Archive for the 'Birth Fathers' Category

Do Father Registries Help or Hurt Unmarried Fathers?

The Atlantic did a thought-provoking piece on Putative Father Registries this week that really highlights the difficulties that face unmarried dads who want to parent their children when the mother wants to choose adoption.

Putative Father Registries (also called “Responsible Father Registries” in some places) are systems that many states have created to solve a common problem in adoption: How do we address the rights of fathers we can’t find? Whether the dad is purposely making himself scarce or has just neglected to keep current with the mom, I think we can all agree that simply not allowing the child to be adopted is not a good solution. Further, allowing the birth dad to enter the scene and object after the adoption is final would be horrible for everyone. Many states allow a birth mother to publish a notice in the newspaper if she has tried hard to find the father and can’t, but this has the double drawback of (1) making private matters public and (2) giving very little hope that the father will actually see the notice. So, some states created registries where any man who has had sex with a woman can register himself as a potential dad. By doing so, he secures his right to be notified of any adoption proceeding involving his child.

One problem with Putative Father Registries is that in many places, no one knows that they exist. I was proud to see my home state of Virginia noted as an exception – our PFR has a great public outreach campaign. But, wait – South Carolina, which was cited as having lousy publicity for its PFR, had 259 men register as fathers last year. Virginia, even with slightly higher number of out-of-wedlock births, had only 111 registries. So, more publicity doesn’t necessarily mean more registrations. However, without publicity, there will never be any registrations, so getting the word out about Putative Father Registries needs to be a high priority in every state.

There is a great unfairness in the fact that unmarried mothers automatically have parental rights over their children, while fathers have to vigorously and quickly pursue those rights. I don’t know how to solve this problem, since it’s really a problem of biology: A mother is easy to identify and find, because she’s the one who gives birth to the child. I think putative father registries, properly done, are a good start to solving this unfairness.

I had a lot of problems with the Atlantic article. I don’t agree with the author that “In fact, registries were primarily designed to protect adoptive couples.” Legislative history shows that the registries were designed to protect children from adoption disruption, which is extremely traumatic, and to make it reasonably possible for birth fathers to protect their rights. The issue of father’s rights is complicated, and painting legislators as being out to get fathers is not helpful. The author laments the lack of publicity of Putative Father Registries, but ignores the fact that publicity doesn’t seem to lead to more fathers registering. He also lost some credibility with me by confusing state supreme courts with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Still, there are lessons in this story for all parties to an adoption.

Birth mothers, when you’re making an adoption plan, bear in mind that it’s extremely important to be honest about who the baby’s father is and to include him in the adoption planning process. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it can save the baby from serious trauma down the road, when she could be removed from an adoptive family she has bonded with and returned to her dad.

Birth fathers, know that your rights are fragile and that you have to protect those rights. Look up whether your state has a Putative Father Registry. If not, find out what you have to do to protect your right to parent your child.
Many lawyers will give you an initial consultation for free or for a modest fee. Make sure you choose a lawyer who specializes in adoption!

Adoptive families, when you hire an adoption attorney or agency, insist upon knowing how they handle birth fathers’ rights. A reputable professional will have a policy of showing respect to both parents, not trying to hide from, avoid, or trick anyone.

Adoption professionals, respecting all parties to your adoptions isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the only way to save all the parties, most importantly the child, from needless heartbreak. Unless you want to have a reputation for heartbreak, develop a reputation for integrity. Involve the birth father as early in the process as possible. If he wants to raise his child, then what you have is not a potential adoptive placement – end of story.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

An Opportunity for Virginia to Celebrate Adoption

No matter how you lean politically, it must be admitted that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell loves adoption. Back in May he launched a his “Virginia Adopts: Campaign for 1,000″ initiative, which aimed to find adoptive homes for 1,000 children in foster care. In July, he added a social media campaign called #100Kids100Days, where each day for 100 days the administration shares the photo and story of one child who is in foster care in Virginia awaiting adoption.

Encouraged by the success of these initiatives, today Governor McDonnell launched a new social media effort with the purpose of increasing support for adoption in Virginia. The new campaign, which is called #IHeartAdoption, invites Virginia families who support adoption to tell the world about how adoption has touched their lives.

Any Virginian can participate in the campaign by printing out this template and writing in why you love adoption. The official website isn’t completely clear, but it sounds like you’re then supposed to take a photo of yourself holding the printout and email it to You can also post your photo on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #IHeartAdoption. Before sumbitting it, understand that all submissions could be included on the Virginia Adopts website, Facebook, Twitter or other promotional material. They plan to get the word out widely about how much adoption rocks!

