State law allows for several types.
By Jennifer Williams • JBA Adoption Law Committee Chair
“We can’t afford it” is often heard by adoption professionals.
While there is no denying that adoption can be an expensive proposition, it amazes me how little most people seem to know about adoption, specifically the options available to those seeking to adopt.
Florida law provides for several types of adoption: newborn adoption (the most sought-after and often associated with the highest expense), older child adoption, relative adoption, stepparent adoption, foster care adoption and adult adoption are the most common.
Surrogacy and preplanned adoption agreements are becoming more well-known with the advancement of assisted reproductive technology.
Some types are available on both domestic and international scales. Some types may be facilitated by an attorney or by a licensed child-placing agency. Still others, typically stepparent adoptions, can be completed by the parties themselves with the help of forms promulgated by the Florida Supreme Court.
The potential landmines associated with proceeding without counsel are significant, but that is for another article.
The key to deciding which option is right for your family is knowing what to expect, including time frames, costs and risks.
Let’s compare domestic newborn adoptions through an adoption attorney versus an agency (disclaimer: not every adoption attorney or adoption agency operates in the same manner; these examples are from my experience).
An adoption attorney might maintain a free listing of prospective adoptive families all over the country who receive an email when a birth parent comes to the attorney looking to place a child for adoption. Thousands of families may receive the inquiry and submit applications to adopt.
With a large pool of applicants, families who choose this route could wait years to be selected or “matched.”
Some agencies maintain a small group of prospective adoptive families who have gone through an application process, been vetted by the agency and who pay for the privilege of being among a smaller group of families presented to a birth parent for selection.
The costs incurred post-match also can vary. An adoption attorney will assess legal fees and costs and Florida law permits payment of reasonable and necessary living and medical expenses for the birth mother during pregnancy and up to six weeks post-birth.
Agencies also may charge for legal fees and costs incurred by their counsel and living/medical expenses for the birth mother, but frequently they offer additional services that attorneys may not, such as birth mother support, clinical counseling, crisis intervention and similar services.
While such services come at a cost, one must consider the benefits of added support that an attorney may not be able to provide.
A less expensive option that can involve hidden risks is foster care adoption.
Agencies that recruit and support foster parents for children who have been removed from their families are required to advise foster parents that a child placed with them prior to termination of parental rights may end up reunified with a parent or placed with another family member.
This reality may be overlooked, perhaps by an agency representative who does not want to point out a risk that might cause the family to choose not to serve as foster parents, or by a new foster family so excited about the prospect of adoption that they don’t hear or process the reality check provided.
On the other side of the risk coin are potential benefits.
Often there are minimal or no legal fees as well as Medicaid benefits for the child, adoption subsidies and college tuition waivers for children adopted via the foster care system.
This only skims the surface of the adoptions available, but I hope it provides a glimpse into the practical considerations and ways you or someone you know might grow their family and change their community via adoption.
Jennifer Williams is a board-certified adoption lawyer and associate with Elizabeth R. Ondriezek PA, focusing on adoption and family law.