Adoption Lawyers/Independent Adoption
When adopting a baby in the United States, in all but a few states, prospective adoptive parents have a choice between using an adoption agency or an adoption attorney. Adoptions through an adoption lawyer are sometimes called independent adoptions.
If you use an adoption lawyer, make sure you use one that specializes in adoption. Family law is not the same as adoption law. See below for how to find an adoption attorney.
- In a typical independent adoption, the prospective parents take an active role in finding a birthmother, usually by networking, advertising, or by using the Internet. While adoptive parents may choose to do this in an adoption agency adoption, they may have the option of letting the adoption agency do this for them.
- In some states (in some circumstances) infants adopted through an adoption agency must first go to a foster home before being placed with their adoptive parents.
- Adoption agencies can handle infant domestic adoption, international adoptions, and foster care adoptions, and sometimes all three at the same agency. Adoption attorneys usually only handle independent domestic infant adoptions through birth parent relinquishment.
- Not all states allow adoption lawyers to help adoptive parents locate and screen expectant women who are considering placing their child for adoption.
- Usually, the expectant woman or birthmother selects the adoptive family in both adoption agency adoptions and independent adoption attorney adoptions, but sometimes in an agency adoption, the agency will choose if the birth mother does not want to. This seldom happens with adoptions through adoption lawyers.
- As a general rule, adoption lawyers have fewer restrictions for adoptive parents (age, marital status, sexual orientation, number of divorces, religion), although it restrictions depend upon the agency and not all agencies have them.
- Adoption lawyers often do not have and do not require the same level of pre-adoption education as most adoption agencies. (I believe all adoptive parents should be well educated on the adoption and adoptive parenting before the adoption.)
- Most adoption agencies provide counseling to the expectant woman and the father and even her extended family throughout the pregnancy and after the adoption. Few adoption lawyers provide counseling as part of their service, although they should be able to refer the expectant woman to a counselor and bill the adoptive parents.
- Most adoption attorneys do not provide ongoing support for adoptive families after the adoption has been finalized, although some are able to refer families to a therapist specializing in adoption issues or other resources. Not all adoption agencies have post-adoption support, but many do and adoptive parents can choose to select one that provides this service.
- It is possible to find an adoption agency that charges on a sliding fee scale or does not charge birth mother medical expenses directly to the adoptive family, thus saving the adoptive family money. These payment options are seldom available with independent adoptions via an adoption attorney. The average cost for adoptions, however, is about the same regardless of whether you adopt through an adoption agency or lawyer, especially if you pay extra for some of the services we think are essential when adopting through an attorney.
- The Academy of Adoption & Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA) is the first place to start. This national association of attorneys specializing in adoption law (as well as 3rd party reproduction) has a rigorous application process for attorneys wanting to join. They require attorneys to have practiced in the field of adoption for a specific number of years and require references from attorneys and judges who have worked with potential members. They also have two conferences a year providing ongoing education on adoption law for their members. They include a list of members at their site and you can search by state.
- The American College of Assisted Reproduction and Adoption Lawyers (ACARAL), as the name suggests, specializes exclusively in reproductive and adoption law and maintains a list of members.
- Attorneys specializing in adoption are not required to be a member of the American Bar Association Section of Family Law, but membership is evidence that they are up on the latest developments in this area of law. There is a committee on adoption and that would be indicative of their interest. They do not have a list of members, but you can contact the Section on Family Law at (312) 988-5145.
- You can also check the adoption attorneys that are sponsors of Creating a Family on our Adoption Service Directory. Their support of Creating a Family shows their belief in our mission of providing unbiased education and support before, during, and after adoption to help create strong families.
Creating a Family has additional resources on adoption lawyers/independent adoption. A few we think you will find particularly helpful are:
- Adoption Agency or Adoption Attorney: Which Should You Choose? (article)
- What is a Home Study? Why Do I Need One? (article)
- The Adoption Home Study: Preparing and Surviving (guest article)
- How to Adopt in 2023 (1 hr. podcast w/ experts)
- Adopting Through an Adoption Lawyer (1 hr. podcast w/ experts)
Many more Creating a Family interviews with experts, blogs, and fact sheets on adoption lawyers/independent adoption can be found at the icons below.