I especially love that the campaign doesn’t limit participation to adoptive families. Any Virginian can share why they love adoption, including birth parents, adoptees, siblings of adoptees — anyone. I hope that this will send birth parents the message that Virginia supports the heartwrenchingly hard decisions they have made. I hope this will send adoptees the message that Virginia supports and cherishes them. I hope this will send foster children the message that Virginia has not given up on finding permanent homes for them. I hope this will send everyone the message that adoption is all about love!

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

A Support Resource for Anyone in an Open Adoption

I just learned about Open Adoption Support, a lovely support community for any person involved in an open adoption – adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees alike. Adoptive mother Dawn Friedman has created a safe, ad-free space for members of the “adoption triad” to talk about the issues, challenges, joys, and questions that arise in open adoption. What most attracted me to their site initially was their list of beliefs:

    Our Beliefs
  • We honor the connection adoptees have to both of their families.
  • We recognize the love and joy as well as the losses and grief of adoption.
  • We do not diminish one family in favor of another.
  • We are flexible, understanding that needs and circumstances change.
  • We set boundaries on the basis of what is best for our children.
  • We understand that open adoption looks like different things for different families.

    I think this list should be posted on the wall in every home that has been touched in any way by open adoption. What do you think? Is there anything you would add to this list?

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

  • A Great Resource for Adoption Questions

    I bet that when you hear the words “U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” you don’t immediately think, “WOW, I can’t wait to go to their website!” But if you are a prospective adoptive parent or are thinking about placing your baby for adoption, you should! While it may not sound exciting, DHHS has a great website where you can search for adoption laws by state. There’s no more convenient way that I know of for the general public to learn about their local adoption laws, and it’s completely free. Check them out here.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Adoption, Glee Style

    I know I must have some dedicated Glee watchers among my readers. While I admit I haven’t followed the show, I happened to catch one episode while I was on the treadmill at the gym last week. And what an episode it was! While I was sweating away, a captive audience pointed at the TV for thirty minutes, I was completely horrified by the portrayal of adoption on the show.

    For those who, like me, have not been in the loop, two of the main characters, Quinn and Puck, are teenage parents who decided to place their baby for adoption. To make things a bit complicated, the adoptive mother, Shelby, also happens to be the birth mother of another teen character, Rachael. Shelby placed Rachael for adoption when Rachael was a newborn. Shelby is trying to forge a relationship with Rachael, and is also parenting Quinn and Puck’s baby through adoption. Got that? Okay, let the games begin.

    First of all, the reunion between Rachael and Shelby is super-simplified and glamorized to high heaven. While Rachael is initially skeptical about the sudden and uninvited reappearance of her birth mother in her life, this resistance quickly dissolves in a scene where Shelby advises Rachael to believe in herself and attempt to sing the difficult song “There’s a Place for Us.” The two then sing the song as a powerful duet, ending with them holding hands and gazing at each other, belting out “we’ll find a new way of living,/we’ll find a way of forgiving.” Powerful music, indeed. It also bugged me that Shelby used the phrase “gave you up” to refer to the decision to place her for adoption.

    Quinn and Puck’s adoption dynamics is no less troubling. While the legalities are not explored for obvious reasons (we adoption lawyers don’t make for good television the way that criminal lawyers and trial lawyers do), it appears disturbingly as if Quinn and Puck have simply handed their baby over to Shelby with no formalities whatsoever. It’s also troubling that Shelby speaks very harshly and disrespectfully to Quinn, her baby’s birth mother. At the end of the episode, Quinn and Puck agree that they are going to “fight” Shelby for custody of the baby. Granted, since the show completely left out the legal aspects, we don’t know whether the adoption is final at this point or not. But the show did leave the strong impression that birth parents in finalized adoptions can fight adoptive parents for custody simply because they have changed their minds and cleaned up their acts. Not true in any state, except apparently the magical state of Glee.

    I’ve talked to several adoptive parents who are annoyed at the unrealistic portrayal of adoption on Glee, although several have also told me that such shows make a good starting point for talking with their children about adoption. Simply asking “what do you think about how they showed adoption on this show?” or “do you think that could happen in the real world?” can start a great discussion with older children. If kids don’t want to talk about it, just letting them know you’re there for them and making their life book or other adoption books available for them to look at is another way to deal with questions the show may raise.

    It’s fairly easy to explain to kids that there are laws to prevent their birth parents to simply come and take them away by “fighting” for them, as Quinn wants to do. To me, the portrayal of birth mother reunions raises the harder issues. It’s normal and natural for kids to fantasize about their birth parents, and reunions can be a wonderfully positive thing. However, no reunion is as glamorous or as simple as Rachael and Shelby’s.

    What did you think of the portrayal of adoption on Glee? Did it raise hard questions or start good discussions in your house?

