What Will Happen to Gay Marriage Under the Trump Administration? No One Knows.

One of the most common post-election questions that I get is from same-sex couples. “What will happen to my family now that Donald Trump is in office?” They want to know if they need a second-parent adoption or other legal means to protect their families. Although I hate not being able to give people an answer, the only honest answer to this question is, “no one knows yet.”

In January 2016, Trump said in an interview on Fox News that he would “strongly consider” appointing justices that would overturn the case that effectively legalized gay marriage ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges). Specifically, he said “If I’m elected, I would be very strong on putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things,” in reference to gay marriage.

However, in November 2016, Trump said this in an interview with Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes:”

LESLEY STAHL: Do you support marriage equality?

TRUMP: It — it’s irrelevant because it was already settled. It’s law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done.

STAHL: So even if you appoint a judge that —

TRUMP: It’s done. It — you have — these cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And, I’m fine with that.

We all know that actions speak louder than words, but in this case Trump’s only action that relates to the issue is also hard to interpret. His U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, also has a mixed history when it comes to gay rights. According to Time, Gorsuch took the position in his dissertation for his Doctorate of Philosophy at Oxford University that the Constitution does not protect the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

On the other hand, the Huffington Post reports that Gorsuch was supportive of and even effusive about his clerk’s same-sex marriage.

Goodbaum, now an attorney in Connecticut, recalled fondly their conversation on the week of the wedding: “He said, ‘This is a wonderful thing. You’ll see how your relationship grows.’”

Goodbaum, who in 2009 served as a clerk for the Colorado federal appeals court judge, added: “I have never felt the least whiff from him of homophobia or intolerance toward gay people.”

Still, it is a judge’s job to apply the law as written, not to interpret through the lens of personal beliefs or politics. The short answer is: No one knows.

Generally speaking, the law in Virginia, where I practice, is that a child born during a marriage is presumed to be the child of those two married people. Also generally speaking, changes to the law are not retroactive. However, to my way of thinking, a lot of things have happened since Trump took office that I would not have believed before he took office. It would seem logical that the courts would reject a second-parent adoption from a married same-sex couple just the way it would if a married father tried to adopt his own children. However, I have filed such adoptions for clients with a “better to be safe than sorry” outlook, and had them approved.

I advise same-sex couples who ask me to consult with an attorney if they are feeling worried about the status of their families. Many attorneys (including myself) are doing such consultations for free or at reduced rates. If you need a consultation or a referral to an LGBT-friendly attorney in your area, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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 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.

Adopted Children at the Holidays

Every year around the holidays, I like to revisit this post that I originally wrote in 2010, to remind adoptive families and those who love them that the holidays can be a hard time for adopted children, and offering suggestions about how to make it easier. I hope you find this helpful during this season. Here is the link: Adopted Children and the Holidays.

While we are at it, let’s not forget birth parents, who often feel that a piece of their hearts is missing during this season. If you have an ongoing relationship with your child’s birth mother and/or other biological family members, don’t forget to let them know you’re thinking about them this season.

I wish each of you all the joy, warmth, and love your hearts can hold this holiday.

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.

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!

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!

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.

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.

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.

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