How to Choose Your Adoption Attorney

checklist choosing an adoption attorney


Whether adopting privately, or through an agency, all New York courts require a lawyer to represent adoptive parents at finalization. Choosing your adoption attorney is an important decision and one that should be made with careful thought. Here is a short list of tips to consider when deciding which attorney you will choose to guide you through your adoption journey. 

1. Choose an attorney that specializes in adoption. The practice of family law does not always include experience in adoption. When interviewing attorneys, ask how many years they have been in practice and confirm that they have significant experience in adoption law. Your uncle, the real estate attorney, may be a terrific guy but do not ask him to handle your adoption!

2. Be sure your adoption attorney is licensed in your state. Adoption laws differ significantly from state to state across the country. If the birth mother of your adoptive child resides in a different state, your attorney should be prepared to help find a lawyer for the birth parent and be comfortable considering which state’s laws best suit you to govern the adoption. 

3. Hire an attorney who works with a social worker. Whether your attorney is a solo practitioner, or works for a larger firm, it is important that they have a social worker to rely on for home studies and counseling. Adoption is a very special and sometimes emotionally challenging process. Work with an attorney who can recommend an experienced adoption social worker to provide you with additional support from the beginning of the home study through post placement and finalization day.

4. Ask for recommendations. Adoption is a personal process filled with life changing decisions. Be sure to talk to family, friends, and people you trust who have been through the adoption process and can give feedback about their attorney. Hearing personal stories about relationships with adoption attorneys can better inform you when choosing the right fit for your family. Don’t be afraid to ask your attorney for references.

5. Discuss lawyer’s fees prior to deciding whom to retain. Some adoption attorneys work at an hourly rate while others charge a flat fee. Be sure to ask questions about fall through fees, time limits of the representation, and any other costs that may arise. Adoptions, whether through an agency or a private attorney, can be expensive with lawyer’s fees, birth mother expenses, birth mother attorney’s fees, and travel costs. Budget concerns should be taken into account early in the process.

6. Look at the attorney’s website. Be sure to read the lawyer’s website to find out more about their practice. Does the lawyer represent birth mothers too? Does the website reflect sensitivity to issues birth mothers face? 

7. Ask about the attorney’s policy for returning phone calls and emails. Some attorneys work 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. Others are available seven days a week. It is important to have a realistic expectation of how quickly your attorney will respond to your questions. Knowing how your attorney works will better prepare you during your journey.

8. Interview multiple attorneys. By meeting with several lawyers, you will be able to compare and contrast different working styles. A good personality fit, a strong rapport, and a connection you can trust during the process is paramount! 

9. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether related to fees, time frame estimates, how many adoptions the attorney has finalized, or whether a prior criminal arrest will pose a problem—every question is important at every step in the adoption process. You should feel comfortable asking your attorney for guidance, information, and support.

10. Find out what services the attorney provides. Are there separate fees for the pre-certification process? Does the attorney guide clients through profile creation and advertising strategies? Many agencies charge a separate fee if an adoption plan fails. Does your attorney charge such a fee? Be sure to have a clear understanding of what your attorney’s services include to avoid surprises.

New Adoption Laws Around the Country

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August 1, 2018 ushered in a comprehensive, new “Adoption Option Act” in Louisiana. Legislators unanimously passed and the Governor signed into law Act 562, which limits adoption expenses paid, by adoptive parents for birth parent expenses, to $7,500. The new law changes the word “reasonable” expenses to “actual” when listing the types of expenses with which adoptive families may assist an expectant mother. Allowable expenses will continue to include medical costs and legal fees, temporary housing, maternity clothes, food and personal hygiene products. The law specifically excludes living expenses such as vehicles and leisure activities. In addition, the law provides that lying about pre-natal expenses shall be a crime punishable by up to $50,000 fine and 10 years in prison. 

This spring, Georgia updated their state’s adoption laws for the first time in almost three decades. Act HB 159 reduces the length of time a birth mother has to change her mind and revoke her consent to an adoption from ten (10) days to four (4) days. A second piece of the legislation allows for adoptive parents to assist a birth mother with certain living expenses in private adoptions. The legislature is still debating a proposal to allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse to work with same-sex couples. 

In a more negative trend in state law, Oklahoma passed a law in May, which would allow private adoption agencies to discriminate against L.G.B.T.Q. couples on religious grounds when placing children. The Governor, Mary Fallin, explained the law allows agencies to choose not to place children in certain homes if it “would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies”. Critics of the law, which also applies to private agencies working in foster care, said it was unconstitutional and would hamper efforts to find secure, permanent homes for children. 

Parenting A Multi-Racial Family

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Today’s world of multi-cultural, bi-racial, trans-national and blended families creates new challenges in parenting. As a white mother of two white sons, I do not pretend to have first hand knowledge of the special issues that arise when parenting a child of different racial and cultural heritage. To help me understand the issues and the conflicts multiracial families face, I have listened to and read the work of many experts and absorbed the personal stories shared by my clients. Their insights and suggestions have been thoughtful and eye opening. The following is my attempt to share some of their wisdom. I hope it can be helpful to all of us. 

Talk, communicate, discuss and talk some more! Talking about race, as a white person, is often challenging for lack of experience and fear of getting it wrong. However, there is no such thing as being “color blind”. Pretending racism does not exist in our world is unhealthy for your child and potentially dangerous. When a child is very young, their focus is centered on their family. Your child may express that he wishes he looked more like you. This is a wonderful opportunity to let him know you validate who he is and  that you would not want to change one thing about him! Celebrating one’s differences does not just mean celebrating the cultural aspects of a different ethnicity. You may want to educate yourselves on the ways your child’s ethnicity, race and culture developed differently from yours. This is a perfect time to dig into your ancestry and when, how and why your family came to America, as well as your child’s ethnic ancestry. Share your ancestry with your children. Very few of us had ancestors on the Mayflower!

