What kinds of adoption do you specialize in handling?
Our office represents clients most often in private placement Independent Adoptions (that is where the birth parents choose the adoptive parents and place the baby directly with the adoptive parents usually at the time of the baby’s discharge from the hospital). We also represent clients who are adopting through licensed adoption agencies.
We handle collaborative placements which combine the best features of Independent and Agency adoptions often without the drawbacks of traditional Agency adoptions. We represent birth mothers and adoptive couples throughout the United States. We also handle the readoption of children adopted in foreign countries whose parents seek to obtain California issued birth certificates for them. My office also handles Stepparent and Adult adoptions too.
How long will it take us to adopt?
While nobody can guarantee how quickly you will match with a birth mother who meets your needs and whose needs you meet as well, it has been our experience that our clients match promptly. The average client is able to match with a birth mother and have a baby in their home through our efforts in most instances within 6-9 months to a year and a half of commencing the process.
We do not have a waiting list in our office. In fact, because the birth parents choose the adoptive couple it really does not matter to the birth mother how long clients have been waiting to adopt–the birth mother may choose a client who just retained the firm or one who has been waiting a while–the choice and the reasons for that choice are the birth mother’s alone. However, unlike other law firms which stockpile dozens of clients, we work with a smaller amount of adoptive parents at any given time and our clients receive more individualized and personal attention to their needs.
How much will it cost us to adopt?
The total cost of each adoption depends on the facts of each individual case. If the birth mother is living with her parents and covered under the family medical insurance policy, the adoption costs may be quite low. On the other hand, if she is living on her own and has no medical insurance or state health coverage (like Medi-Cal or Medicaid), then the expenses may be higher. She may or may not be employed and that too could impact on what adoptive parents might be asked to provide in terms of financial assistance.
The range of total adoption costs in this office which includes legal and court fees, home study fees and birth mother living and medical expenses is between $12,000–$25,500.00. Before you match with any prospective birth parent we will happily project the estimated total cost of the adoption for your prior approval and discuss means of keeping the adoption costs within your budget.
Are any of our adoption expenses tax deductible?
In May 2001 Congress enacted laws making adoption affordable for many clients. Particularly, the law was revised to permit a tax credit of as much as $12,770.00 adjusted by the cost of living on an annual basis, for expenses incurred in connection with adoptions which become “final” to be claimed in the year when the adoption finalizes. The same law was permitted adoptive parents whose adoptions did not successfully conclude to seek the same adoption tax credit in the year after their adoption failed.
In January 2013, Congress and the President approved new legislation which was signed and entered into law making the adoption tax credit a permanent credit (the old version had a sunset date of December 31, 2012) raised the maximum qualifying limits for families wishing to avail themselves of the adoption tax credit. For many of our clients who qualify for the adoption tax credit, the credit covers the majority of their adoption expenses making adoption far more affordable. You will want to speak with your tax advisors or accountant about the applicability of the adoption tax credit to your situation and whether you would be entitled to the entire credit or to only a portion of it based upon your adjusted gross income. Please note that the tax credit is not available in stepparent nor in relative adoption cases.
The law also continues to apply to unsuccessful/failed adoptions. Among the other provisions of the revised law Congress eliminated the sunset provision on the old tax credit which would have caused the tax credit to expire in December 2001 (it now sunsets in 2013) and indexed the credit for inflation. The new law also increases the amount of money which employer may provide to employees tax free to help subsidize adoption efforts. To determine how much of your adoption expenses will be allowed as a tax credit on your federal income tax return please contact your tax preparer or accountant as the new adoption tax credit law will make a major financial impact for the better on the vast majority of adoptive families.
Commencing January 1, 2014 the maximum adoption tax credit for qualified adoption expenses will be $13,190.00. The adoption credit begins to phase out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income in excess of $197,880.00 and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $237,880.00 or more.
Can we protect ourselves and our financial investment during the adoption process?
In January 2006, through the auspices of Adoption Assurance, adoptive families were, after years of the absence of adoption insurance on the market, able to consider purchasing adoption insurance IF they were working with a very select group of adoption attorneys. Those attorneys whose clients could qualify for adoption insurance, were members of the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers and the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys. As the Past President of the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers and a Fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, clients of our offices were able to avail themselves of adoption insurance. At present the insurance is off of the market and no longer available.
