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  • 25 Factors to Consider When Adopting from the United States (Private Domestic Adoption)

    private domestic adoption

    Click on each factor to learn more. Current as of July, 2014. This information is subject to change; therefore, check with an agency for the most current information.

    Private domestic adoption is also known as birth mother placement, birth mother relinquishment, or domestic newborn adoption. Each state and territory in the US has separate and different laws that govern how parents can relinquish their parental rights for their child to be adopted. As a result, it is difficult to make sweeping statements that will cover the laws in each state.  More information can be found at the Domestic Adoption page.  Adoption laws are hard to interpret by non-lawyers and even by lawyers that don’t specialize in adoption. We strongly suggest that you contact an adoption attorney or adoption agency in your state to better understand the meaning of these laws.

    Expectant parents usually choose the adoptive family for their child. Adoptive parents prepare a “profile” which usually includes pictures and a letter to the pregnant woman or couple telling about themselves and why they want to adopt. The pregnant mother is usually shown several profiles from which to choose. Often, but not always, she will meet with several families or at least speak with them over the phone before she chooses a family to parent her child.

    The issue of when a birth parent can give consent varies by state law. In all states, expectant mothers cannot legally consent to an adoption until after the child is born. Until that time, even if she has chosen an adoptive family and received monetary support for her expenses, it is easy for her to change her mind. Several states will allow the birth father to consent prior to birth. Most states require a waiting period after birth before the birth mother can give her consent. This time ranges from one day to two weeks, with the average being three days.

    After a birth parent consents to the adoption, in most states they can only revoke this consent if they can prove that it was obtained under fraud or duress. Most states also allow a set period of time for birth parents to change their mind to the adoption after they have consented. The law in each state differs on this length of time ranging between 0 to 180 days, but in most states, it is not more than one to two weeks. After that time, it is very unlikely that the child can be removed from the adoptive parents. Unknown birth fathers present legal difficulties and must be handled carefully according to state law.

    Prospective adoptive parents can adopt through an agency or independently (usually through an adoption lawyer). Facilitators, or someone hired to find a pregnant woman who is considering adoption, are not legal in all states. Most agencies provide counseling for birth mothers to help them make this decision. I strongly recommend that adoptive parents insist that birthmothers received counseling even if not required by state law, or their agency or attorney.

    Most domestic newborn adoptions are open to some degree. There is a great deal of misunderstanding in the adoptive parent community on what is meant by “open adoption“. We suggest that if you are considering open adoption, you check out these resources:

    + Parental Age
    There are no legal restrictions, but most agencies and attorneys report that expectant mothers are less likely to pick “older” parents (45+), unless they have few prospective parents to choose from, which can be the case where there are risk factors such as prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, questionable birth family mental health history, or legal risk associated with an unknown or unsupportive birth father. Also, fewer families are available to adopt full African American boys. Agencies may have their own parental age requirements. 

    + Length of Marriage
    No legal restrictions, but see above discussion under Parental Age.

    + Divorce
    No legal restrictions, but see above discussion under Parental Age.

    + Children in Family
    No legal restrictions, but see above discussion under Parental Age.

    + Single Applicant
    No legal restrictions, but see above discussion under Parental Age.

    + Sexual Orientation
    No legal restrictions. In recent years, we have seen greater openness of expectant mothers considering same sex couples, especially on either coast and in larger urban areas. See the Creating a Family resources for Gay Adoption.

    + Children Available
    Almost all children available through birth parent relinquishment are newborns or young infants.  Children born with correctable medical conditions are not considered hard to place. 

    + Race/Ethnicity
    All; full African American children, especially boys, are sometimes harder to place.

    + Gender
    Obviously, both genders are available; the real question is whether it is possible for adoptive parents to specify the gender. Gender selection is problematic with domestic baby adoption since most often the pregnant woman chooses the adoptive family before the child is born and before the gender is known. Once chosen, opinions differ on if it is ethical for the adoptive parents to back out because the child is not the preferred gender. Some agencies do not allow gender selection because of this, and most agencies and attorneys discourage the practice. If you feel strongly, let your agency or attorney know up front, and they can try to steer you to pregnant woman that know the gender or to a situation where the child has already been born. 

    + Adopting More Than One Unrelated Child at the Same Time
    Theoretically, it is possible, but not practical. You would need to be matched with two expectant mothers who did not have a problem placing their child with a couple in the process of adopting another child. The logistics, to say nothing of finding agreeable birth parents, make this option highly unlikely.

