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:
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.