Archive for the 'Domestic Adoption' 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.

First comes love, then comes marriage…what’s next for Virginia same-sex couples?

What a week for Virginia law! On Monday (October 6), the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the 4th Circuit’s decision holding that Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, thus leaving that decision in place. To make a long story short, same-sex marriage is now legal and recognized in Virginia.

On October 10th, Governor Terry McAuliffe wrote a memorandum to Virginia Departments of Social Services, instructing them that married same-sex couples should now be considered in the same way as heterosexual married couples for the purposes of adoption and foster parenting. “Any married couple is a married couple for purposes of adoptive placements in accordance with Virginia Code § 63.2-1225,” the governor wrote, citing the Virginia adoption statute.

This change has huge implications for married same-sex couples in Virginia. Although we have yet to see how it will play out in the early cases, it seems clear that married same-sex couples should now be able to adopt a child exactly the same way that a heterosexual couple would, including stepparent adoptions, adoptions from foster care, and agency adoptions.

The change also leaves many things unclear. Since same-sex marriage is now recognized in Virginia, it’s logical that any child that a same-sex couple had together through artificial insemination or surrogacy would now be recognized as the legal child of both partners, with no need for a “second-parent adoption” or guardianship. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a lawyer, it’s not to assume that people will do what is logical. It will be very interesting to see how that issue unfolds.

It is also unclear whether this change leaves privately-owned adoption agencies free to discriminate against same-sex couples. It is clear that the Virginia Department of Social Services, which does adoptions from foster care, may not do so. Since all adoption agencies must be licensed by the state to operate, must they also follow this law? Or these agencies, most of which are religiously affiliated, be exempt on religious grounds?

If you have questions about how these exciting changes will impact your family, contact us today. I would be more than happy to sit down with you and discuss how to choose the best course for your family.

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

Free Adoption Seminar in Northern Virginia

It’s that time of year again! To kick off National Adoption Month, The Vaughan Firm is holding a free adoption seminar on Saturday, November 2 at 10:00 a.m. in downtown Leesburg, Virginia. If you live in Northern Virginia, this is the perfect opportunity to learn about adoption from start to finish and get your questions answered. We always talk about how to choose the right adoption type for your family, how to get started with the process, the timing and cost of adoption, and much more. In addition to an adoption lawyer (my charming self), guest speakers will also include a birth mother and a consultant on making a compelling adoptive family profile. For more information and to register, go to the seminar registration page. Hope to see you there!

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 VAadopts@governor.virginia.gov. 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.

Google Image Search: A Tool for Scam Detection

I don’t know what it is about this year, but more than ever before I am seeing my adoptive-family clients getting contacted by adoption scammers. As a result, I’ve decided to write a series on adoption scams and how to detect them. You can see all the posts by going to the “Categories” column on the right and clicking “Adoption Scams.” Today’s post is the second installment.

As we know, adoption scammers are people who prey on prospective adoptive parents to get money or some kind of bizarre psychological thrill. Financial scammers generally start asking for money fairly early on in the process. Emotional scammers seem to thrive on the drama and attention and are a little harder to detect.

Many scammers send photos of themselves and/or ultrasound images. Generally, they have stolen these images from other people’s Facebook pages and websites. One tool that I frequently use to detect scammers is a simple Google Image Search. This search allows you to search the internet for a photo to see if it appears anywhere else on the Web.

To do an image search, simply go to Google’s image search site and click the camera icon on the right-hand side of the search bar. From there, click “Upload an Image” and select the photo that you want to search for. The search will also turn up similar-looking photos for you to compare. If the image turns up on a Facebook or other social media profile under a different name, beware! The scammer has probably stolen that photo, and the person in the photo is probably an innocent victim with no idea that their image is being used to scam adoptive parents.

For other red flags to help you detect adoption scams, check out this post and this post.

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

New Series on Adoption Scams

I don’t know what it is about this year, but more than ever before I am seeing my adoptive-family clients getting contacted by adoption scammers. As a result, I’ve decided to write a series on adoption scams and how to detect them. You can see all the posts in the series by going to the “Categories” column on the right and clicking “Adoption Scams.”

What is an adoption scam? Essentially, it is a couple or individual who contact prospective adoptive parents saying that they would like to place a baby for adoption, when in fact they have no intention of doing so. While the Internet is a wonderful tool for adoption, it also leaves prospective adoptive parents especially vulnerable to these types of scams. My clients who have profiles on sites like Parent Profiles, Adoptimist, and even Facebook report especially high numbers of scam contacts. This certainly does not mean that you shouldn’t use the Internet in your search! Instead, just take a few precautions to protect yourself.

There are several types of adoption scams. The most common is one where a woman who is not actually pregnant contacts prospective adoptive parents and quickly selects them as the adoptive family for her “baby.” She then sends multiple requests for money, usually saying she is having some kind of crisis (getting evicted, getting her water shut off, having a medical emergency). Another scenario is one where the woman is actually pregnant, but has “selected” multiple adoptive families and is taking money from all of them or simply stringing them along. This is why we have the First Commandment of Adoption: Thou Shalt Not Give Any Birth Parent Money Unless It Goes Through Thy Lawyer.

