Almost every type of adoption is going to require the assistance of adoption lawyers. What the adoption lawyers do to help you will depend on what type of adoption you are proceeding with. First, I want to advise you that while this article is about adoption lawyers, please do not consider this legal advice. Rather, this article is written from my own experience and research. I also want to advise you that while the terms are used interchangeably, the only difference between a lawyer and an attorney is that an attorney practices law in the courtroom and a lawyer may or may not appear in the courtroom. With that little bit of background, let’s dive right into what adoption lawyers are and how you may utilize their services.
Even if you are going to be utilizing an agency adoption, you will most likely still need to hire the services of adoption lawyers. An agency adoption is essentially just what it sounds like. You hire a specific agency to help you with your adoption, and they will be there every step of the way for you. They will complete the necessary paperwork needed to complete a home study. They will help create a portfolio, if necessary. They will also help you be matched with a birth mother. They will also help you get to finalize your adoption. Agencies usually offer post-adoption services as well. So if an agency is going to assist you with the adoption process, why do you need an adoption lawyer then? Glad you asked. There are certain things an agency can do that an adoption lawyer cannot and certain things adoption lawyers can do that the agencies cannot. For instance, most adoption lawyers cannot complete your home study for you. This is something that needs to be completed by a certified worker or agency. However, if you are working with an adoption agency, you will not need to worry about finding someone who will be able to complete your home study for you, they will be able to help you with that. However, if you are working with adoption lawyers, you will need to hire the services of an agency that will be able to perform your home study for you. If you are not sure what route you want to go, you may want to discuss your options with both an adoption agency and any adoption lawyers available in your area. I also recommend that you meet with more than one agency and adoption lawyer to make sure you find the right fit for your needs and family. It is not “one shoe fits all.” What do the adoption lawyers do for you then?
If you are working with an adoption agency, they will most likely have a list of attorneys they work with to help prepare the necessary documents. In our case, our agency only worked with one adoption lawyer, so that is who we went with. I have heard other agencies give you the option of adoption lawyers to choose from. In either event, the adoption lawyer will prepare the necessary legal paperwork to legally adopt the child. I do want to point out that the cost of the lawyer will be in addition to any fees you have paid to your adoption agency. Make sure you discuss with your adoption agency what the legal fees will be. Most agencies lay them out in their explanation of fees.
In every type of adoption, you need to legally petition the court for the adoption. There are a few different steps to this process, depending on what type of adoption you are pursuing. For the sake of domestic adoption, parental rights need to be terminated. This is done with the filing of court papers. This would be handled by the adoption lawyers. I know in our case, we had to terminate our son’s birth mother’s rights and then our attorney had to make every attempt at locating his biological father, which included publishing a paternity acknowledgment. Our adoption lawyers then had to appear in court to terminate our son’s birth mother’s rights. Side note, when your agency tells you not to go the termination of parental rights hearing, listen to them. We have an open relationship with our son’s birth mother and she wanted us to be there with her, but it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to sit through. That was the first thing our adoption lawyers did for us.
Secondly, when it was time to finalize our adoption, they prepared the necessary legal documents for that as well. This includes the petition for adoption, which outlines the termination of parental rights and the intent of the adoptive parents. This time, our attorney was acting on our behalf. Our adoption lawyers did not need to appear in court on our finalization day but did prepare all the necessary paperwork to complete the adoption.
If you did not want to utilize the services of an adoption agency, you would hire the services of an adoption lawyer. This is usually done when you already have a birth mother in mind. However, some adoption lawyers will help you locate birth mothers as well. Some families choose to work with an adoption lawyer because agencies have more restrictions on families that can be accepted into their program. Some families choose to work with adoption lawyers because they believe it will be “cheaper” than working with an adoption agency. However, the process will essentially be the same as if you were working with an adoption agency. As I mentioned above, an adoption lawyer will not be able to complete your home study for you. In almost every adoption, a home study is a requirement to move forward with the adoption. This means, in addition to hiring an adoption lawyer, you will also need to hire the services of an agency to conduct your home study. The rest of the process is essentially the same. The adoption lawyers will prepare all the legal documents necessary to complete your adoption. They will prepare the documents to terminate the parental rights, and they will complete the documents for the finalization of the adoption.