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Social Media: A Game-Changer for Adoption

    This month’s issue of Parenting magazine includes an article about a couple who found a child to adopt by putting the word out among their friends on Facebook. Lisa Belkin recently wrote an article for the New York Times about the joys and dangers of birth parents and adoptees finding each other through social media sites. There’s no doubt about it: Social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, as well as the profusion of search sites like MyLife, have been a real game-changer for the adoption community.

    Adoptive parents today are able to get the word out much faster to a much larger number of people about their wish to adopt a child by posting to social media sites and asking their friends to re-post. There are even social media sites dedicated solely to adoption. Birth mothers could also use this method to find an adoptive family, although for a variety of reasons many birth mothers feel more private about their decisions. The elimination of the need for agencies or facilitators (both of which can be expensive and not always honest) to match up families could be a wonderful development, giving all parties more choice at lower cost.

    For adoptees seeking to find their birth parents (or vice versa) the Internet is also an amazing tool. It’s easier than ever before to find a person’s contact information. This aspect of social and search media is more of a mixed blessing. It can be a wonderful thing to eliminate the gatekeepers that so often serve to keep adoptees from knowing more about their histories. However, it can also be scary for people (be they adoptees or birth parents) who don’t wish to be found. I have heard stories about children as young as 13 being contacted online by birth parents without the adoptive parents’ knowledge, which is very disturbing.

    What do you think? Do any of my readers have stories about social media and the Internet affecting their adoption stories?

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Adoption Nation: New Edition

    I was excited to learn that there is an updated, 10th anniversary edition of Adam Pertman’s influential book Adoption Nation now available. The book, which is based on a Pulitzer Prize-nominated series Pertman wrote on adoption for The Boston Globe explores the issues surrounding adoption and how it has changed our families and our society. Given how much has happened in the world of adoption in ten years (increase in open adoption, decrease in international adoption, the increasing focus on gay and lesbian family issues in the news, and a number of adoption and foster-care scandals, to name a few), the updated version is timely and important. As Pertman himself writes on his website, “I believe that understanding our ‘Adoption Nation,’ so that we can shape a more humane, more ethical and more ‘normalized’ institution, one that truly serves the needs of children and all their families, is more important than ever.”

    Hear, hear. A fascinating book that I highly recommend to anyone with any interest in adoption topics.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Choose Your Adoption Agency with Care

    Last month, the state of Iowa moved to revoke the license of adoption agency Abby’s One True Gift, citing multiple, serious violations of the adoption law. Examples of the alleged violations include:

    · Pressuring adoptive parents into making quick decisions

    · Encouraging adoptive parents to pay expenses for the birth mother that are not allowed under the adoption laws

    · Failing to provide counseling to birth parents

    · Withholding information that would allow adoptive parents to make informed choices.

    As someone who knows several families who have used Abby’s One True Gift, I had heard a few troubling stories about adoptive parents being pressured to pay quickly and make quick decisions, but I was truly saddened to read the extent of these allegations. If true, these allegations paint a picture of an agency that has seriously abused its duty to birth parents, adoptive parents, and children.

    It’s sad that we can’t simply trust all agencies to do the right thing, but it’s essential that both birth parents and adoptive parents be proactive in researching and choosing a reputable agency that treats all parties with integrity. The following tips are for both adoptive parents and birth parents.

    Do your research. It’s a sad thing to say, because most people go to an agency in order to reduce the stress and work they put into the adoption process, but it is not a good idea to put all your trust in the agency. Do some research before you go to visit agencies, including what expenses are permitted to be paid to the birth mother in your state, what your rights are as an adoptive or birth parent, etc.

    Ask questions. At your first meeting with the agency, ask questions – and lots of them. What expenses do adoptive parents pay for birth mothers (ask this even if you already know the answer under the law)? Does the birth mother receive counseling? Is the birth mother represented by an independent attorney? Do the adoptive parents receive counseling? Do the adoptive parents pay more if a placement doesn’t work out? What information can the prospective adoptive parents find out about the child and the birth parents? These and many more questions will help you get a feel for the agency’s practices.

    Ask around. Get references from sources other than the agency itself. While the agency is sure to provide you with a list of references that it knows will give glowing reports, your local adoption support group, crisis pregnancy center, or other independent organization can get you in touch with unbiased people who have used the agency before. Call and ask how their experience was, including what they liked and disliked about the agency.

    Pay attention to how you feel. As either a prospective adoptive parent or a birth parent, if you feel pressured, it’s time to leave and find another agency. Tactics such as telling an adoptive parent that they have to pay immediately or they will lose their placement, pressuring a birth parent to sign forms they haven’t read, or telling any party they have to give up something important (counseling, more time to think, more money than is legally required, etc.) in order to prevent the placement for falling through are unfortunately not uncommon. Adoption is stressful enough – if you feel that the agency is making it worse, don’t hesitate to go elsewhere.