As they age, children live more in the world and race begins to matter. Children learn about colors in pre-school and they know we are not all the same color. Particularly in school, children become aware of their differences on a daily basis, whether it be the shape of their eyes, skin color, hair style, even religion. It is critical for all parents to learn to talk about race. All of our identities are valuable and should be honored, not swept under a rug by pretending we are the same. Racism exists and if a parent leads the way in recognizing it and addressing it, the child will know their home and family is a safe space, where they can talk about the tough stuff. As children get older and experience racism in the outside world, it is healthy for them to be able to bring these issues home and express themselves freely in their family. If they cannot come home with their troubles, they are in danger of internalizing and absorbing the racism as personal. The lesson I heard over and over was “do not wait until your children are old enough” to talk about race.

Does your home reflect your and your children’s race? The art, books, children’s movies, media such as television should reflect all members of the family throughout your home. Does the family in your daughter’s dollhouse look like your family? Multi-racial books and toys, artwork throughout the house, not just in the child’s room, affirms for your child that the whole family cares about race and it is not just important to her. Is your child isolated in a white community? Introduce role models who share the same racial background as your child. It is not enough to expose your children to famous actors or sports figures of the same race. Role models can be friends, teachers, doctors, coaches, clergy and others who have a real role in your child’s life and with whom they can connect in a real way. 

Remember children like to fit in. Hairstyles often bring up issues in trans-racial adoption. Are you imposing generational or white prejudices on what is “good” or “bad” hair or what style looks pretty? Style is important to children of all ages. Your child may want her hair to reflect what she sees in her world, on TV, at school, or in her community. At the same time, parents should keep in mind that some style choices may not be the most practical. While braids and beads might not fit comfortably under an ice hockey helmet, they might be the best style if your child is on the swim team. Parenting professionals say the key is to remain child focused with this issue. Children should feel proud of how they look, how they perceive they fit in and of who they are.

How does a parent help his child cope with prejudice? It is critical for your child to learn to trust that you are open to discussing these issues. Respect for ourselves and for others starts at home. It is far safer and healthier for your child to talk openly with you about how to deal with ignorance and racism, than for her to feel she is alone and that no one in her family would understand if she encounters it in her outside world. Find supportive friends or family members, especially other parents, to help you manage issues that you have never had to consider. Trans-racial families face unique issues at all stages of child development. During every step of the journey, families should share a commitment to having open communication, listening and forever honoring and celebrating our differences. 

There are numerous, wonderful resources you can find on these issues. We would like to share and recommend the following wonderful resources: Multiracialsky.com, Inside Transracial Adoption by Gail Steinberg & Beth Hall and What Do I Say Now by Carol Bick and M.C. Baker. 
    

    


 

New York Paid Family Leave

boy with heart

In 2016, Governor Cuomo signed into law the nation’s strongest and most comprehensive Paid Family Leave policy. As of January 1, 2018, the New York State Paid Family Leave Program provides New Yorkers job-protected, paid leave so that working families will no longer have to choose between caring for their loved ones and risking their economic security.

ELIGIBILITY

Who:

  1. Full-time employees, who work a regular schedule of 20 or more hours per week, are eligible for Paid Family Leave after 26 consecutive weeks of employment.
  2. Part-time employees, who work a regular schedule of less than 20 hours per week, are eligible after working 175 days, which do not need to be consecutive.

Why:

  1. To bond with a new child;
  2. To care for a loved one with a serious health condition; or
  3. To relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service.

BENEFITS

In 2018, the Paid Family Leave benefit is 50% of your average weekly wage, capped at 50% of the New York State average weekly wage. Leave can be taken all at once or in full-day increments. You may take the maximum time-off benefit in any given 52-week period. The 52-week period starts on the first day you take Paid Family Leave.

The benefits of Paid Family Leave phase in over four years. During 2018, an employee may take up to eight weeks of Paid Family Leave and receive 50% of the employee’s average weekly wage, capped at 50% of the New York State average weekly wage. An employee’s average weekly wage is the average of the last eight weeks of pay prior to starting Paid Family Leave. The New York State average weekly wage is updated annually.

Example: An employee who makes $1,000 a week would receive a benefit of $500 a week (50% of $1000). Another employee who makes $2,000 a week would receive a benefit of $652.96, because this employee is capped at one-half of New York State’s Average Weekly Wage, which is currently $1,305.92. Half of $1,305.92 is $652.96.

HOW TO APPLY:

    1.    Notify your employer. An employee who wants to take Paid Family Leave must notify her employer at least 30 days before the leave will start. If the leave is not foreseeable, she must notify her employer as soon as possible.
    2.    Obtain required forms. Notify your employer or employer’s insurance carrier to obtain the necessary forms, or find them at https://www.ny.gov/new-york-state-paid-family-leave/paid-family-leave-information-employees and download the particular forms for your type of leave request. 
    3.    Complete and submit forms. Fill out the Request for Paid Family Leave (Form PFL-1), follow the instructions on the cover sheet, make a copy for your records, and submit to your employer.
    4.    Obtain and attach supporting documentation. The specific documentation and forms required for each type of leave are described clearly on the required request forms.
    5.    Submit your request forms and documentation. Submit the forms and attachments to your employer’s insurance carrier. You can submit your claim before or within 30 days after the start of your leave. The insurance carrier must pay or deny your request within 18 calendar days of receiving your completed request.