While many lawyers and agencies have the adoptive parents give money as needed directly to the birth mother on her demand, our office feels that doing so is just begging for trouble. There are laws in California and in all states where adoption is permitted which define what may and may not be paid to a birth mother.
There may be instances which arise (usually they come up just before the mother’s due date) where the adoptive couple may feel as though they have no choice but to pay for birth mother expenses which are legally questionable especially if the birth mother has grown accustomed to being paid upon her demand directly by the adoptive parents. By utilizing our services in disbursing funds to the birth mother through our client trust account, we can make the “hard calls” and keep our clients and the birth parents within the confines of the law without damaging their relationship.
If the birth mother seeks an improper payment, we will professionally and courteously explain the reason why that sum cannot be paid. She may not like our response but it is likely that she will not blame you for it. As all money paid in the adoption process must be accounted for in writing to the Court before finalization, care must be taken about what bills are paid and to whom. We are here to assist you with regard to all financial transactions in the adoption process and to assure compliance with all applicable laws.
How will we know if our birth mother is legitimate?
As an attorney experienced in adoption practice I will guide you in evaluating the quality of any prospective birth mother. Obviously we will want proof that she is pregnant and independent confirmation of other vital statistics about her. We strive to verify all background information provided by the birth parents. All birth mothers who work with clients of this office must be tested for HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, herpes, drugs, and alcohol.
Test results and medical records are always provided to our clients. Our experience in handling adoptions aids us in spotting and pointing out any “warning flags” which arise as we screen potential birth mothers. If the birth mother does not live in California we will recommend that she be interviewed by counsel where she lives so that local counsel may give us independent impressions of the birth mother. Other areas of importance in the evaluation of birth parents will be discussed during our initial consultation. While nobody can guarantee that a birth mother will follow through with her adoption plan, we can help improve your odds of matching with a birth mother who will keep her commitment to the adoption plan.
How and what do you charge for your legal services?
My firm charges hourly for my advice and professional services in connection with our adoption efforts on your behalf. My hourly fees are designed to assure that you only pay for the services we provide during our representation of you as a client. If we are able to put together an adoption for you inexpensively, you won’t be asked to pay more than for the services which we render to you or on your behalf as itemized in monthly statements we will send you from our office.
There are a few instances when we charge flat fees for services as a means of cost management and protection for you. Particularly once a match has been made we may charge flat fees for such services as terminating a birth father’s rights, compliance with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, and/or taking waivers from biological parents. We do not charge one time “lump sum charges” so you won’t be asked to give us a lump sum for postage, long distance telephone and advertising. You simply pay for the out of pocket costs we actually advance on your case.
Initial consultation appointments are charged hourly for the time actually spent. The hourly rate which is charged for the consultation time is discounted as a courtesy to you. My consultations typically last between an hour and two hours. Consultations are spent with me alone – – you are not shunted off to others in my office to consult with about various subjects after meeting with me. You do not have to complete an application before meeting with me. You do not have to deposit funds with my office that are non-refundable before the initial consultation. Payment for the initial consultation is due at the conclusion of our consultation appointment.
What about the birth father?
The stories which make the news and talk shows always seem to focus on birth fathers. Our office is concerned, as are our clients, about the rights of birth fathers. We want to create lasting and proper adoptions. We can only do that by affording birth fathers their rights and when appropriate lawfully terminating those rights. We seek at the earliest stage possible to determine the attitude and legal standing of the birth father. We prefer to obtain his cooperation and consent and to have him provide us with as much information as he can about himself and his family.
If he does not wish to be involved and is not married to the birth mother we present him with ways in which he may end his involvement even before the baby is born. But we do not hide the facts about the birth father or pretend that we do not know where he is. We do not want to work with birth mothers who pretend that they don’t remember who the birth father is so that they can avoid dealing with him. We encourage birth mothers to be honest about the birth father and to assist us so that we may properly terminate his rights or obtain his consent to the adoption plan.
Should we work with a facilitator or other unlicensed intermediary to help us locate a baby to adopt?