An increasingly common type of scam, and one that is a little harder to detect, is the emotional scammer. In this type of scam, a woman who is either not pregnant or who has no intention of placing her baby for adoption strings couples along but never asks for money. Emotional scammers are severely psychologically disturbed people who simply like the attention and drama of deceiving prospective adoptive parents. The hallmark of the emotional scam is high drama: Usually these scammers have multiple dramatic life situations going on, such as medical emergencies, houses burning down, boyfriends leaving them, family members dying, etc. Interestingly, emotional scammers very frequently claim to be having twins and almost always claim high-risk pregnancies.

The very best way to find out whether a potential match is actually a scam is to work closely with a reputable adoption attorney or agency. Attorneys and agencies keep tabs on the common scams and know what red flags to look out for. This is another great reason to always use an attorney whose practice is at least 50% adoption. The adoption specialist will check the web and with other adoption professionals for scam information regularly. Another good way to learn about scammers is to join one of the several email lists where adoptive parents share the names and information of scammers who have contacted them. Often scammers change their names with every scam, but the basic story they tell will remain the same. These scam-information-sharing groups are indispensable for keeping tabs on the latest scammers.

For more on red flags that can indicate a scam, check out this post, and be sure to check out the rest of the blog series.

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

Adoption Types Quiz

If you have met me and talked about adoption for more than 2 minutes, you have probably heard me say “there is no right way to adopt – only the right way for your family.” But how do you know what the right way is for your family? It’s based on a number of factors, and each family will weigh them differently. Below is a series of stories about different families (as you might guess, these are made-up stories, not real clients! You won’t catch me telling real client stories on the blog). Can you guess which type of adoption I would suggest for each one? When you’re done, click here to see the answers. If you need help getting started making the adoption-type decision yourself, contact the firm for a free Adoption Decisionmaking Toolkit.

1. Ellen and Mike
Ellen and Mike are an older couple – both in their late forties. Ellen runs a small, part-time sewing business from home while Mike works full time. They have no doubt in their minds that they want to adopt a healthy newborn, but they are flexible on other factors (race, gender, etc.). Mike describes himself as laid-back and easygoing, while Ellen is anxious and has a lot of worries about adoption.

2. Ashley and Jim
Ashley and Jim have decided to adopt after a long struggle with infertility. They both have high-powered jobs and travel a lot, so they don’t have much time to devote to the process of adoption. Because of these high-powered jobs, they have a generous adoption budget and aren’t concerned about cost. After all the infertility treatments and stress, Ashley and Jim just really want someone to handle the whole process for them.

3. Tamara and Miguel
Tamara and Miguel are a young couple, just married for a few years. They met in the Peace Corps and enjoy traveling the world and experiencing other cultures. They’re particularly interested in adopting a child from Colombia, where Miguel’s family is from, or possibly from Haiti or Ethiopia, both of which they have visited.

4. Sarah and John
Sarah and John are another young couple. John is an accountant, while Sarah is a freelance writer who really dreams of being a stay-at-home mom. Like they do with most new things that they take on, Sarah and John have done a lot of research about adoption. They are highly organized and like to be in control of situations to the extent possible. They also like to know exactly how their money is being spent.

Ready to see my answers? Click here!

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

“It Will Happen For You” — Encouraging or Unwelcome?

I was interested to see a post today on Adoption Voices, where a member wrote that it’s very upsetting to her when people say “don’t give up! Adoption will happen for you if you hang in there.”

Lara writes:

While I know it’s meant to be encouraging, I’ve come to really hate these statements – because nobody can honestly guarantee an adoption will happen. Even with a match, we’re all painfully aware there are no guarantees, until a judge declares it final. We can’t trust an agency, lawyer, or fate. We just hear what we want to hear – from those who have been blessed with adoption. But for how many of us does it NOT happen?

Lara’s post surprised me, because I have often heard (and sometimes given) this advice in the adoption community, and I think it is basically sound. After all, if you don’t stop trying, it’s true that eventually you will adopt successfully. However, Lara is perfectly correct: for some people, “giving up” is the right decision. If you have reached your emotional limits or the adoption journey is just too hard on your family, it is healthy and appropriate to stop. I can think of other situations, such as financial difficulty or a serious illness in the family, that also might be perfectly good reasons to decide that adoption is not a good fit for you after all.

I still think that saying “you will be able to adopt if you don’t give up” is a true statement, but as all things in life, it’s important to think before you speak. If someone has made the difficult decision to stop trying to adopt, telling them that they could have a baby if only they were more persistent is likely to hurt them more than it helps. But for those who are on the long road to adoption and just feeling tired and discouraged, it could be just what they need to hear.

What do you think? Has anyone ever said this to you about adoption? How did it make you feel?

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

Should You Hire an Adoption Facilitator or Consultant?

Every so often in my work as an adoption attorney, I run across advertising for “adoption facilitators” or “adoption consultants.” Who are these guys, and should you hire one?