For more information visit https://www.ny.gov/programs/new-york-state-paid-family-leave

What Is the Adoption Home Study and How Can I Prepare For It?

small house

What is a home study? Do I need one to adopt and how do I have one completed? This article is designed to answer your questions and reduce your anxiety over the home study process. In the State of New York, every adoptive parent is required to go through a home study process, whether for private or public/foster adoption.* The home study is actually a written report, describing the prospective adoptive family. The home study is prepared by a licensed social worker, after a thorough in person interview.  Your home study will be submitted at different stages in your adoption, to different entities.  

In a private, independent or non-agency adoption, your attorney will help you contact a social worker, experienced in preparing adoptive home studies. The social worker will meet with you and each member of your household, at your home. Your family and your home will be described in detail in the report. The social worker will give you an advance list of the documents she requires. Please understand that the social worker is not there to trip you up, or make you feel uncomfortable. Rather the social worker is part of your adoption team and should be regarded as a valuable resource on all things adoption. Your social worker is tasked with preparing a report for the Family Court, which gives a complete picture of you. Accordingly, you will be asked for biographical information, including details about where you grew up, your extended family, education, hobbies and interests. You will also discuss your relationship with your partner, if you have one, and your motivation for adopting. The social worker will explore, with you, your finances, religious practice, parenting philosophy, medical and psychiatric or counseling history. Some of the documents required include personal letters of reference, driver’s license, birth certificate, passport or visa, social security cards, tax returns, and recent physicals. 

In addition, the social worker will ask about any history of, or present use of illegal or prescription drugs or alcohol, domestic violence, child or sexual abuse. Child abuse and criminal history checks will be conducted. It is important to be fully truthful with the social worker as the court will not look favorably upon information that is withheld and later uncovered. It is not uncommon for an adoptive parent to have a prior arrest for a minor crime or a history of emotional counseling. Most often, this type of history will not preclude you from adopting. Your attorney and social worker will answer your questions about whether these issues rise to a level of concern for your certification as an adoptive parent. Typically, they do not.

The Family Court judge reviews your home study during the pre-certification process in New York. You must be certified as a qualified adoptive parent before you may bring home a baby or child. The home study is an integral part of the certification process. Later, if you are bringing a child home from another state, your home study will be forwarded to the agency or attorney assisting us with that state’s Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). This administrative office exists in every state and the administrator reviews the home study before an infant or child may cross state lines for the purposes of adoption. After your baby comes home, the social worker will come back for a post – placement visit and prepare an updated report, called the post placement report, expressing her opinion that your family is adjusting well and giving her support for the adoption to proceed.

The home study is one of the first steps on your journey to becoming an adoptive parent. Your social worker is there to gather information and educate you on the adoptive process and adoptive parenting. She should be a wonderful resource for you for books and other adoptive parenting resources. Remember, the social worker is there to be an advocate for you during the process and a strong source of  support during the adjustment of becoming a new family. 


*If you are planning to adopt through the foster system, you will also need a home study but you will not be required to hire a social worker to prepare it. The social services agency, with which you are working, will prepare you to become a certified foster parent and as part of that process, an agency caseworker will come to your home and interview you for a home study.

How Do We Find a Social Worker to Prepare Our Home Study?

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One way to alleviate stress about the home study process is to choose the right social worker. Most often, your adoption attorney will provide you with a list of licensed social workers for this purpose. It is a good idea to speak with the social worker and get a feel for whether you would like to work with this person before hiring them. Listed below are questions to answer before hiring a social worker to prepare your home study.

1.  What is your accreditation in social work and have you prepared adoption home studies before? You do not want your home study to be the social worker’s first, as there are specific state/legal requirements that must be included in an adoption home study and if left out will cause delays in your adoption process.

2.  Have you worked with my attorney or agency before? How recently? It is important that the social worker and attorney collaborate during the adoption process and helpful if they have a prior working relationship.

3.  How much does the home study cost? Make sure to ask about additional fees for Post Placement visits, which may be required by the court, or by different state laws, after you bring the baby home. If you move or change jobs will it necessitate an updated report and if so, will that be an additional fee?

4.  How long will the home study interview take? Ask about the steps of the process and how long after the home interview does it normally take to complete the home study report? 

5.  Will you have an opportunity to review the report before it goes to the attorney or to the court? If regulations prohibit you from seeing the report prior to its submission to court, what happens if there are inaccuracies? 

6.  Who owns the home study? If you work with an agency to obtain a home study but ultimately decide to pursue private, independent adoption, will the agency share your report and original documents with your attorney and send whatever necessary to the court for your pre-certification process? Will there be any additional fees for working with a private attorney, rather than pursuing an agency adoption or vice versa?

7.  Can the social worker do the necessary clearances for the home study? In a private adoption, the court will obtain criminal and abuse clearances but some states require additional federal clearances and it is occasionally necessary to have an agency back a social worker’s home study. Does the social worker have an agency which will back her home study and obtain clearances if necessary?

8.  Will the social worker provide you with adoption and parenting resources? Will she be available to talk through your worries during and even after the adoption process? 

There are many wonderful social workers, well versed in adoption, who are available to be a part of your unique journey. Do your homework!

Even with Landmark Decision for Same Sex Parents in New York, Second Parent Adoption is Indispensable

Let me start with the legal truth that an adoptive parent is a legal parent and has the same rights and responsibilities toward his or her child as a biological parent. 

