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How long, how much, and when?

I had to share this ingenious article from the website Building Your Family. I’ve seen a lot of adoption timelines detailing how long it takes, but none that shows you when expenses are incurred. Check it out here when you have time.

When you think about it, it’s no surprise to find that the most cash flows out of your wallet at the beginning of an adoption (home study, agency fee or lawyer retainer, etc.) and at the end (travel, finalization, birth mother expenses, court appearances, and let’s not forget baby stuff!). It’s helpful to know this for budgeting purposes.

As for how long adoption takes, it depends heavily on where you live and what type of adoption you pursue. Here in Northern Virginia where I practice, the average wait time for domestic, private adoptions is around one year. The national average is more like 18 months, and if you are adopting internationally, it can be much longer and will depend on the country you’re adopting from.

While no adoption professional can promise you how long adoption will take for you, don’t be afraid to ask questions about their experience with timing and how fast things move at each specific stage. Good professionals love questions!

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

A Good Deal on Photo Cards from Living Social

It’s no secret that a postcard-size photo card with a short message on it is a great way to get the word out that you’re looking to adopt a child. You can hand them out to friends and relatives, post them in coffee shops, public libraries, and community centers, distribute them at church, place a pile at your doctor’s office…you get the idea. Many people find their adoptive “match” this way.

A friend on Facebook just alerted me to this deal on LivingSocial, offering 40 photo cards for $18, 70 for $28, or 100 cards for $38, from a company called PhotoAffections (to be clear, neither I nor The Vaughan Firm is in any way affiliated with LivingSocial or PhotoAffections). If you share the deal with three friends who also buy it, you get your order for free. Not bad! Here is the link.

Other companies that offer photo cards include SnapFish, Shutterfly, Vistaprint, and Costco. As of this writing, Costco has the best price, but of course you have to be a member. I also know many couples who have used photo business cards for the same purpose. Cards are a great way to spread the word that you’re looking to add to your family.

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.

A Victory for Love in the DOMA/Prop 8 Case

Congratulations to my clients who are same-sex couples on this beautiful victory in the Supreme Court today. It is still unclear how this change will apply, particularly to those who live in states where same-sex marriage (and adoption) is still illegal (including my home state of Virginia). There is still so much work to be done to obtain equality for families and children in this country. However, today’s ruling is a huge step forward.

I am especially excited by the Supreme Court’s explicit ruling that same-sex marriage is beneficial for children. My practice is centered on children, and I know that aside from simply being the right thing to do, marriage equality protects children by giving them two parents with equal rights and responsibilities, as well as making more families eligible to foster needy children and adopt them from foster care. Justice Kennedy wrote that DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”

I am a straight child-welfare lawyer in an egregiously discriminatory state. I believe in the equality and dignity of all people before the law. I believe that all loving families are beneficial for children. If you are a GLBTQ person with a child-related legal issue, I make you this pledge: I will help you make it through this shameful period in our nation’s history. Take heart — it is getting better.

This is so great — and there’s still so much to be done! Let’s celebrate and then get back to work.

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

You Can Help Save Leah’s House

I very, very rarely endorse charitable causes on the site. There are simply too many, and sorting the well-managed ones from the other kind can be daunting. However, I want to take a moment to share a dear friend’s story. If you are looking for a good cause for your charitable giving this holiday season, please consider helping to Save Leah’s House.

I will let the website speak for itself, but I want to say a word about this sweet family. My dear friend Susan and her husband adopted their sweet daughter Leah in 2009 when she was a newborn. When I give seminars, I often use their family as an example of how well open adoption can work, as they have a lovely, open relationship with Leah’s birth mother. I also use them as an example of why people with disabilities should not despair of ever getting “chosen” by a birth mother. Michael had Norrie’s Disease, a rare genetic condition that caused him to be blind and hard of hearing. He was one of the most positive, motivated people I have ever known, and strove to excellence in every aspect of his life, including fatherhood. He called Leah his “little angel.” Michael passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly on July 12, 2012 after he collapsed while having dinner with the family.

Please consider Susan and Leah in your holiday giving plans. Here’s the link again: Save Leah’s House.

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

Happy National Adoption Day!

November 17 is National Adoption Day, and communities around the country are celebrating with special events. Many communities, like mine, host a special celebration at the courthouse where all adoptive families who have finalized this year are honored, and many adoptions are officially finalized in a special ceremony. You can find a list of events here.

But National Adoption Day is not just about adoptive families. I hope that those who know a mother who has placed her child for adoption will reach out and let them know they are loved and supported.

However you celebrate, enjoy the day.

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

Decline in International Adoptions Means More Families Wait

Today NPR ran this interesting piece about how the decline in international adoptions has affected U.S. families who want to adopt from abroad. In 2004, there were about 45,000 international adoptions to the United States. By this year, that number had dropped to 25,000, bringing international adoptions to their lowest rate in 15 years. This downward trend is due to a number of factors:

  • Some countries, such as Russia, South Korea, and China, are working harder to promote domestic adoption within their borders.
  • The U.S. has closed all adoptions from some countries where corruption was a serious concern, such as Guatemala and Vietnam.
  • Some countries have voluntarily shut down their adoption programs until they are able to comply with The Hague Convention.
  • More and more countries have signed The Hague Convention, making adoptions from those countries more complex and expensive.
  • The economic downturn has put international adoption, which is the most expensive type of adoption, out of reach for many American families.

