Independent adoptions are attractive to birth parents and prospective adoptive parents because they allow the people involved to keep control over the adoption process. However, there are risks and costs involved in independent adoptions that don't come with agency adoptions, as well as more work for the adoptive parents.
Many adoptive parents are reassured by knowing the birth parents personally and dealing with them directly, instead of being afraid that their adoption may fall apart before it is completed. Rather than relying on an agency as a go-between, the birth parent and adoptive parents can meet, get to know each other, and decide for themselves whether to go ahead with the adoption. Independent adoptions also avoid the long waiting lists and restrictive qualifying criteria that can be part of agency adoptions. And independent adoptions usually happen much faster than agency adoptions, often within a year of beginning the search for a child. Finally, independent adoptions can be less expensive than using an agency -- although the adoptive parents will have many of the same costs, like paying the birthmother's expenses, they will save the agency fees.
Many states place significant restrictions on independent adoptions. For example, states may prohibit adoptive parents from advertising for a birth mother, or limit the amount of money adoptive parents can contribute to the birth mother's prenatal care and medical expenses.
Another concern is that birth parents might not receive adequate counseling during the adoption process. States differ quite a bit on how much counseling they require birth parents to have before making their final decision to give up a child for adoption. If the birth parents do not get the required amount of counseling, this may make your adoption agreement vulnerable.
Some states extend the period during which birth parents may revoke their consent in independent adoptions -- making it longer than for agency adoptions -- and this places your adoption agreement at additional risk. If the agreement does fall apart, the prospective adoptive parents can lose significant investments of time and money without any recourse -- in addition to the heartbreak of losing the child they hoped for.
Even when they are successful -- and they do succeed quite often -- independent adoptions are a lot of work, even with a lawyer's help, which is almost always necessary. Adoptive parents often spend enormous amounts of time and money just finding a birth mother, not to mention the efforts required to follow through and bring the adoption to a close.
Check the legality of independent adoptions in your state. In a few states -- Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Minnesota -- independent adoptions are illegal, although in these states it is possible to do an agency-directed adoption after you have identified birth parents. Be sure to check your state laws before you proceed.
Because each situation is unique, fees for independent adoptions vary widely. Prospective adoptive parents must generally cover the costs of finding a birthmother, the costs related to the pregnancy and birth, and the costs involved in the legal adoption process. Items such as hospital bills, travel expenses, phone bills, home study costs, attorneys' fees and court costs can often surpass $10,000. Some states allow the birthmother's living expenses during the pregnancy to be covered as well. (Usually, most of these expenses are subject to a federal adoption tax credit.)
All states allow adoptive parents to pay certain "reasonable" costs that are specifically related to the adoption process. Because it is illegal in any state to buy or sell a baby, each state has its own laws defining which expenses may be paid by adoptive parents in any kind of adoption proceeding -- agency or independent. If you pursue an independent adoption, you must adhere to these laws when you give any money to the birthmother. Most states allow the adoptive parents to pay the birthmother's medical expenses, counseling costs, and attorney's fees. Some states also allow payments to cover the birth mother's living expenses such as food, housing, and transportation during pregnancy.
Most states require all payments to be itemized and approved by a court before the adoption is finalized. Be sure to know and understand your state's laws, because providing or accepting prohibited financial support may subject you to criminal charges. And the adoption itself may be jeopardized if you make improper payments.
An open adoption is one in which the birth parents and the adoptive parents meet and get to know each other before the adoption, and, usually, in which the parties all come to an agreement about the birth parents having some degree of contact with the child after the adoption is finalized.
There is no one standard for open adoptions; each family works out an arrangement that works well for them. Some adoptive parents want to meet the birth parents just once before the birth of the child, while others form ongoing relationships. In some agreements contact is limited to the adoptive parents sending photographs on the child's birthdays, and in others the parties agree to regular visits between the birth parents and the child.(Although these visitation agreements are often part of the legal proceedings for the adoption, they are not enforceable by a court. If the adoptive parents don't keep up their part of the bargain, there's not much the birth parents can do.)
Open adoptions can help reduce stress and worry by eliminating the fear of the unknown. Adoptive parents are reassured by knowing the birth parents personally instead of being afraid that one day a stranger will come knocking on their door to meet their child. This openness can be beneficial to the child as well, who will grow up with fewer questions and misconceptions than a child of a closed adoption might have.
For more information on types of adoption, and the adoption process, see Nolo's Encyclopedia of Everyday Law: Answers to Your Most Frequently Asked Legal Questions, by Shae Irving and the editors of Nolo (Nolo).