On August 30, 2016, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled decisively in favor of parenting rights for unmarried, same sex couples.  In The Matter of Brooke S. B. versus Elizabeth A., the Court ruled that with respect to an unmarried couple, a partner with a non-biological, non-adoptive relationship to the couple’s child may be legally recognized as a parent and allowed to seek custody and visitation rights.  The non-biological, non-adoptive partner, however, must show by clear and convincing evidence that the parties agreed to conceive and raise the child together to establish his/her right to custody and visitation.

While this ruling is good news for non-biological parents and non-adoptive partners, relying on the new precedent and forgoing adoption may be dangerous.  It is true that along with marriage equality, many states have begun to recognize a more modern and flexible definition of who is a legal parent.  Laws on same sex parenting, however, still vary from state to state.   The fact remains, that only an adoptive parent of a non-biological child has the same unequivocal rights and responsibilities toward his or her child as a biological parent.  

Adopting your non-biological child is safe, responsible parenting.  It can be accomplished quickly and inexpensively.  No one wants to be kept away from his or her child pending the outcome of a lengthy custody battle.  Obtaining the second parent adoption order saves one from the burden of proving his or her status as a parent in the event of divorce, separation, and even death of a partner.  I envision scenarios where the couple separates and the biological parent moves with the child to a state with less friendly parenting laws, or passes away, and the extended family claims custody of the child over the non-biological partner.  Adoptions are court orders, which all states are required, by the Full Faith and Credit Clause, of the Unites States Constitution, to recognize.   This guarantees a parent’s rights and takes the guesswork out of whether one has standing to sue for custody of one’s child.

An adoptive parent is a legal parent and may make all the same decisions for the child as the biological parent.  An adoptive parent has the right to make decisions concerning the child’s education, health and medical well - being.   An adoptive parent is financially responsible for the child and the child is able to inherit from his or her adoptive parent even in the absence of a will.  A non-adoptive parent may find obstacles in claiming his child as a dependent for health or tax benefits and may not even be allowed to provide permission for school field trips.

The requirements to complete a second parent adoption in New York are not lengthy.  They are the same requirements for a step-parent adoption among married couples.   You will need to retain an attorney and obtain a home study from a licensed social worker.  The court will require medical and financial updates, letters of reference and criminal and abuse background checks.  Your attorney will prepare several affidavits and a petition for adoption for your signature.  The court will hold a 5-10 minute finalization hearing, at which you will be invited to bring friends and family to witness and celebrate the adoption.   The whole process should not take more than 4-6 months.  The benefits, however, exist for a lifetime.   Your family is worth it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/31/nyregion/new-york-court-parental-rights.html

https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/Decisions/2016/Aug16/91-92opn16-Decision.pdf

http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2016/08/30/in_new_york_a_landmark_ruling_for_estranged_gay_and_lesbian_parents.html

LGBTQ Parenting Rights and Second Parent Adoption

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LGBTQ PARENTING RIGHTS

Over the past few months, at least five states have introduced bills or passed laws limiting same-sex adoption across the country. Each with different language, the legislative initiatives allow states and agencies to refuse services to same-sex couples. This discriminatory legal trend not only denies children in the foster care or adoption agencies loving homes if the prospective parents are LGBTQ, but the laws serve as a building blocks to restrict all rights of LGBTQ parents. Given the terrifying political and legislative landscape, now more than ever, same-sex parents need to reach for and secure their parenting rights before the legislators erode them completely. LGBTQ couples can protect their families forever through quick, simple, and inexpensive, second-parent, or step-parent adoption.

The recent legislation is a huge step backwards for LGBTQ families. In March of 2017, the governor of South Dakota signed a bill allowing child placement agencies to discriminate based on “religious belief or moral conviction,” protecting any agency from government retaliation if they choose to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Soon after, Alabama and Texas signed similar legislation allowing adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples based on “religious beliefs.” The Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee also added a discriminatory section in their adoption bill targeting LGBT people with an amendment that allows agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples and refuse to work with LGBTQ prospective parents if doing so meant going against “their mission.” And, in Tennessee, a bill was enacted that requires the words “husband” and  “wife,” and “mother” and “father” be interpreted by their “natural and ordinary” meanings indirectly restricting the rights of LGBTQ parents and their ability to adopt privately or through the foster care system. 

Second-parent adoption is the adoption of a child by a second parent who may otherwise not be considered a legal parent. In New York, when the parents are married the process is called a step-parent adoption, versus a second parent adoption when they are not married. Regardless of marital status, for same-sex couples building families, this process is an important legal tool. Without second-parent adoption, the partner of the legal parent, even when married, is not a legally recognized parent and has no parental rights. Once a second-parent adoption is finalized in court, the child has two legal guardians and parents with the same parenting rights recognized across state lines. In the event of a divorce, dissolution of a relationship, or death, both parents’ rights and the child’s rights are unequivocal and an indispensable part of family preservation.

Clearly, LGBTQ parenting rights are on the legislative chopping block. With second or step-parent adoption, mothers and fathers are protected from being denied custody, visitation, the ability to make medical decisions, and the joys of being a part of their child’s life without states standing in their way. Quick, simple, and inexpensive, second-parent adoption protects LGBT forever families.

Adoption Books

Since 1994, Tapestry Books has been a leading literary source for adoptive families, birth families, adoptees, and adoption professionals. Hand picked by the team at Tapestry Books, enjoy this carefully selected mix of best sellers about adoption as well as publications for the whole family that last a lifetime. Click on an image if you are interested in purchasing the book online.

