Agency or Independent Adoption? What You Need To Know

This guest post is by Michelle Erich at Michelle Erich Law.

After you have read up on adoption and maybe visited an adoptive parent support group, you will have some ideas of the adoption you want such as open or closed, in state or out, or international.

Do you want to hire an adoption attorney or list with an adoption agency? Both have pros and cons, so the choice is personal to you.

An adoption attorney is a one-stop-shop in a way that is exclusive to lawyers.  Attorneys are licensed by the state.  Be sure to check the laws in your state first since some jurisdictions, such as Texas and Florida, only allow agency adoptions.

What adoption attorneys do

An attorney will help you find a baby, arrange for your home study and other requirements, file your adoption case and take it all the way to a final decree or order of adoption.  Attorneys handle independent adoptions, also called private adoptions.

These are defined as open adoptions due to the fact that the identities of first parents and adoptive parents are known to each other. The rest is negotiable.  The term open adoption may or may not include ongoing contact after the adoption is completed.

If you want to meet the mother of the child you will raise, talk to her, ask her questions and keep in touch with her as your child grows up, then you want an open adoption. Attorneys tend to work with a manageable number of clients at one time, putting you in a smaller pool.

Attorneys and interstate adoptions

An attorney may or may not handle interstate adoptions, so ask. The attorney will handle any financial transactions with the birth mother making sure all state laws are upheld. If the state you are in is not adoption friendly (look at numbers of adoptions and requirements), then you may choose to adopt in another state.

Utah, as has been highly publicized, has laws very favorable to the adopting parents. Some states, like California, allow the adoption to take place in the adopting parents’ or the birth mother’s home state. Perhaps that is the reason California leads the nation in the number of adoptions overall.

Most attorneys will provide free consultations and a fee agreement that spells out all the terms in detail.  Some charge flat fees; some charge by the hour.  A flat fee is comforting in that it is a known quantity, but if your adoption requires little attorney time, you are paying for the difficult cases.

Of course, if your case becomes contested and the flat fee covers litigation, you made a good deal.  An attorney charging hourly will be able to give you an idea of the range and the factors that affect fees such as a missing or unknown birth father as opposed to one who has filed a parentage action to oppose your adoption. The range may be $5.000-$50,000, so ask about details on each adoption opportunity as it arises.

What adoption agencies do

Agencies are licensed by the state.  An agency can conduct an investigation and write a home study report on you.  They also help you prepare a profile and attempt to locate a baby for you. An agency is required in a few states to oversee all adoptions, examples are Texas and Florida. If you want an international adoption, you will need to find an agency that operates in the country you like, such as China, Russia, or Brazil.

Remember to ask about travel costs. International adoptions offer opportunities for closed adoptions, especially of orphans. Only an agency can arrange a closed adoption, where identities on both sides remain confidential, as well as an open adoption.

If a birth mother does not want to meet parents or have any future contact (a rarity), she can relinquish her baby to the agency at the hospital and move on immediately, leaving the adoption in the hands of the agency.  The agency becomes the legal representative of the child and selects parents.

It is not advisable to begin without a written agreement from the agency spelling out all fees and costs including the payment schedule all the way through a final decree of adoption. Note that some agencies have a clause that if you get a baby from any source–relative, next door neighbor–their obligations are fulfilled, and you would have to begin again for a second adoption.

Agencies generally have classes and counseling available on-site, but not lawyers. The counseling may not assist a birthmother, if it is logistically inconvenient or she already has a therapist she prefers to keep.

You should be given several referral names for attorneys. Call them all. Compare costs and services before deciding. If any of the attorneys are connected in any way to the agency, such as through a spouse, that should be disclosed to you.

What adoption facilitators do

Let me close with a few words about the services of adoption facilitators. Begin with basic questions and research on your part, such as:  1) Does your state allows adoption facilitators? 2) Is the one you are considering registered with the state? and 3) Have their been complaints?

If the answers are yes, yes, no, then you might want to continue. Facilitator are adoption match-makers.  They take people who want to adopt and help them find babies.

Like an agency or an attorney, the longer they have been around the stronger the network and out reach to birth mothers will likely be.  They cannot give legal advice or write a home study report, but they should have  referrals for social workers and attorneys to handle those areas.

Choosing a representative is an important step, so weigh the differences carefully. Sometimes you just know after speaking with someone that you have found the right place or person, so make the calls!


Michelle Erich is an open adoption attorney in Ventura, California with more than 20 years of experience working with expectant parents and hopeful adoptive parents. You can find out more about her and her services at Michelle Erich Law.



Share Your Open Adoption Story
Do you have an open adoption connection? Are you a hopeful adoptive parent, expectant parent, birth parent, adoptive parent, adoptee, or adoption professional? We’re always on the lookout for great stories that will inform, educate or entertain our community. To learn more, check out our Guidelines For Guest Posts at America Adopts!

Photo credit:  Joe Houghton