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.

In Finland, a Complete Newborn Kit – Just Add Baby!

From the “great ideas” department, I just learned from this article that in Finland, every expectant mother gets a “maternity package” – a box containing diapers, bedding, clothing, bathing supplies, outdoor gear, and a picture book. The box that it comes in has a small mattress in the bottom so it can be baby’s bed. Expectant mothers who visit a doctor before their fourth month of pregnancy have a choice between the box or a cash grant of 140 euros (about $186), but most choose the box, because the contents are more valuable. Why give the box during pregnancy, rather than when the mother is discharged from the hospital? It encourages expectant mothers to get obstetrical care during pregnancy. Not surprising, then, that Finland has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. What a smart way to give babies the right start in life!

Another thing I love about this idea is that it highlights how very little babies truly need. While the baby-stuff industry would like us to believe that babies need wipe warmers and head bows and crib bumpers and singing night-lights, the truth is that all babies really need is milk or formula, something to wear, a safe place to sleep, a little wash now and then, and lots and lots of love.

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.

Celebrating National Adoption Month

It’s been a while since I posted, as things have been busy, busy, busy at The Vaughan Firm! Welcome to all my newest clients, and congratulations for those who are celebrating their finalizations this month.

November is National Adoption Month, a time to celebrate, learn about, and teach others about adoption. To kick it off, I’ve compiled an interesting list. Most everyone knows what celebrities have adopted a child. Do you know which celebrities were adopted themselves? Here are a few.

Steve Jobs
Art Linkletter
Kristin Chenoweth
Edgar Allen Poe
John Lennon
Faith Hill
Jamie Foxx
Debbie Harry
Tim McGraw
Sarah McLauchlan
Nelson Mandela
Leo Tolstoy
Nat King Cole
Babe Ruth
Malcolm X

I bet you never expected to see a list that included both Leo Tolstoy and Snooki. There you have it, folks. Did I miss any of your favorite celebrities who were adopted? Post them in the comments!

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.

“I’m Having Their Baby” on Oxygen

Lately, whenever I tell someone that I’m an adoption lawyer, the next question is “have you seen that show, ‘I’m Having Their Baby’?” The Oxygen Network’s new show has the adoption community buzzing, and love it or hate it, everybody seems to be watching.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first of all: The title is offensive. Truly offensive. It’s almost like they took a poll and came up with the most offensive title they possibly could, short of calling it “F*** You, Adoption Community.” When an expectant mother makes an adoption plan with an adoptive family, she is not “having their baby.” She is having her baby. Of course, that’s why they don’t let lawyers title television shows: I would have called it “I’m Pregnant and Planning to Place My Baby with an Adoptive Family After Being Counseled About the Alternatives, Understanding My Rights, and Deciding It’s in the Baby’s Best Interests, and After I Relinquish My Parental Rights and the Court Approves the Adoption, He or She Will Then Be Their Baby.” Or maybe just “The Adoption Show.”

I have seen a couple of episodes, and it hasn’t been as bad as the title suggests. In fact, I’d say it’s a better portrayal of adoption than most of what we see in the entertainment industry. Whether people’s private family decisions should be the subject of entertainment is another story altogether. What I liked most about the show is that it shatters a few stereotypes about women who choose adoption for their babies. Generally the media portrays women who make an adoption plan as either extremely young, poor, addicted to drugs, or some combination of those. Oxygen’s show (don’t make me type that title again!) portrays women of different ages, economic conditions, and education levels, and who have different reasons for making their adoption plans. What worries me most about the show is that with cameras rolling, I bet these expectant mothers are feeling extra pressure to go through with the adoption.

What do you think? Have you seen the show? Did you think it portrayed adoption accurately? Was it respectful to the parties?

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.

  • An Ingenious App for Waiting Parents

    We all love babies, but let’s face it: When you’re going through infertility treatments or waiting to adopt a child, sometimes other people’s babies are the last thing you want to see. Like most things in life these days, there’s an app for that – at least, for Google Chrome users. Simply download Unbaby.me and it will remove all photos of babies from your newsfeed and replace them with the photo of your choice (such as the friendly tree shown above, or a photo of your favorite adoption attorney). According to the L.A. Times, the app has already gotten 41,000 “Likes” on Facebook. Talk about better living through technology!

    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.

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