You can learn more about Tapestry Books at http://www.tapestrybooks.com. Their phone number is 716-544-0204 and they are happy to make more recommendations.

Enjoy!

ABC Adoption & Me


by Gayle Swift 



A wonderfully simple children’s book that is perfect for younger children. This book artfully introduces the concept of adoption to young readers.

Inside Transracial Adoption


by Beth Hall and Gail Steinberg



Inside Transracial Adoption is an authoritative guide to navigating the challenges and issues that parents face in the USA when they adopt a child of a different race and/or from a different culture.. 

What Do I Say Now?
 

by M.C. Baker and Carol Bick



This is a Tapestry Books’ favorite! This book brilliantly details how to respond to awkward and difficult questions about adoption. 

Three Little Words
 

by Ashley Rhodes Courtier

 

This a wonderfully written account of a young girl’s experience in the foster care system and how she overcame the many obstacles she faced growing up.

Ithaka
 

by Sarah Saffian



Sarah Saffian recreates her personal account of reuiniting with her birth family as an adult. Saffian expertly describes the adoptee perspective as well as the emotions associated with finding the missing pieces of one’s identity. 

Tips for Creating An Adoption Profile Book

Your profile book, whether digital or bound, is often the first impression you make upon potential birth parents. Your pictures and captions can tell your story better than 1000 words.  Below is a list of ten suggestions to help you tell your story and make a beautiful, attention grabbing profile book.  

1.  Start by compiling lots of fabulous, smiling pictures!  Pictures should show you with your loved ones, friends, pets, on vacation, enjoying your hobbies or sports and celebrating holidays.  Crop your photos so we can see the faces of the people in the picture.  Use clear, in focus pictures and lots of them!

2.  The next step is to introduce yourself.  Your first page is a picture of you, whether you are single, a couple, or perhaps you have children already at home, it is your nucleus family.   Also on your first page is a short, gentle hello inviting the birth parent(s) to learn about you by looking through your book and briefly describing your dream of building your family.  

3.  DO NOT go down the path of telling the birth parent(s) you understand what she is going through or how difficult you understand her decision to be.  You do not understand what she is going through.  It is nice to wish her good health, peace and serenity.  It is ok to thank her for taking time to read your book. 

4.  The next two pages are dedicated to each of you.  It is particularly nice when one spouse writes about the other, describing his/her partner’s best qualities and what he/she loves about the other.  Dedicate one page of pictures and text to each of you.

5.  If you have a child, dedicate a separate page describing him/her.

6.  Fill out your book with pictures showing your extended family, hobbies, travel and sports adventures, holiday traditions, wedding pictures, and outings with friends.  It is ok to have a short narrative explaining some pages, but equally fine to use captions under pictures to make your pages more attractive and less wordy.  Captions should be catchy!  Why say, “We like to cook” when you can say “Sunday morning buttermilk pancakes bursting with blueberries, fresh maple syrup and bacon!”

7.  It is always nice to include pictures of your home and neighborhood.  You might highlight pictures of your Christmas tree, a beautifully set dining room table, or cuddling in your favorite den chair with the dog/cat!  If you have a lovely garden, backyard or live near a park or beach, by all means show it off!  You have to be in the picture though – the picture should be you hanging the Christmas decorations or building a sand castle, standing over your bike in the neighborhood.

8.  The first pages of your book/website should be an introduction to you alone.  Save your friends and family story for the middle pages.  It is great to share a couple pictures of you with friends and extended family, especially nieces and nephews.  Make sure you are in the pictures as often as possible and that everyone is smiling!

9.  One of the more creative pages adoptive parents may want to add is a “Favorites” page.  Create a chart of categories where you each list a few of your favorites such as: food, vacation place, sport, song, movie (books are not as universally known as movies), maybe even something silly like favorite superhero!  Do this near the end, as it is a light and fun way to finish up your book.

10.  The last page should be a nice sized photo of you with contact information such as a toll free 800 number or specifically designated email.  It is best to consult with your attorney or agency concerning what contact information you list, but you will need a way for the birth parent(s) to find you.  Always say thank you for reading your book!

When, Why, and How Do I Get a New Social Security Number for my Adopted Child?

WHEN

As soon as you receive your adopted child’s birth certificate, it is time to make an application for a new Social Security number. 

WHY

You need a Social Security number to:

  • claim your child as dependent on your income tax return;
  • open a bank account for your child;
  • buy savings bonds or start a college savings fund for your child;
  • get medical coverage for your child; or
  • apply for government services for your child.  

If your adopted child already has a Social Security number, it is important to obtain a new one to maintain confidentiality, and to prevent fraud or misuse. The first Social Security application for your child was likely filled out at the hospital by his birth mother and his first card/number was mailed to her. With a new Social Security number, you will no longer share the information with his birth mother.

If you are in the hospital when your adopted child is born, try to speak with the nurse or social worker in charge of the birth certificate paperwork. If possible, avoid having the birth mother apply for the Social Security number when she fills in the birth certificate paperwork. Applying for the baby’s first Social Security number is a much quicker process, than changing it later. 

