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Things That Can Go Wrong: Disrupted Adoptions

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

A common fear during the domestic adoption process is that the birth parents will change their minds and that the adoption will fall through. Since the adoption is not final until the court appearance (after placement has occurred), the initial period of placement can be a very scary time for families as they worry that something will go wrong to spoil a dream that is finally coming true.

Though nothing can guarantee that a given adoption will progress to completion, there are things families can do to prevent such negative outcomes from occurring. By working with an agency that provides counseling services to birth parents, the family can be confident that social workers and staff members are discussing a wide range of issues with the birth parents and making sure that placing their child up for adoption is truly the choice they wish to make.

Adoption agencies will generally take steps to have both birth parents sign off on the adoption (if the birth father is available), so that a surprise objection by a newly appeared birth father does not cause problems. In the event that the birth father is not available to sign off on the adoption, there is a greater probability that the adoption could fail, but the chances of everything working smoothly are still very good. Many states have changed their laws to place a stronger burden on the birth father to name himself as the child’s father or to register in the state’s database, so that he can be located and acknowledged as the father. In states that don’t have a registry, the agency or adoptive parents may be required to attempt to locate the birth father at his last known home or work addresses, or by publishing a notice in a local paper to show that they have used reasonable means to find him.

Despite their best efforts, adoptive families must know that there are still times that birth parents may change their minds once the child is born. This can occur before the consent forms have been signed; there is not much that the adoptive family can do if the birth parents are certain that they wish to keep the child. If the birth parents stake their claim to the child after consent forms are signed, it will depend on state law as to what time period must elapse before consent can no longer be revoked.

If one or both of the birth parents are contesting the adoption, the family will need to talk to their attorney and determine whether they have a strong case for being granted custody. Families must also consider the time and money involved in fighting for custody. Birth parents are often favored by the courts in such a custody proceeding, unless there is good evidence available to show that the birth parents would be unfit parents.