Adoption may be a new process for you. Since it is a legal process, you will need an attorney to guide you and ensure that the adoption meets all state laws and regulations. In some states, an attorney is needed from the start of the process (i.e., in New York State adoptive parents must be Pre-Certified through their local court prior to taking custody of a child). All adoptions need an attorney to finalize the parent-child relationship through the court.
Adoption law is a specialty and not all family law attorneys have the expertise to oversee and finalize an adoption. Before choosing an attorney, consider the following:
1. WHO DOES WHAT? – Attorneys provide legal services, but may also connect you to other services (i.e., physicians, OB/GYNs, counselors, etc.) as the need arises in your adoption process. Discuss what services and decisions are needed and who makes them.
2. PRIOR EXPERIENCE – Ask if they have done the type of adoption you are choosing (i.e.domestic interstate adoption, specific intercountry adoption, working with singles, etc.). How many have they done and how recently (i.e., intercountry adoption changes in 2014 may not be known by immigration attorneys without current adoption experience)? You want an attorney knowledgeable and up-to-date with the type of adoption process you are starting.
3. PROFESSIONAL LICENSING AND CONSUMER RATING – Check if they are licensed in your state. You can also look at www.adoptionattorneys.org which lists attorneys who have been vetted by the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and have a minimum amount of related adoption experience. Find a local adoptive parent group and talk to adoptive parents about whom they used and if they were satisfied with the legal services they received.
4. WHO IS FOLLOWING YOUR CASE? – Ask if you will be working with the attorney directly, or if a partner/associate or office staff member will be assigned to your case. What hours are they available? Do they prefer phone calls, emails, texts, etc.? It is important to know who is overseeing your adoption and, if other staff will be involved, who does what and when.
5. WHAT ARE THE COSTS OF THE ADOPTION? – You will want to know who helps guide you in appropriate adoption fees, what is legal and what is paid to whom and when. For the attorney specifically: How do they bill? Do they have a consultation fee, a retainer, a set rate or do they bill by the hour? You should have an estimated adoption budget before you begin the process, and know what part is for legal fees.
While you may work with social workers, Internet consultants, and other professionals throughout your adoption, your attorney will by your legal guide throughout your adoption process. Because you will be placing a great amount of trust in their legal expertise and guidance, you need to make sure you choose the right attorney for your type of adoption. No one can tell you whom to choose. If you have done your research, understand what an attorney can and cannot do in your state, checked their licensing, experience and consumer rating with adoptive parents, and consulted with local adoption professionals (such as social workers, homestudy providers and counselors) you will just get the “feeling” this is the right person to help you build your family.
Adoption is a leap of faith. Leap with your eyes open, consult with others as you go, and switch gears, if you feel something is not right or working for you.