This is the first in a three part series about birthmother expenses.
Birthmother expenses are expenses that prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) pay to or for expectant mothers (e-moms) during and just after pregnancy, and, hopefully for the PAPs, placement. The expenses are supposed to be pregnancy related, but what that means and how much PAPs are allowed to pay varies widely from state to state. Additionally, when payments can be made varies.
For example, Louisiana allows PAPs to pay for medical (plus medication and travel) expenses, legal (plus travel) expenses, counseling for birth parents, reasonable living expenses, and temporary foster care for the child. Payments can apparently be made at any time during the pregnancy, up to 45 days post-partum. When we adopted Cassie, the maximum was $2500.
Ohio is perhaps the strictest state when it comes to birthmother expenses. Ohio allows only legal and medical expenses. Ohio doesn’t allow living expenses. However, in cases where the adoptive parents live in another state, the rules of their state apply. So, if the PAPs live in Florida, which is one of the least restrictive states when it comes to birthmother expenses, and the e-mom lives in Ohio, she can receive expenses according to Florida’s rules.
Commonly allowed expenses include:
- Medical expenses not covered by insurance, including medications and transportation to and from medical appointments
- Legal expenses. Many states require that birth parents have their own lawyers, but those lawyers are paid by the adoptive parents.
- Counseling. Some states require counseling, some simply recommend it, some don’t have any rules about it, but allow PAPs to pay for it.
- Living expenses, including rent, food, phone, transportation, and utilities.
- Maternity clothing.
- Lost wages due to pregnancy-related disability.
- Pregnancy- or adoption-related travel.
- Foster care or “cradle care” for the child, if necessary.
Some states specify when expenses can be paid during pregnancy. For example, some say they cannot be paid until the e-mom is at least 3 months’ pregnant. Most states specify how long expenses can be paid after pregnancy. Usually, the period is 1 to 6 months.
In most states, expenses are reviewed by the courts. Some states require expenses to be pre-approved.
Payment of birthmother expenses cannot compel the e-mom to place her child. That is, even if the PAPs pay all of an e-mom’s living expenses for 6 months of pregnancy, the e-mom can still choose to parent her baby. (If paying expenses could compel the e-mom to place her child, that would be coercion and baby-selling.)
Once birthmother expenses have been paid, usually, the PAPs cannot recover them. That is, if PAPs pay, say, $500 for counseling and maternity clothes, and the e-mom changes her mind about placing, the PAPs never see that $500 again. Only two states (California and Nevada) have laws that specifically address fraud regarding birthmother expenses. Idaho is the only state that requires PAPs to be repaid if an e-mom chooses to parent.
When we adopted Jackson, our budget for birthmother expenses was less than $5,000. I believe it was $2,000. I remember the number $5,000 because ANLC told us that $5,000 was considered to be a lot in birthmother expenses. When we adopted Cassie, however, it was a whole new world.
At this time, it is not unusual to see birthmother expenses in the amount of $10,000 or more. We inquired about one situation in which the e-mom was asking for $6,000, including laundry and TV rental. Remember, this is all money that the PAPs lose if the e-mom chooses to parent.
Prosecuting e-moms for fraud is frowned upon. Now, while I’m not against an e-mom choosing to parent her baby, I am against women who have no intention of placing using PAPs as a way to pay their expenses for 3-9 months. It seems to me that the current laws regarding birthmother expenses can encourage scams and fraud.
For the record, I think we ended up paying less than $2,000 in birthmother expenses in Jackson’s adoption. S didn’t ask for anything, but ended up with an “emergency C-section” after the hospital mismanaged her labor. Consequently, she couldn’t go back to work, and requested 2 months’ rent. In Cassie’s, well, I wrote about birthmother expenses. In a nutshell, we agreed to a certain amount, that, as far as I could tell, wasn’t even based in reality. Then Lawyer tried to get us to just give Laine the maximum the courts would allow. In the end, she didn’t even get all of what we agreed to give her because Lawyer held onto it for the expenses related to serving Cassie’s birthfather, and by the time we found out about it, it was illegal for us to give her any additional funds.
My next post asks the question: Are birthmother expenses necessary?
By the way, the Child Welfare Information Gateway has a great article about birthmother expenses. If you’re a PAP, I highly recommend it.