What Is An Adoption Facilitator?
The first thing to understand about adoption facilitators and consultants is what they’re not — they are not licensed adoption agencies or attorneys. Since there is no state that licenses adoption facilitators, the services they offer vary widely. Some offer to match prospective adoptive parents with a child to adopt, some offer education on how to create an adoption profile and advertise yourself, some offer tips on how to spot a birth mother who might change her mind, some give referrals to other adoption professionals. Most provide some combination of these services.

Check Your State Laws
If any person offers to help you find a child to adopt in exchange for a fee, proceed with caution. In all but two states (California and Pennsylvania) it is illegal to charge money for adoption matching services. Some states don’t allow adoption facilitators at all, even if they don’t charge a fee. Even in states where facilitators are legal, there are very specific rules as to what they may do. This is not an area where you want to take your chances: Paying an adoption facilitator in a state where it is not legal to do so can delay or disrupt the finalization of your adoption. In many states, a judge may not finalize an adoption where improper money has changed hands under state laws. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a website where you can check your state’s laws about adoption, including about adoption facilitators specifically. Check it out here.

Do Your Homework
Say you have found an adoption facilitator or consultant who either doesn’t provide matching services or does not charge for them. Before you get out your checkbook, do a little research to see how their costs and services compare to adoption attorneys and agencies in your area. For example, some adoption facilitators offer educational materials that help you spot “red flags” that indicate that a birth mother might change her mind. However, any good adoption attorney will do the same as a standard part of his or her practice (I certainly do in my practice. See this post for a few such tips). Since you have to hire an attorney to file your adoption with the courts anyway, it’s difficult to see the value in this service. Similarly, some adoption facilitators offer to help you create and review materials that you need to find a birth mother for a private adoption (adoptive family profile, website, fliers, etc.). Again, many adoption attorneys will do the same (although you want to make sure the attorney is charging a lower rate for this service, not his or her billable hour as a lawyer!), and if you used an agency, they would do all the matching work for you. Furthermore, in the age of the Internet, it’s not difficult to learn how to make an adoption profile on your own. Other services that attorneys and agencies commonly offer are referrals to social workers for the home study, referrals to counselors for both adoptive parents and birth mothers, recommending pediatricians for adopted kids with special needs, and much more. Be sure to compare the costs and benefits of an attorney, an agency, and doing it yourself before hiring an outside consultant. The more money you can keep in your pocket, the more you will have for your child when he or she arrives!

Examine Claims Carefully
Some adoption consultants advertise that their clients’ adoptions go through astonishingly fast. Three months from the day they walked in the consultant’s door, they had a finalized adoption! Hang on a second. If a facilitator claims that his or her clients adopt much faster than the national average, I’d be skeptical. Ask questions about what percentage of their clients adopt that fast, and how specifically the facilitator achieved that result. Also, recall that the timing for finalization of an adoption is set by law in every state, so if the consultant claims they can speed up the legal process, it’s just not true.

Consider Ethics
I’m especially troubled when I see facilitators advertise that they make it as difficult as possible for a birth mother to “take your baby away from you.” While it’s natural for adoptive parents to be frightened about the possibility that their adoption might not go through, every adoption professional should be concerned about birth mothers’ rights. We are not in this field to take babies from mothers who want to keep them. Instead, a good adoption professional should be making sure that the birth mother has counseling and understands the adoption process clearly. Treating the birth parents as the enemy is not only unethical, it also leads to more adoption disruptions, not fewer.

Have you worked with an adoption facilitator or consultant? Share your experience in the comments or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

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

What Does Your Attorney Do For You?

This blog is to provide helpful and interesting information to the adoption community, and I try not to spend many pixels here tooting my own horn. But today I was drinking my coffee and thinking about client service and how proud I am of what my practice has to offer. Here are just a few of the things I offer my clients on a daily basis. Does your lawyer offer these services to you? If not, maybe you should ask them!

  • Explaining the different types of adoption and how to choose the best type for your family
  • Lending out books from my lending library
  • Referring clients to social workers, counselors, pediatricians, OB/GYNs, support groups, other attorneys, and more (did I say babysitters? A lot of people ask me for good babysitters!)
  • Explaining how to protect children with a will and/or guardianship
  • Advising about insurance coverage for a child in the process of being adopted, including medicaid
  • Helping families who want a private adoption to make adoptive family profiles, websites, “Dear Birthmother” letters, and other materials to find a child to adopt
  • Advising families who are adopting or have adopted internationally about immigration issues
  • Educating people about the scientific research on attachment in children and child psychology
  • Explaining the laws regarding gay and lesbian parents in Virginia
  • Referring people to grants and loans for adoption, as well as explaining the Adoption Tax Credit
  • Acting as a “mailbox” between adoptive families and birth parents if they don’t want to exchange addresses but do want to exchange pictures and letters.
  • Helping adoptive families and birth parents negotiate a post-adoption contract, if they want one.
  • Handing out tissues, because the adoption process can be emotional for both adoptive parents and birth parents!
  • Returning client calls after business hours, because there are some adoption questions that can’t wait until morning.
  • Good adoption lawyers do far more than simply file court papers. What do you think? What other services does your adoption lawyer provide, or what services do you wish they provided? Leave a comment or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

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

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