Independent Adoption

Independent adoption is a type of adoption where adoptive parents and birth parents have more control over the adoption process. But it's not without risks and disadvantages since there's no adoption agency involved.

 

Definition of An Independent or Private Adoption

Independent adoption is the adoption placement of a child without the involvement of an adoption agency. Independent adoption is also called private or non-agency adoption.

In an independent adoption, birth parents can agree to give custody of the child and parental rights directly to the adoptive parents. An adoption services provider, such as a public or private agency, is not involved. This allows the birth parents to choose who adopts the child. The court then must approve the adoption.

Independent adoption is one of several types of domestic adoption. Domestic adoption is the adoption of a child from within the United States. The other types of domestic adoption are foster care and agency adoption.

Advantages of Independent Adoption

The main benefit of independent adoption is the close relationship between the adoptive and birth parents. It can make adoptive parents feel more confident about the adoption process. Adoptive parents that form good relationships with birth parents feel more secure that the adoption will not fall apart at the last minute. Unlike agency adoptions, the two sets of parents are free to meet and talk about the adoption and whether it should go through.

Speed can be a benefit of independent adoption. These adoptions can happen faster than those involving an agency. Independent adoptions often occur more quickly than going through agency adoption wait lists and wait times. In most situations, independent adoptions finish within a year.

Lower costs can also be a benefit. Independent adoption can be cheaper. You avoid agency fees which can range from $5,000 to $40,000.

Disadvantages of Independent Adoption

Independent adoption also has disadvantages. Many states have strict laws about them. For example, some states don't let adoptive parents advertise for a birth mother.

Some states only allow agency adoptions. Others limit direct adoptions to specific circumstances, such as adoption by a relative. If you live in one of these states, you will have to go with an agency-directed adoption in most cases.

Other states limit the amount of money that adoptive parents can provide to the expectant mother for her prenatal care and medical expenses.

Also, independent adoptions often lack counseling for birth parents and adoptive parents during the adoption. Unlike agency adoptions, birth mothers and adoptive parents in an independent adoption generally do not get adequate (if any) counseling during the adoption process. Some state adoption laws establish how much counseling birth parents must receive before they decide whether to go through with the adoption. If the birth parents do not get the required amount of counseling before the adoption takes place, the adoption may become legally vulnerable.

Other states extend the time in which birth parents can revoke an adoption after a direct adoption has gone through. For example, a birth mother may have ten days to revoke an agency adoption and 30 days to revoke an independent adoption.

Lastly, keep in mind that although many adoptions without an agency are successful, they are a lot of work. Many prospective adoptive families devote countless hours and funds to finding the right birth family. Also, you will probably have to hire an attorney to handle the adoption paperwork, incurring legal fees and adding to the costs.

Independent Adoption Process

There are several steps in an independent adoption:

  1. Education/Pre-Certification: You must undergo pre-adoption certification classes with a state-licensed professional. Most state laws require pre-adoption training.
  2. Home Study: You must get an approved home study from a social worker. The home study reviews your suitability for adoption and your home for safety. The home study examines your income and mental and physical health. It also involves background checks for criminal history. The home study is a legal requirement for every adoption, regardless of the type of adoption.
  3. Search for Birth Parents: Once the home study is complete, you can start looking for a birth mother if one is not already identified. Advertising laws for adoption vary from state to state, so check your current state laws before you begin.
  4. Establish a Relationship With the Birth Parents: Once achieving a potential adoption match with the birth parents, the parties meet to make sure that both parties are comfortable with the adoption plan.
  5. Legal Paperwork: After the parties agree to the adoption, hire an adoption attorney. The attorney will provide legal advice on state adoption laws. The adoption attorney will handle payments to the birth mother, including those related to the child's birth. The attorney will also prepare the legal documents needed for the adoption, including the adoption petition. The adoption attorney will also represent the adoptive family in court.
  6. Pregnancy and Birth: Depending on the agreement, you might support the birth mother in various ways. Most state adoption laws allow adoptive parents to pay the expectant mother's medical and legal expenses. After the baby is born, the birth parents will have to formally consent to the adoption. The time allowed for the birth parents to revoke the adoption varies from state to state. For example, Pennsylvania allows birth fathers and birth mothers to revoke consent within 30 days of the child's birth. Some states have a shorter revocation period. Some states do not allow revocation unless there are special circumstances.
  7. Post-Placement Supervision: After the adopted child is placed with you, a social worker makes a series of visits to make sure the child is doing well.
  8. Finalize the Adoption: Once the supervision period is complete, you can finalize the adoption. This legal process usually involves a hearing, after which the judge issues a final decree of adoption. The adoption is then legally complete, and you can apply for a new birth certificate for your child.

Independent Adoption: Costs

Every adoption is unique. An independent adoption can cost $15,000 to $40,000, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

The estimate includes a range of possible expenditures. First, in most situations, the adoptive parents will spend money to find birth parents interested in placing their child for adoption. Many adoptive parents hire a "media specialist" to help them connect with prospective adoptive birth mothers.

Expenses could also include costs for the mother's care. Most state laws allow adoptive parents to pay medical expenses, counseling costs, and fees for legal work related to the adoption. Some states also allow costs to cover the mother's living expenses during pregnancy, including food, housing, and transportation.

Every state has laws that allow adoptive parents to pay "reasonable" costs related to the adoption process. These laws define what types of expenses adoptive parents can pay (either with or without an agency). You must be sure that any money you pay to the birth parents falls under these laws. If you do not, it may appear that you are buying a baby, which is illegal in all states.

Costs will also include fees for the legal documents that need to be drawn up and for court hearings.

You should keep track of your adoption costs. For an independent adoption to be finalized by a judge, some states require that the adoptive parents provide an itemized account of all money given to or paid on behalf of the birth mother. You need to be aware of what is allowed by your state's laws, or you might jeopardize the entire adoption process.

Open Adoptions

Open adoptions generally use an agency and occur when the adoptive parents meet and get to know the birth parents of the child.

There is no standard way for an open adoption to be organized; it is up to both sets of parents to come to an agreeable solution. Some adoptive parents like to only meet with the birth parents once before the child arrives. Other adoptive parents like to spend time with the birth parents, even showing up for doctor's visits to see the sonograms.

Additionally, some open adoption agreements allow birth parents to visit every weekend for a few hours. Others only allow contact on holidays and birthdays. It is important to keep in mind that although these visitation agreements will often wind up in the legal adoption papers, the birth parents do not have much recourse if the adoptive parents disallow an agreed-upon visitation. Some states enforce open adoption agreements, and some do not. In fact, some states specifically say the agreements are non-binding and unenforceable.

Open adoptions have many advantages. Open adoption can reduce stress. The adoptive parents can get to know and trust the birth parents. The birth parents can regularly check on the child. The child can benefit because the adoptee grows up knowing about his or her history and doesn't have unanswered questions.

An open adoption is different from a closed adoption. The biological parents and adoptive parents do not meet or have any contact in a closed adoption.

Get Professional Legal Help With Your Independent Adoption

Deciding between an independent and agency adoption can be a very difficult choice. There are advantages and disadvantages to be considered with each route, depending on your particular situation. If you are starting the adoption process, you should seek legal counsel from an adoption law attorney in your area experienced with adoption proceedings.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • It is a good idea to have an attorney for complex adoptions
  • An attorney can ensure you meet all legal requirements and that your adoption is finalized appropriately
  • An attorney can help protect the best interests of adoptive children, adoptive families, and birth parents
  • For simple adoptions, you may be able to do the paperwork on your own or by using an agency

Get tailored advice at any point in the adoption process. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Adopting a child is an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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