There are a number of facilitators in the adoption field who advertise/claim that they have done thousands of placements in record time, that they can assist anyone in locating a child to adopt, and that they have a 100% success rate. This is similar to those advertised magic potions which claim to grow hair or the magic pills which promise to help you lose weight overnight.
These promises sound good, but are they true? Or are they too good to be true? Like other claims that we wish to be true, these claims often made by facilitators and other unlicensed intermediaries deserve investigation. Facilitators are not licensed in any state in the United States. California is one of the few states which has any regulations pertaining to facilitators at all, and there the only requirement in California requires facilitators to post a minimum bond. There are no educational requirements and no minimal standards for these intermediaries and facilitators to meet. Facilitators are not monitored and are not accountable to any licensing entity and their activities are illegal in many states!
1. Monitoring: No one monitors whether facilitators produce any results. No one monitors whether their advertising is true. No one knows how many families do not find the child they seek. No one knows how many families are badgered into adopting a child whose background they are not comfortable with; or how many promises are made which cannot legally be kept. Facilitators have no license to lose. Some deliberately mislead you into believing that they are licensed adoption agencies instead of acknowledging that they are neither licensed nor regulated nor are they agencies. Some have misleading business names suggesting that they are affiliated with lawyers or are an “agency” or “organization” in an effort to appear more legitimate.
But closer inspection of the facts will help you discern that these are all “come ons” to convince you to pay a sizeable retainer for their “services.” When clients are unhappy or feel defrauded by these individuals there is no licensing board to complain to and the only recourse is to file a suit for fraud which is likely to be a costly and not necessarily effective use of your limited financial resources and time. When you work with a licensed agency or an attorney not only are problems are much less common, but their actions are monitored by the licensing Boards or State Bars of the state in which they practice.
2. No educational requirements: Facilitators often act as intermediaries between the birth mother/father and the adoptive family, stating that they collect background information, screen adoption leads and set up the processing. Since there are no standards as to what a facilitator should know to do the work they purport to do competently, (in fact many have received their experience only because they once adopted a child themselves), they are unable to recognize the complicated issues of law which may present themselves in most if not all adoption plans.
For example there are presumptions in law pertaining to birth fathers, birth parent issues, American Indian issues, fee issues, federal and individual unique state adoption laws, birth mother expense issues, relinquishment and surrender issues which differ state to state. Facilitators cannot address these issues which may impact on your adoption plan from the outset with you and those who do so are violating the law by practicing law without a license.
3. Facilitators are outlawed in many states. These states are attempting to protect their citizens from exploitation. Legislators recognize that facilitators and other such intermediaries are unlicensed and unregulated. They recognize that facilitators often charge exorbitant fees to help you contact a pregnant woman who may not even be seriously considering placing her child for adoption. They recognize that facilitators may lead you astray by erroneous information, misleading statements or lack of knowledge. Use of a facilitator in a state which prohibits facilitators at best jeopardizes your adoption or at worst, makes the adoption plan you have toiled with in earnest impossible to complete.
The bottom line, as far as this office is concerned, is that adoptive parents need to be prudent and informed consumers. Do your homework before you sign up. But most of all, avoid the temptation to be lured into a contract with those promise makers who lack the experience, education, licensure and ability to meaningfully and legally assist you. It would be my pleasure to share more information about these matters with you during our initial consultation or upon receipt of your call.
Will we be able to reach you when we need you?
I am available my clients twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and every day of the year. All of my clients are provided with my personal pager number and home telephone number. Clients can also reach me by electronic mail and through my office voice mail system after hours. When you need to speak with me, I am there for you. Your telephone calls will be promptly returned. Your written correspondence and e-mail will likewise be promptly and completely answered.
Which adoption attorney should I hire?
When you evaluate which attorney to hire you may wish to consider whether the attorney has experience in adoption, whether the attorney is also an adoptive parent and whether being an adoptive parent may provide the attorney with extra insight into your concerns and desires. Is the attorney a member of recognized organizations of adoption attorneys such as the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, the Academy of California Adoption Lawyers and the Academy of California Family Formation Lawyers (membership requirements of which are quite strict and the practice standards required for membership are higher than the typical State Bar requirements for attorney conduct)?