HOW

You must apply, in person, at the local Social Security Administration (SSA) Office. Unlike the passport application process, your child does not have to be present at the time of application. There is no cost for a Social Security number and card. Your attorney cannot apply for you! The application, Form SS-5, is online and may be downloaded and filled in before you go.  (www.socialsecurity.gov/online/ss-5.pdf)

  • You will be required to provide at least two documents proving your baby's age, identity, and citizenship status. You will need your child's original birth certificate. By this, I mean the one that was issued after the adoption was finalized. The other document can be your child's hospital birth record or other medical recordAll documents must be originals or certified copies. They will not accept photocopies!
  • You must provide proof of your own identity. Your driver's license and passport are both acceptable.
  • Number 11 on Form SS-5 asks if the person has a prior number. Answer this question “no,” even if you are not sure whether your baby received a prior number. You are applying for a number using your child’s new name and your name as parent. If you answer “yes”, or “unknown”, the SSA office will spend time trying to track the first number, link it to the newly issued number, and then cancel the old number. Your child, with his new adoptive identity, does not have a Social Security number and it is truthful to answer “no” to this question. The new number will be issued easily and expeditiously. Of course, if you are aware that the birth mother filled in the child registration form at the hospital, and used your last name on this and/or birth certificate forms, you must answer “yes” to this question because your child’s original number will be linked to the same name and it is important to have it cancelled.

Find the SSA office nearest you by logging on to the SSA's Office Locator at www.socialsecurity.gov/locator

Once you've submitted your application, you should receive a Social Security card in 6 to 12 weeks. It may take substantially longer to process your application if your child is one year of age or older, because the SSA will contact your state's Department of Vital Statistics to confirm that the birth certificate you have provided is valid.

If you need to claim child-related tax breaks before your child’s adoption has finalized, you may obtain an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number (ATIN) to use before obtaining the Social Security number. To apply for an ATIN, complete IRS Form W-7A, Application for Taxpayer Identification Number for Pending U.S. Adoptions. The ATIN will be valid for only two years, at which point you can extend it if your child's adoption is still not final. Once the adoption is final, you must stop using the ATIN and get a social security number for your child following the process described above.

If you are adopting a child from another country, you will have to wait until the adoption is final and your child has entered the United States before you can obtain a Social Security number for your child. Once that happens, you can use the process described above. 

Social Security number misuse:

If you think someone is using your child's Social Security number fraudulently, you should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by:

International Adoption and U.S. Citizenship

International adoption, while exciting and remarkable, can bring confusion and uncertainty when it comes to immigration status. It is very important to ensure that your internationally adopted child becomes a U.S. citizen. If adoptive parents postpone obtaining their adopted child’s citizenship, he or she may later have difficulty obtaining driver’s licenses, passports, scholarships, working legally, voting, and enjoying basic citizenry rights and privileges. Worse, adopted children without U.S. citizenship may grow up to be subject to deportation. Safeguarding your child’s future is an imperative.

U.S. CITIZENSHIP - ACQUIRED AUTOMATICALLY

Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, some, but not all, children adopted abroad automatically acquire U.S. citizenship. If your adopted child entered the United States on an IH-3 or IR-3 visa, U.S. citizenship is automatically acquired if:

  • at least one of the child’s parents is a U.S. citizen;
  • the adopted child entered the United States prior to his or her 18th birthday;
  • the child lives in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent;
  • the child entered the United States as an immigrant for lawful permanent residence, and
  • the adoption is final.

For those IH-3 and IR-3 cases, a Certificate of Citizenship should be received within 45 days of admission without additional forms or fees.

In New York, those children who enter the Unites States on an IH-3 or IR-3 visa can file a Petition for Registration of Foreign Adoption Order in either Family Court or Surrogate’s Court. This allows adoptive parents to get a New York court order that recognizes the foreign adoption and gives parents the ability to obtain a New York birth certificate from the Department of Health. It is also an opportunity to legally change your child’s name and have it registered on his new birth certificate.

If you would like to obtain a New York court order or New York birth certificate for your internationally adopted child, contact your adoption attorney for more information on how to file a Petition for Registration of Foreign Adoption Order.

U.S. CITIZENSHIP - NOT ACQUIRED AUTOMATICALLY

If your adopted child entered the United States with an IH-4 or IR-4 visa, U.S. citizenship is not automatic. Instead, your adopted child automatically receives a permanent resident card (green card).  If your adopted child is a permanent resident (green card holder), you should contact your adoption attorney and begin the process of re-adoption in the Family or Surrogate’s Court. It is very important that your adopted child’s re-adoption is final as soon as possible and, in no uncertain terms, before his or her 18th birthday.  

Your adopted child automatically acquires U.S. citizenship on the date of his or her re-adoption in the United States (if the adoption occurs before the child’s 18th birthday). Once the re-adoption is final, you can file the Form N-600 with the necessary supporting documents and the fee of $1,170 by check or money order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and if approved, your adopted child will be issued a Certificate of Citizenship.  

For more information on U.S. Citizenship for an internationally adopted child go to:
https://www.uscis.gov/adoption/bringing-your-internationally-adopted-child-united-states/us-citizenship-adopted-child

*Please note: The above information is not a comprehensive summary of the laws governing adoption or immigration as they relate to international adoption and citizenship. Please contact your adoption attorney or immigration attorney for more information.

Federal Adoption Tax Credit for 2016

WHAT IS THE ADOPTION TAX CREDIT?

Introduced in 1997, the adoption tax credit’s purpose is to make adoption more affordable. As part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the adoption tax credit became a permanent law.

The adoption tax credit is available to those who adopt privately, both domestic and international, as well as through an agency, or through foster care. The credit is not available for step-parent adoptions.  

Remember, a tax credit is different than a tax deduction—it’s better! A credit is an amount that is subtracted from your tax liability. The adoption tax credit is also NOT A REFUND. The credit is applied against what you owe in taxes to the federal government.

HOW MUCH IS THE ADOPTION TAX CREDIT?

