In every U.S. state except Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts, families may seek out birth mothers and facilitate their own adoptions without the assistance of an agency or third-party intermediary.
In an independent non-agency adoption, the prospective adoptive parents network to find a birth family who is interested in making an adoption plan for their child. Adoption networking is often done by word-of-mouth, open letters to potential birth mothers, newspaper advertisements, and personal websites.
Non-Agency Adoption Requirements
Prior to beginning their birth mother networking, families pursuing non-agency adoptions should consult an attorney to clarify their state’s laws regarding independent adoptions. Since each state establishes its own adoption rules, families may be limited in where they are allowed to advertise and what they must disclose in their ads and letters.
Although birth mothers may never be paid cash in exchange for going through with the adoption, families may cover birth mothers’ uninsured medical, legal, and counseling expenses as related to the adoption. Before covering any of the birth mother’s expenses, adoptive families should verify what the law permits them to pay.
As in agency-directed adoptions, the family must also pass a home study before they may take custody of an adoptive child. Home studies for independent adoptions can be completed through a private adoption agency, state child protective agency, or by an independent licensed social worker.
Legal Aspects of Independent Adoption
In an agency adoption, the birth parents generally sign over their rights to the adoption agency. In an independent adoption, the birth parents relinquish custody directly to the adoptive family.
It is necessary for the prospective adoptive parents to retain an attorney to prepare the relinquishment documents. It is also advisable for the family to hire a separate attorney to represent the birth mother and ensure that she understands the adoption process, is not relinquishing her rights under duress, and is not trying to defraud the adoptive family.
In most states, birth parents are not allowed to execute their consents to the adoption until after the child is born. Some jurisdictions also set a waiting period for birth parents, who may be required to wait between two and ten days after the baby’s birth before they can legally consent to adoption. In states that require a waiting period, the adoptive family may still take custody of the child immediately, provided that the court enters a temporary custody order.
In some states, the birth parents’ consents are irrevocable once they are signed. In other jurisdictions, the birth parents may have two weeks to a month to withdraw their consent to the adoption. In several states, the birth parents may revoke their adoption at any point prior to the adoption being finalized.
Even if the birth father’s whereabouts are unknown at the time the birth mother makes an adoption plan, the court will still need to formally terminate his rights before the adoption process can proceed. When a family pursuing independent adoption realizes there is an unknown birth father, they generally must try to locate him and get his written consent to the adoption.
If the birth father cannot be found, he may be served the adoption papers by publication. When a birth father is served by publication, a noticed is published in a newspaper or legal bulletin board informing him of the hearing date. If he does not show up for the hearing or contact the court beforehand, and the adoptive parents’ attorney can show that the family exercised due diligence in trying to locate him, the judge may immediately terminate the father’s parental rights.
Finalizing the Adoption
After the birth parents have executed their relinquishments, the family must then file a petition for adoption with the court. The petition must be supported by documents to show that they are in compliance with the law. These documents may include receipts from items purchased for the birth mother, the home study report, additional reports from the social worker on the family’s progress, and copies of the family’s “dear birthmother” letter or newspaper ad that they used to connect with the birth family.
Once the court receives the petition, the family will be assigned a hearing date, where they will be required to appear before a family court judge. Based on the individual circumstances of the adoption and the complexity of the state’s laws, it may take anywhere from 2-8 months to receive a final adoption decree.
Choosing an independent adoption rather than an agency directed placement allows prospective adoptive families to control the wait time and cost of their adoption. It also allows the birth parents and adoptive family to develop a personal relationship, which can have psychological benefits for both the families and the child. Although independent adoption may not be right for all families, many will find that the extra effort pays off.