There’s an interesting thread on the Adoption.com forums this week. My answers are so long, I thought I’d blog them. Lucky you!
If you were in charge, what would the [adoption] laws say?
Before I answer the questions, note that all of the laws would be FEDERAL. This mish-mash of state laws is crap.
1. Openness of adoptions? (Who would decide what openness would exist? Would it be enforceable by law?)
Open adoption agreements have repercussions outside of adoption. Noncustodial people are being given rights to a child. If noncustodial, biological parents can be given rights, why not a biological aunt, grandfather, or older sibling when adoption is not involved? I think that’s one reason why states are so wary of them. In general, states don’t want to interfere with legal parents raising their children.
That said, I do think all states should have enforceable open adoption agreements available. I think that an agreement made in one state must be valid in another. For example, if we make an agreement in California, then move to Massachusetts, that agreement must be valid in Mass.
I think open adoption agreements should be voluntary. An adoption should never be set aside or dissolved because a party – OK, the adoptive parents – don’t live up to their side of the agreement. I do believe courts should be able to order parties to comply with the agreement, and failure to comply should come with steep penalties, on both sides.
2. Pre-birth expenses: Yes or no? Time limit or money limit?
This is tough. Yes, pre-birth expenses should be allowed. However, in an agency or facilitator adoption, the agency should pay the expenses, instead of individual parents paying them. The agency could pass these expenses along in the form of an added fee. For example, some agencies charge a flat $2000 that goes into the agency expectant/birth parent fund. I do believe the fees should be capped at $2000 – $3000.
In a private (attorney) adoption, then prospective adoptive parents don’t have the luxury of being in a group or pool. In these cases, they should be allowed to choose whether they will pay expenses or not. Again, expenses should be capped at $2000 – $3000. Here’s the part where I get flamed: If the expectant mother in an attorney adoption chooses to parent, she has to pay those expenses back, over a reasonable amount of time.
Coercion you say? Sadly, there are several women out there who scam PAPs. We were scammed, and we think we’re pretty smart. If these people know they have to pay back the expenses, they’re less likely to pull the scam. Furthermore, PAPs aren’t paying expenses as a charity offering. They’re paying expenses because they believe the child will be their child. It makes sense to pay for your child’s needs, even if they are in utero.
It would be lovely if more charity and government programs existed to help pregnant women.
3. Relinquishment: Can terminate rights before birth? Amount of time between birth and ability to terminate rights?
I think that the only time parents should be able to terminate rights before birth is in the rare occasion in which the state says, “Either you make an adoption plan for this baby, or we’re going to take the baby into the system at birth.” I know a few people who have adopted this way. The mother’s other children are in foster care, so the state will take the baby at birth. If the state is going to terminate the rights at birth anyway, it’s safer for the baby and the adoptive parents to know that the state can’t take the baby away from the adoptive parents and put him/her into foster care.
In the US, we have a messed up health system that relies on private insurers. Most private insurers say that mom and baby have to be out of the hospital in 48 to 72 hours. I would base the amount of time the expectant parents have to relinquish on the time the baby spends in the hospital. It’s just practical. That way, the baby doesn’t have to go into cradle care, or go home with parents who aren’t prepared to parent. I would say that the termination of parental rights can be signed on the day that the baby is to be discharged from the hospital, but no sooner than 48 hours after birth.
However, I would also make sure that all expectant parents know that just because they can sign the TPR 48-72 hours after birth doesn’t mean that they have to sign the TPR then. I would make sure that they are told they can sign whenever they want after that – whether that’s 3 more days or 30 more days.
4. Rescindment of termination of rights? Should there be an amount of time where a birthparent can sign TPR and then change their mind? If so, how long?
Only in cases where the birth parent can prove extreme mental stress or duress. For example, if a woman were given extra doses of pain medication and can reasonably claim that she was unable to think clearly, then she should have the chance to change her mind. Even so, I would limit this time to 2 weeks.
5. When would eparents be matched with PAPs at the earliest?
Whenever the two entities wanted to be matched. I know some people have big problems with pre-birth matching. I don’t. I don’t think it matters what I think. Ultimately, it should be the parties who decide when to make a match, and there should not be any laws to interfere.
6. Birthfathers: What would the rules be around birthfathers? What if the birthfather doesn’t know, or the birthmother names someone (knowingly or unknowingly) that is not the biological father? Putative registry?
This is a tough one. Expectant fathers could not sign a TPR until after the baby is born, just like the expectant mothers. The expectant mother must name the expectant father, and the agency or attorney must perform due diligence to find him. Putative father registries probably don’t work, but they probably don’t hurt either, so I’d keep those. If someone other than the biological father is named, then I think that’s probably just too bad, unless the biological father can prove that the biological mother purposefully gave incorrect information.
If a person has a proven history of abuse, whether abusing other children or abusing the pregnant mother, then his rights are terminated. No one who abuses women and children should be allowed to parent.
Ultimately, if men want their rights to their children, then they need to keep in touch with the women they sleep with, or go through their states legal channels.
Finally, all states should have the same criteria for selecting adoptive parents. Single men and women, married couples, and same sex couples should be able to adopt. Any child placing agency must not discriminate on the basis of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, military service, or religious creed. Research has shown that children in families with same sex parents fare at least as well as children in families with heterosexual parents. Excluding adoptive parents only hurts the children. If birth parents want to choose straight, married, Christian families for their babies, then that’s their choice. But agencies should not be allowed to refuse service to anyone based on membership in a protected class.