For the year 2016, the maximum allowed for adoption tax credit is $13,460 per child. The credit phases out for families with higher levels of income. Under the 2016 adoption tax credit formula, adopting parents who earn no more than $201,920.00 are entitled to take the full credit. For adopting parents who earn between $201,920.00 and $241,920 in income, there is a reduced tax credit, and no tax credit is available for those earning more than $241,920.

WHICH ADOPTION EXPENSES CAN BE CLAIMED?

The adoption credit is offered for “qualified adoption expenses.” Qualified adoption expenses include:

• reasonable and necessary adoption fees;
• court costs and attorney’s fees;
• adoption travel costs (including meals and lodging); and
• other expenses that are directly related to adoption.

Remember, it is important to keep all invoices and receipts for fees and costs as well as court documents and agency agreements related to your adoption. There is no requirement to attach the adoption expense documentation with your tax return. You must, however, keep the documentation as part of your own records as you may be audited by the IRS for authenticity.

Some employers offer an adoption assistance program for adoptive parents. If the adopted child does not have special needs, those expenses paid for by the employer would not be qualified adoption expenses for purposes of the adoption tax credit. 

WHAT IF I ADOPT A CHILD WHO HAS SPECIAL NEEDS?

For parents who adopt children with special needs, the full credit of $13,460 may be allowed for the adoption even if you do not have any qualified expenses at all or if you have benefited from your employer’s adoption assistance program.

For purposes of the adoption tax credit, a child has special needs if:

  • the child is a citizen or resident of the United States when the adoption effort began;
  • a state determines that the child cannot or should not be returned to his or her parents’ home; and
  • the state determines that the child probably will not be adoptable without assistance provided to the adoptive family.

In other words, for adoption tax credit purposes, “special needs adoptions” are generally children in foster care and are not necessarily children who have disabilities.

WHEN CAN I CLAIM THE CREDIT?

The tax year you claim the credit depends on when the expenses were paid, whether the adoption is domestic or international, and when the adoption is finalized.

In a domestic adoption, qualified adoption expenses paid before the year the adoption becomes final are allowable as credit for the tax year following the year of payment regardless of whether the adoption is finalized. In an international adoption, qualified adoption expenses paid before and during the year are allowable as a credit for the year the adoption becomes final. Once an adoption is finalized, qualified adoption expenses paid during or after the year of the finalization are allowable as a credit for the year of the payment, regardless of whether the adoption is domestic or international.

It is also very important to note that any credit in excess of your tax liability may be carried forward for up to five years.

HOW DO I CLAIM THE ADOPTION TAX CREDIT?

To claim the credit or exclusion, complete Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses, and attach the form to your Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

HOW DOES THE ADOPTION TAX CREDIT WORK?

For example, a family does their 2016 federal taxes and finds they owe $5,000 in taxes and is eligible for the full tax credit of $13,460. Therefore, they may apply the credit against their tax liability and pay zero in federal taxes for the year. In addition, they may carry over $8,460 to apply against their tax liability for the next five years.  

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE ADOPTION TAX CREDIT VISIT: https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc607.html

*Please note: We are not financial advisors or tax preparers. This advice should be considered general guidance only and not professional advice or as a substitute for IRS instructions. Be sure to check with the appropriate tax advisor, or other professional for your specific situation.

*Please also note: This information is relevant to families considering the adoption tax credit for the 2016 tax year. Rules and eligibility have changed over the years and are not documented in this article. 

Financing Your Adoption

Building your family through adoption can be quite expensive. The average private, domestic adoption includes attorney’s fees, social worker fees for home studies, advertising expenses, birth parent counseling fees and maternity expenses. Often there are additional travel costs as well. A domestic adoption ranges in cost from $20,000 - $50,000. International adoption is even more costly. A little research can pay off and substantially reduce your out of pocket costs.  

piggy bank.jpg

Employer Benefits: The first place to look for financial assistance for your adoption plan is your workplace. It is inexpensive and easy for a company to offer adoption benefits as not many employees will take advantage of this option and having it on the books helps a company seem family friendly. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption maintains an annual list of the top 100 adoption friendly workplaces offering adoption benefits. If you do not see your company on this list, check with the human resources or benefits department where you work and ask if they offer any assistance. If it is a small, non-public company you may have a good chance of being the groundbreaker to prod your employer into instituting such a policy.

Fundraisers: The internet is full of wonderful ideas for fundraising to help afford the cost of adoption. Suggestions range from garage sales to T-shirt fundraising to setting up an adoption crowdfunding page where people can contribute tax deductible donations. Like employer benefits, fundraisers put needed dollars directly in your pocket to get you started or further down the path of adoption.

Grants: Today there are hundreds of available adoption grants with different eligibility requirements. Generally, there are no limits to the number of grants you may seek. Several small grants can add up to substantial fundraising.

Direct adoption grants are given by organizations, which review your application and award the money directly to you. This type of grant requires a little more work on your part and they are definitely more competitive, but the reward can be quick and substantial. See, for example, HelpUsAdopt.org, a national not for profit association awarding adoption grants twice a year regardless of race, ethnicity, marital status, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. 

Some organizations pay the grant to your adoption service provider, such as your attorney or agency, rather than directly to you. An example of this type of grant comes from The Buescher Foundation, established in 2014 to provide support and resources to adoptive families. This foundation awards grants in varying amounts for domestic private and/or agency adoption. There is no income requirement and there are no marital status or religious affiliation restrictions. The Foundation requires a home study and a “look book” or profile book that tells the story of your family. Their grants are awarded at the end of each quarter and funds may be used for all qualified adoption expenses and will be sent directly to your service providers.