Again, my only advice when hiring an adoption lawyer is to meet with more than one. Some adoption lawyers will offer a free consult. I would take advantage of as many of those are you can. You want to make sure you hire an adoption lawyer who is a good fit for your needs and your family. Just like selecting an adoption agency, you should be just as selective choosing an adoption lawyer.
Now that you know a little bit about both forms of adoption lawyers, what are some of the pros and cons of utilizing an adoption lawyer for your adoption?
- Usually, adoption lawyers practice exclusively family law or specifically, adoption law. Meaning, they are going to be well skilled at what they do. I found that to be particularly comforting when we were going through the adoption process. The attorneys’ office we worked with was well known for working exclusively on adoptions.
- It could be more cost-effective if you have already been matched with a birth mother without the utilization of an agency. That is, you may reduce the number of fees you have to pay, simply because you will only need to pay for the services of an adoption lawyer, instead of an agency and an adoption lawyer.
- On the flip side, it could be more costly to use the services of an adoption lawyer. That could be because you also have to hire an agency to complete your home study as well as hire an adoption lawyer to prepare all the necessary legal documents. There is never any way of knowing what adoption is going to cost. So much of it is based on time and how much work goes into it. Not to mention every adoption is different, so there is no one set price. However, you usually hire a lawyer at an hourly rate. Depending on where you live, that may determine what that hourly rate is. I know where I live the going rate is about $300 to $350 an hour.
- Also, you would have to find an agency to complete your home study. I am sure they have recommendations and it would not be that hard to find someone, it would just be another step that falls on your lap, instead of having the adoption agency complete it all.
- You may have less availability than an agency. I know when we went through the adoption process, I reached out to our social worker quite a bit and she was usually there when I needed her or had a quick response. I do not know that if we had hired an adoption lawyer if he/she would have that much availability.
I don’t have all the answers for you, but I feel I have a couple of tips to help you decide if you should work with an adoption agency or work with adoption lawyers. First and foremost, I think you need to decide if you would like to work with an agency in locating a birth mother. That was a no-brainer for us. I did not feel comfortable finding our birth mother. It was not something we were comfortable with. Also, ask around. You would be surprised to find out how many people have been touched by the gift of adoption. Ask if they used an agency or an adoption lawyer. And then ask who they used. A referral may be more comforting than just picking someone you find online.
A few years after our son was born, we had a friend reach out to us who had a cousin who was pregnant. We used the same agency we went through the first and she later changed her mind. Had that happened the first time around, I don’t think I would have been able to try again. So make sure you know what you can handle. If you need a little more guidance and comfort, I would say an agency would be a better bet. If you don’t think you need that much contact or guidance, feel free to use an adoption lawyer.
Also, know what each of their fee structures is. When you sit down to meet with an adoption lawyer or an agency, make sure you know what their fee breakdown is. It is no secret that adoption is expensive. You do not want to be caught off guard later down the road with some unexpected costs. Be prepared.
Be prepared to ask the adoption lawyers questions. Specifically, you should be asking them the following:
- How many adoptions have you processed? What types of adoption?
- What other type of law do you practice?
- Will you be working directly with the attorney, or an associate attorney, or an assistant or paralegal? Who will be your point of contact?
- What is your hourly rate? What are the hourly rates of everyone involved in my case, i.e., associate, legal assistant, paralegal?
- How do you bill? Do you have a minimum billing?
- Do you require a retainer?
- What states are you licensed in?
- Do you provide any “matching” services? Not all attorneys offer this, but a few do.
- Does your law firm perform any other adoption services?
While these are only suggestions, I believe it is a good starting point to find the adoption lawyer that is right for your family. Again, this is only a quick overview of what adoption lawyers do. Every case is unique, every family is unique, and every adoption is unique. Some adoption lawyers will perform fewer adoption services and some will perform more. I think it also depends on where you live. Some smaller communities may not have adoption lawyers available. If that is the case, reach out to a bigger city and find an adoption lawyer that is available to work with you. I wish you the best of luck in finding an adoption lawyer that is right for your family.