoptive parents. I share it to educate them and to reinforce the importance of using an attorney who just practices adoption law or one who has done adoptions in their practice for at least five years. By doing adoptions for five years I don't mean two or three adoptions over the past five years. I mean someone who does them on a regular basis. Even if you know a lawyer who is a good friend or one who is doing the adoption just to help you, if they do not know adoption law they could end up hurting the adoption in the end.

Even if there is not a AAAA Attorney in your area, you should contact the AAAA Attorney that practices closest to you. They might travel to you or they could recommend someone in your area that knows adoption law. For instance, the AAAA Attorney that my agency uses along with most other agencies and adoptive families in the area has a list of attorneys that she contacts for adoptions in counties that are about two hours or more from her. If she is not busy, she will travel, but because she has such a good reputation she usually stays busy and she often refers families who live further away to other attorneys. She also will tell you which attorney to not use if she knows an attorney who has repeatedly done adoptions not according to the law, which is important information for adoptive families to have.

If you are beginning to search for an attorney to help with your adoption, the first thing you should do is to see if there is a AAAA Attorney in your area. You should always check their credentials and talk to families who have used them. It is also good to talk with other adoptive parents to see which attorneys they used and to find out if they had positive or negative experiences. The way an attorney handles or mishandles an adoption can literally make or break it. This is not a chance that you want to take when it comes to your family. You need to choose an attorney that will follow adoption law correctly and one that will make sure that the needs of everyone involved in the adoption process are met.

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