    + Travel
    Adoptive parents must travel to the state where the child is born. If married, both parents must travel, but after the placement papers are completed, one parent may leave. One parent must stay in the state of the child’s birth, although it is not usually necessary to stay in the city of birth, until the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children’s Office (ICPC) paperwork is complete. The time varies by state, but is usually between 5 to 10 business days. (ICPC offices close for federal government holidays.)  Check out the CAF show on Domestic Adoption: Finding a Child & Adopting Across State Lines for more information.

    + Wait Time
    Unfortunately, there is no way to predict since it depends on when you are chosen by the expectant parents. As a general rule, married, college educated couples in their late 20s or 30s have a shorter wait. Couples open to all races and prenatal risk factors usually have a shorter wait. One survey found that the majority of adoptive families were matched with a birth mother within 12 months. 

    + Approximate Cost

    Average cost for using an agency: $32,000 – $37,000.  Average cost for using an attorney: $28,000 – $32,000. (Total cost, including travel) Cost varies greatly depending on many factors, including:

    • Whether adoptive parents spend money searching for prospective birth mothers
    • How early in the pregnancy adoptive parents are matched, and thus how many months of living expenses adoptive parents must pay
    • What expenses are allowed by the laws of the birth mother’s state (for a great summary of what expenses different states allow, go to the Child Welfare Information Gateway
    • Whether the birth mother has health insurance
    • Whether the adoptive parents can recoup their expenses if a birth mother changes her mind after the birth and decides not to place her child
    • Travel costs

    + Orphanage/Foster Care
    Usually, the child comes directly to the adoptive parents from the hospital; however in some states and with some agencies, if there is a chance that the adoption will not be finalized, the child is placed in a foster home until the legal time period for revocation of consent has passed. 

    + Why Children Are Relinquished
    There are as many different reasons as there are birth mothers, but generally most woman that choose to place a child for adoption are single, poor, in their 20s, and already the single parent to at least one child. 

    + Prevalence of FASD
    Drinking during pregnancy is not uncommon in the United States. It is difficult to get accurate information on if the birth mother drank during her pregnancy because many are ashamed to admit to this behavior. The best way to determine if a woman drank during her pregnancy is to look at her lifestyle before she became pregnant. The best discussion on this topic that I’ve heard was by Dr. Julian Davies, one of the leading experts on FAS and adoption, on this Creating a Family show.  For a great discussion on how to get accurate information from an expectant mom on if she drank during pregnancy, listen to this Creating a Family show with Dr. Ira Chasnoff.

    + Adequacy of Medical Reports
    Medical information after birth is excellent and whatever is known about prenatal care is provided to the adoptive parents.  Birth mothers are asked about prenatal habits, care, and family medical history, but keep in mind that she may not share or know all this information.

    + Number of Children Adopted Domestically in 2013
    As hard as it is to believe, this data is not readily available. The best estimates are between 25,000 to 30,000 per year. 

    + Growing/Declining
    Holding steady; there has been greater interest in domestic infant adoptions and foster care adoptions since 2007 since several of the larger sending countries for international adoption have closed and the waiting times for others has increased.

    + Post Adoption Reports
    May be required in the state where you adopt. Usually they last no longer than 6 months to one year. 

    + Additional Information
    The adoption is finalized after the child has lived with the family for a legally prescribed period of time that varies by state, but is usually around 6 months. Adoptive parents may have to hire an attorney to finalize the adoption if this service is not provided.

    © Creating a Family

    Available from www.CreatingaFamily.org, the national adoption and infertility education and support organization. Please do not reprint without giving credit to Creating a Family and a link to the website.

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    Content created by Creating a Family. And remember, there are no guarantees in adoption or infertility treatment. The information provided or referenced on this website should be used only as part of an overall plan to help educate you about the joys and challenges of adopting a child or dealing with infertility. Although the following seems obvious, our attorney insists that we tell you specifically that the information provided on this site may not be appropriate or applicable to you, and despite our best efforts, it may contain errors or important omissions. You should rely only upon the professionals you employ to assist you directly with your individual circumstances. CREATING A FAMILY DOES NOT WARRANT THE INFORMATION OR MATERIALS contained or referenced on this website. CREATING A FAMILY EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS LIABILITY FOR ERRORS or omissions in this information and materials and PROVIDES NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, implied, express or statutory. IN NO EVENT WILL CREATING A FAMILY BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES, including without limitation direct or indirect, special, incidental, or consequential damages, losses or expenses arising out of or in connection with the use of the information or materials, EVEN IF CREATING A FAMILY OR ITS AGENTS ARE NEGLIGENT AND/OR ARE ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.