    Note that if you decide on private adoption, these tips apply to choosing an attorney as well. Check out this post for adoptive parents and this post for birth parents on choosing an adoption attorney to read more specific tips on choosing a reputable adoption lawyer.

    Have you had a wonderful (or horrible) experience with an agency? Post it in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com. I always love to hear from you.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Committment: The Key Ingredient in Open Adoption

    Sunday’s Washington Post piece on open adoption reminded me that some of the most inspiring families I know are those who came together through open adoption. There is something beautiful about seeing people extending their definitions of family, navigating their own difficult emotions, and figuring out how to make their relationship work smoothly, all because they want the very best for the child. Beautiful as it is, it is not easy, and every family is a little bit different.

    I have become convinced that the most important factor to having a successful open adoption is commitment. Don’t just have a fling with open adoption, marry it. This is equally crucial for adoptive parents and birth parents.

    As an adoptive parent, agreeing to an open adoption and then not following through can be crushing to both the birth mother and the child. Aside from the importance of honoring your commitment to the birth mother, committing to open adoption also respects the child’s emotions and needs. Studies and stories from adult adoptees tell us that knowing about and having access to their birthmothers helps children thrive by easing feelings of rejection. Simply not knowing anything about their birth history can be exceptionally painful for kids, and often leads to wild imaginings (both fantasies and nightmares) about why they were given up or what their lives might be like if they were not placed for adoption.

    In some cases, commitment here means more than simply holding up your end of the bargain. If your child’s birth mother goes off the radar and is unreachable for a while, commitment to open adoption also means actively pursuing this relationship as best you can, which can be a difficult dance of tact and persistence. If this happens, you will also need to make big decisions about how to explain these periods of lapse to the child.

    As a birth parent, it’s essential to remember that an open adoption that includes visits is a lifelong commitment. Adopted children are especially vulnerable to feeling rejected or unwanted, and if you start by visiting once a week and then eventually get too busy or change your mind, this can have a huge psychological impact on the child. This is by no means meant to discourage you from having an open adoption with visitation! Rather, know that it’s important to honor your commitment by keeping up the schedule. If you absolutely can’t, make sure you communicate the reason clearly to the child, and try to substitute other ways to stay connected, such as telephone or Skype visits.

    For both birth parents and adoptive parents, staying committed to open adoption means opening your heart in ways you never considered before. Setting the boundaries of an open adoption can be especially delicate. The first issue you are likely to face is agreeing on how much contact is the right amount. This agreement might change over time as the parties get to know each other better and see how they feel about open adoption, and it might change even more as the child grows and his needs change. Know that it’s normal for disagreements or misunderstandings to arise over the long life cycle of an open adoption. A birth parent might give advice and be perceived as trying to co-parent the child, or might give the child a gift that the adoptive parents don’t feel is appropriate. The adoptive parents might inadvertently say something to offend the birth mother, or might not invite her to a family event in which she thought she should be included.

    These disagreements and misunderstandings are part of the reason why open adoption takes commitment. They are also part of why healthy open adoptions are so beautiful. Sure, it would be easier to walk away and [try to] forget that an adoption every took place between you. However, out of love for the child, for the child’s best interest, committed families keep coming back again, doing the hard work of communication and balance until they get it right.

    There are as many different scenarios in open adoption as there are families who choose it. If you have experience with open adoption, from any viewpoint, I’d love to hear about it in the comments or via email at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Adoption and Abortion: Both Have Emotional Consequences

    One thing that I find greatly troubling about many pro-adoption web sites is that they tell expectant mothers that they should choose adoption over abortion because abortion has been shown to have serious psychological and emotional consequences.

    First of all, I want to be extremely clear: I love adoption and think it is a wonderful choice. As an adoption lawyer and child advocate, I am just about the last person on earth who would advise anyone to have an abortion instead of making an adoption plan. With that said, though, I think that websites that urge women to choose adoption because it has fewer “psychological and emotional consequences” are doing birth parents a real disservice. The truth is, adoption has serious psychological and emotional consequences, too. All the birth mothers I know describe placing their child for adoption as the hardest thing they have ever done. It is very common for birth parents to experience feelings of grief, depression, guilt, panic, and loss long after the adoption is finalized. For this reason, I recommend counseling to all my birth-parent clients.

    Is this a reason not to choose adoption for your child? Certainly not. But I believe that parents who are making an adoption plan have the right to go into adoption with open eyes, and to not be taken by surprise by the strong emotions they will feel after placement. There are dozens of beautiful reasons to choose adoption over abortion, but a lack of emotional consequences is simply not one of them.

    If your adoption professional does not show understanding and respect for the emotional process that you are going through as a birth parent, consider changing to another agency or attorney. You have the right to be represented by professional who support you before, during, and after the adoption takes place.

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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