Adoption Self Help Manual
Too often, from television shows and the movies, you may get the notion that whenever there is an adoption taking place, there are only three parties involved: the birth mother, the baby, and the adopting couple.
Often nobody ever mentions, much less gives attention to it, a fourth element that is always a factor to be considered. The birth father. Ignoring the birth father can be risky because you could get halfway through an adoption only to find that the birth father was unaware of or opposes the adoption and all your hard work, expenditures and emotional involvement.
What About the Biological Father?
Most states vigorously protect the legal rights of the biological father in any adoption procedure. A pregnant woman may be able to do whatever she wants with her unborn child. Even if she should decide she wants to have an abortion, she may be able to do this without the birth father's, or anyone else's, permission.
Once the child is born, however, the laws of our states give certain rights to both the biological mother and the father.
Let's say there is a young woman who finds herself pregnant. She does not want to consider abortion – but she does not want to keep the child. She decides she is going to place the child for adoption. She makes the arrangements and a short time later, you have the baby you've always wanted.
Let's also say that the baby has been with you now for several weeks. You've grown to love the child and think of it as "ours."
But, there's a hitch.
There is a phone call from your agency or attorney. They tell you that they have to take the child away from you.
Because the natural (biological) father just found out he has a child. He wants his baby back. He wants to raise the child himself.
Can he do this?
The answer is yes.
Unless your lawyer or agency can produce evidence showing that the birth father's rights to the child have been legally ended, the baby is his (or the birth mother's) if he wants it. Oh, you say. You didn't know about that law in the birth parent's state or your attorney or agency didn't tell you.
You have heard it before. You'll hear it again: "Ignorance of the law is no excuse!" Either way, though, the child is still his or the birth mothers
The Birth Father's Rights
In the majority of states, a biological father must have the opportunity to be notified of – and have the chance to oppose, if he wishes – an adoption proceeding. Most state laws say, at minimum, he must be notified if the birth mother is placing their child for adoption.
You must be aware of this, because some unknowing or unscrupulous intermediaries may not tell this to the birth mother – or to you. I have had the experience of having birth mothers or adopting families come to me for counseling after a baby has been placed through private adoption sources. In many of these cases, the birth mothers have been incorrectly told that the adoption can take place without the birth father ever knowing about it.
I have been called in to advise people in cases where a birth mother or an adopting couple went to a specific attorney because they were led to believe that the adoption could take place safely without the biological father even knowing the woman was pregnant.
This is simply not true. Courts have forced adopting parents to give up their child to the rightful biological father.
Here is another situation to consider:
A woman suddenly misses her monthly cycle. She goes to the doctor and learns she is pregnant.
There was a party. There had been some drinking. She remembers having intercourse with three men.
The pregnant woman does not want anyone to know about her condition. She doesn't even know which of the three men is the biological father.
She decides she will move out of town for a time without anyone ever knowing she is pregnant. She leaves for a year or so, then returns. In between time, she has had the baby, didn't name the father on the birth certificate, told everyone the birth father was unknown, placed the child for adoption because she can not care for it, and had her rights to the child terminated.
But, any one of the three men may want the child. If any one of these three men hear of the baby and go to court, the judge may order the adopting family to turn the child back over to him. Even months or years after the placement!
You know what is even worse about such a situation? It has been estimated that as many as one lawyer in five – only 20% of the lawyers – are aware of the fact that the birth father may have these rights.
What to do First
The first thing you must do, if you decide to adopt a child, is to call your state adoption authority. Have them send you a copy of the laws controlling laws in your state (Click here to view/print the adoption laws in your state).
NEXT, READ THE LAW!
The third thing you should do is follow our seven adoption commandments.
SEVEN ADOPTION COMMANDMENTS
- At no time should you do anything which violates any federal or state law.
- Do not get involved with anything that could be considered "Black Market"!
- Do not allow yourself to be part of anything which has even the slightest appearance of being shady or improper!
- Be informed! (Do not rely or depend entirely on anyone)
- Don't try to take shortcuts! Or try to bamboozle anybody!
- Be determined! Be persistent!!
- Never give up, No matter what!
You may think it ridiculous that I say such things as not to get involved with anything shady. Or that I warn you not to break the law. You think to yourself, "No way. I'm not the kind of person to break the law or do something shady."
Yet, I am constantly coming across situations where people are sometimes sorely tempted to "cut corners" or stretch matters a bit. They "forget" to report the DUI they had six years ago. They give the birth mother money "under the table" to help her with her expenses since she appears to really need it. They buy the birth mother a few "necessary" items. The list goes on and on. Adopting a child can become so frustrating and discouraging that people are willing to try almost any tactic.
Some may get away with it. But, why take that chance when you don't really have to?
Once you have completed the adoption procedure, and you have your new baby, you don't want to spend the next few years worrying every time the phone rings or there is a knock at the door. You don't want to risk having someone tell you that your adoption is not legal or valid. You can't imagine how shattering it is to have to give back your child.
Why All This Discussion About the Law?
Adoption is different things to different people, depending on where you fit into the scheme of things. For you, adopting a baby is a dream you want to come true. It is the one event that will instantly convert you from being a couple or a single person to being a family.
But adoption is also a legal contract.
The government is not really involved with all the emotions you and your spouse feel. The state is not aware of the trials you have undergone. They certainly have no way of knowing the emptiness you have felt or the frustration you have had to endure.
Please understand. The various government agencies are not your enemies. They want to help you all they can. But just as they want to be sure and protect your rights, they are also responsible for protecting the rights of the birth mother, the birth father, and the rights of the baby you want so desperately to adopt. The government must be certain that all the laws and regulations (and there are many of them!) are observed without deviation.
This makes things really hard on you because all states are different. Let me emphasize this. Every state's laws regarding adoption are different. This includes differences in the laws of your state, the state where the birth mother resides and the state where the birth father may reside. And each state reserves for itself certain controls over the adoptive process.
Some Common Questions
Can a local couple adopt a baby from an adjoining state? From China or Russia? What if you are Catholic? Or Jewish? Suppose you are a single parent? Or over 50? Or have a criminal record? What if you are homosexual? What if you have an ongoing health problem?
What if the laws of the birth mother's state are incompatible with the laws of your state?
Is it legal for you to put a notice in the newspaper and advertise for a baby? Are private adoptions legal? How long a period does the birth mother have to change her mind?
What rights does a birth mother have if her name isn't on the birth certificate? How long must you wait before the baby is really yours?
There is no one answer to any of those questions since the laws are not the same from state to state. It may be legal in my state for me to place an ad for a pregnant woman who wants to place her child – but that may be against the law where you live. Each state is unique. Each adoption is unique. Each adopting couple is unique.
It is precisely because of this "uniqueness" that you must be familiar with the law. Truly, ignorance of the law will only result in sadness and failure.
So, once you have received your copy of the state's adoption law, read it. Read it carefully. A lot of it won't make any sense to you because it is written in "legalese." You won't be able to dig out all the fine points. That's O.K. What you will be able to do, however, is get an overview – a feeling about what's going on. You'll have a pretty fair idea of what kinds of adoptions are permitted in your state. You'll know the basics of what you can and cannot do.
Then, as you talk to the agencies, attorneys or other possible referral sources, you will be much better informed. You will not be at the mercy of others who may unknowingly ms-advise you.
Remember, some studies estimate that as many as 80% of the "experts" are ignorant of important laws. Their ignorance can lead to disaster for you. What they don't know can hurt you. It can ruin all your plans for success.