    Although the stories of waiting families and waiting children are undoubtedly sad, to me the important thing is that the restrictions on international adoptions are designed to protect children and families from fraud, kidnapping, and baby-selling. Children deserve our best, and adoption must be done ethically or not at all.

    Have you adopted internationally? How long did it take? If you’ve adopted more than once, did you notice a difference in wait times over the years? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

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

  • Be Careful What You Pay for in Adoption

    I always say that announcing that you want to adopt a child is like wearing a large dollar sign on your forehead. It seems like there is always someone trying to get more money from you, and you may feel like your bank account has sprung a leak. However, there are some costs that you simply may not pay in adoption, and it’s extremely important to know what they are. How important, you ask? So important that making improper payments could not only invalidate your adoption, it could actually land you with a felony charge.

    Each state has different laws regarding what costs prospective adoptive families may pay, and to whom they may pay them.

    Finding a Baby to Adopt

    Many states, including my home state of Virginia, have laws stating that only a licensed child-placing agency can charge a fee for “matching” services (matching an adoptive family with a child or an expectant mother who wishes to place her baby for adoption). This means you need to make sure of two things: (1) That the agency is licensed, and (2) that it’s a child-placing agency. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times an adoptive family gets a copy of an adoption facilitator’s “license” thinking that this qualifies that person as an agency. An agency license is a very specific license provided by the state, and paying a facilitator is not legal here. Similarly, a licensed attorney does not qualify. If anyone other than a licensed agency is helping you to find a baby to adopt, you need to be extremely clear that you are not paying them for it. Paying anyone other than a licensed agency is a Class 6 Felony here in Virginia.

    Payments for Expectant Mothers

    Once you have been matched with an expectant mother, you must use care about what payments you make for her. Each state has different laws about what is permissible. For example, here in Virginia, adoptive parents may pay legal, medical, and sometimes limited living costs for birth mothers in an adoption. However, if you go next door to Maryland or the District of Columbia, those same living expenses would be illegal to pay. Once again, making illegal payments can land you in big legal trouble, so be sure to work with a reputable attorney with experience in the adoption field. Here’s a list of payments that would be in the clear in Virginia:

  • Attorney fees,
  • The cost of mental health counseling or adoption counseling,
  • Medical expenses and insurance premiums if they are directly related to the birth mother’s pregnancy and hospitalization for the birth of the baby being adopted,
  • Medical expenses for the child,
  • Reasonable expenses incurred incidental to her having to attend any required court appearance including, but not limited to, transportation, food and lodging, and
  • Food, clothing, and shelter if and only if the expectant mother has written advice from her doctor that she is unable to work or otherwise support herself due for medical reasons associated with the pregnancy.

    That’s it. The best practice is to send all payments for the expectant mother through your adoption attorney. Not only does this ensure that any payment you make will get the OK from your attorney first, it also protects your privacy by cutting a check from the attorney’s account, rather than a check with your address on it from your bank. Most attorneys recommend that any payments be made out directly to the service provider (e.g. the doctor, landlord, attorney, etc.) rather than to the expectant mother herself, so you can be absolutely sure that they money is going to a legal purpose.

    While we’re on the subject of money, know that money isn’t the only thing you can’t give to an expectant mother during an adoption. Gifts of property or services are also a no-no.

    The rules about what payments may be lawfully made may seem strict and intimidating, but they’re designed to protect all the parties. The adoptive parents are protected from that wallet leak I mentioned above, and the expectant mother is protected from being bribed into placing her baby for adoption. With a little caution and attention to this important area, your adoption will be not just legal, but more importantly, ethical.

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

  • A Gift from Adoption Today Magazine

    Adoption Today magazine is making its entire June issue on attachment and trauma available for free online. Go to the Adoption Today/Fostering Families website and click on the picture of flipping pages on the left to page through the issue online. Big thanks to Adoption Today for sharing this important topic free of charge.

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

    Ashley’s Moms (and their blogs)

    In my travels on the web this week, I ran across the most remarkable adoption website I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s perfect for National Foster Care Month. Ashley’s Moms are Erica and Rebecca. Erica, Ashley’s birth mother, gave birth to her at 19 and later lost custody of Ashley after becoming involved in an abusive relationship and spiraling into drug abuse. Rebecca adopted Ashley through foster care when Ashley was 9 years old.

    Sadly, I know through my work with children in the child-welfare system that stories like Ashley’s are not uncommon. What is uncommon is the alliance that Rebecca and Erica forged. They now have an open adoption in which Erica is treated like the member of the family that she undisputedly is. Both Erica and Rebecca have wonderful, honest blogs about their adoption experience – the good and the bad. I especially love this description by Erica of a Seder dinner that she attended at Rebecca’s house:

    I was a little nervous about being the “birth mom” at the party. I happy to say, once I was there, that thought never crossed my mind. I wasn’t the “birth mom” but rather, just a family member! I was welcomed by everyone there, and when Rebecca shared the nature of our relationship, everyone at the table just smiled and acted as though this were perfectly normal. At that moment I realized this is normal, it is normal for our family, my family, the one I share with Rebecca, her husband, her daughter, my boys, and our daughter, Ashley. We are no different then the family next door, except, perhaps, we’ve chosen to be family, we’ve designed it ourselves, without knowing what the final outcome might look like, but to us, it’s perfectly beautiful.

    What Rebecca and Erica have is not possible in every foster-care adoption, but I encourage you to let their story stretch the boundaries of what you believe is possible. The world would be a better place for children if more families opened their arms wider in this way.

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

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