If the attorney you are considering is not a member of these academies, you should beware. Either the attorney does not meet the ethical standards for admission or the attorney may lack the experience to qualify for admission. Finally be wary of the attorney who is not accessible to you–who loads the front office with people who run interference for him or her. In our office, I personally handle all adoption matters. My clients do not hire my staff to do their work–they hire me. We don’t forget that–don’t let the attorney you hire forget it either!
We don’t live in California. Can we still use your services?
On September 30, 2002 California became even more adoption friendly when Governor Gray Davis signed Assembly Bill 746 into law permitting non-residents to have access to the adoption courts of the state of California. Under the newly enacted law, non-residents who enter into an adoption plan with birth parents residing in California may finalize their adoptions in California even if the adoptive parents do not own or rent in California and even if they come into the state solely to pick up their adoptive child. This change in the law may also be helpful in cases where the alleged birth father would have greater rights in a state other than California as California law’s concerning birth fathers tend to favor the adoptive parents over the birth father especially if he has not been meaningfully involved and financially supportive of the mother during her pregnancy.
The residency requirement for birth parents is that the birth parent must be a resident of the state of California at the time after the baby is born when she or they either: 1.) Relinquish to a licensed California adoption agency or 2.) When they sign a consent to adoption. Adoptive parents who live outside of California may then petition to finalize their adoption in California. When the adoption was ultimately finalized in California, the adoptive parents would not have to re-finalize in their home state!
The new law requires non-resident adoptive parents to present a completed and current home study report conducted and approved by a licensed adoption agency or other authorized resource in the state in which the petitioners reside (their home state). If the home study’s contents meet the standards required by the California Department of Social Services which defines and regulates the contents of acceptable home studies, the placement would likely be approved. The out of state home study will then be reviewed and, if appropriate, approved by a local California agency or a representative office of the California Department of Social Services.
Pursuant to existing California law, the adoptive parents would be required to return to California with the child who is the subject of the adoption petition for finalization of the adoption before a judge in court approximately 180 days after the placement of the child into their custody for adoption purposes.
Can you help me unseal my birth and adoption records?
Unsealing Adoption Records and Original Birth Certificates
Occasionally for medical or other significant reasons, adoptees want to have access to their original birth certificate to locate their biological parent or parents or to unseal their adoption file to find out medical, familial or other important historical information concerning their biological parents. In California adoptions are confidential proceedings.
At the time the adoption is finalized the original birth record including the original birth certificate is sealed and a revised birth certificate is issued and mailed by the Bureau of Vital Records to the adoptive family. Because adoptions are confidential in this state, California law requires that a Court issue an order to unseal the birth record and the adoption file if access is to be given to inquiring parties.
Petitions to gain access to birth record information are brought under California Health and Safety Code section 102705. They are commenced by filing a Petition for Birth Record Information and often supported by competent written declarations showing “good and compelling cause” as required under the statute.
The Judge will review the petition and supporting declarations and then determine whether the request for permission to inspect the records and/or obtain copies of the records relating to the birth of the person seeking the records should be granted. The Court does not automatically grant all requests.
Good and compelling cause must be shown in the petition and accompanying affidavits before the Judge will grant the petition. If you do not demonstrate good and compelling grounds for unsealing the records, your petition will likely be denied. Mere curiosity about the applicant’s birth parentage is insufficient grounds under California law to unseal the records.
In addition to that petition, an additional petition for an order authorizing the individual seeking information to obtain additional information from their adoption file. The Court may order that the clerk provide a certified copy of the Order of Adoption, the Petition for Adoption or in some instances the entire adoption file including informational forms completed by the birth and adoptive parents during the adoption process for the State Department of Social Services or the local designated public or private adoption agency and reports submitted as a part of the adoption paperwork.
To obtain this information an application must be filed and certain basic information including the names of the adopting parents, the date of adoption or the adoptee’s birth date and the reason for the request must be provided.
The application is reviewed by the Court bearing in mind the provisions of Family Code section 9200 which prohibits the release of any adoption information from the sealed records in an adoption case except in “exceptional circumstances and for good cause approaching the necessitous.”
If your adoption was finalized in California, our office will assist you in seeking approval from the Court to obtain information concerning your adoption and in seeking approval of a petition to provide you with birth record information.