You will find that some adoption grants are predicated on certain qualifications, such as demonstrable financial need, a particular religious affiliation, marital status, or that the adoptive child be special needs or orphaned. All grants require you go through an application process. Please carefully read the following time saving tips before you begin the process of applying for an adoption grant. 

Four Important Guidelines When Applying For An Adoption Grant:

1.  Read the grant criteria and eligibility requirements – do not waste your time with  applications for which you have no chance of being approved. If you are single and the organization only awards grants to married couples, do not expect to be the exception to the rule!

2.  Make sure your home study is complete. Most grants require an approved home study. Most grants have deadlines. Be sure not to start the process with an extensive application only to be disqualified when you do not have a home study to submit prior to the grant application deadline.

3.  Share your story and be AUTHENTIC. Your honesty will resonate with the folks reading your application and help them relate to you and your journey.

4.  Answer every question and send in all the required documentation. In other words, check and double check that you have followed the instructions. If you miss a question or fail to send in all the documentation, your application will be thrown out, no matter how long you spent on the questions you did answer.  

Other ideas to try:  

    o    Some airlines and hotels offer adoption discounts for adoption related travel. 
    o    Try your local banks for low interest loans once you are home study approved and court certified to adopt. 
    o    Discuss the Federal Adoption Tax Credit with your accountant or a tax professional. You may be entitled to a tax credit of more than $13,000 for qualified adoption expenses, including attorney’s fees and travel costs. 
    o    Military adoption reimbursements are available for service members up to $2,000 per adoptive child, per calendar year.

Survivor Benefits and Your Adopted Children

Social Security provides support to families of workers who pass away. Widows, widowers, children, and other dependents may be entitled to survivor benefits. When a widow or widower remarries, the question is raised, “Will my children lose their survivor benefits if my new spouse adopts them?” The answer is simple. Children who are later adopted by their living parent’s new spouse do not lose their survivor benefits. As long as children were already entitled, adoption does not terminate their survivor benefits.

For more information about child’s benefits termination and entitlement, please visit the Social Security Administration website or call 1-800-772-1213.

Survivor Benefits and Your Adopted Children

What's Happening in Pro-Family Legislation

One in eight couples of childbearing age in the United States has trouble conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy. Not being able to have a child is life altering and fundamental to the lives of so many men and women. Medical technology now offers more treatment options for people trying to conceive a child including hormone treatments, ovulation induction and intrauterine insemination. In addition, more advanced technologies like in-vitro fertilization, ICSI, surrogacy, egg/sperm donation and even embryo donation have become widely available. These advancements build families every day. The World Health Organization and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recognize infertility as a disease, yet access to infertility treatments is shrinking, and family building issues are in need of support. The following legislation is at the forefront for advocacy groups, supporters, and partners defending and promoting positive public policy for reproductive rights and the infertility community.

 NY State Capitol Building

NY State Capitol Building

Support the Women’s Veterans and Families Health Services Act

Our country’s veterans deserve the nation’s full support. Those with severe reproductive injuries often need specialized treatments such as IVF in order to have a family, but IVF is excluded from Veteran Affair’s medical benefits. This bill provides veterans wounded in the line of duty with access to reproductive treatments and adoption assistance, permanently. 

Support The Adoption Tax Credit Refundability Act

Adopting a child can be expensive. Since 1997, there has been bipartisan support in Congress for the Adoption Tax Credit (ATC). The ATC advances the important public goal of encouraging adoptions, especially of children with special needs. A tax credit helps only those who can use it-- the ATC needs to be made refundable so that low-to-moderate income families can afford to adopt children.  

Stop Personhood Bills

The Personhood movement asserts that a microscopic embryo is equivalent to a person and therefore is afforded the rights of a person. Personhood bills seek to limit IVF medical treatment and have the effect of reducing access to family building options to thousands of families. Since 1985, American parents have welcomed over 1 million babies born as a result of IVF. If personhood were the law, these children would never have been born. The United States should not prevent this life-giving treatment that is available in all other developed nations.

Support New York’s Child-Parent Security Act  

The Child-Parent Security Act, pending in New York, lifts the current ban on surrogacy and legalizes gestational carrier arrangements, where a woman can receive compensation to carry a pregnancy, but has no genetic link to the offspring. Since 1992, New York has banned compensatory surrogacy agreements, which means intended parents may not pay a surrogate to carry an embryo for them. Since the New York ban was enacted, the medical and legal fields around assistive reproductive technology and surrogacy have advanced significantly. This legislation allows for carefully regulated gestational carrier arrangements.  

To get more involved, and learn how you can help, in ways however big or small, check out RESOLVE.org, a non-profit, charitable organization, working to improve the lives of women and men living with infertility. 

Financial Planning for New Families

Those first few months after bringing your baby, or child, home are a whirlwind of family and friends visiting, pediatrician appointments, nonstop grocery and drugstore runs and a complete and utter lack of sleep! Despite this craziness, I am going to suggest you make time to think about and discuss your finances. If there is one thing I know, it is that children do not cost less or take up less of your time as they grow! They eat more, outgrow their clothes, have birthday parties, need braces, require dance and sports accessories, attend summer camp programs and don’t get me started on college tuition!

Here are five great tips to consider when planning your financial success as a family:  

1. Prepare a Budget: Write down all of your new and obvious monthly expenses, such as diapers, baby wipes, bottles and formula, daycare if you both go back to work. What do you plan to spend on baby gear such as a crib and changing table, high chair, stroller, car seat? What are your typical, monthly, household expenditures?  Now is the time to rework your budget so that you include the new expenses and they do not catch you open-mouthed and unaware after a couple months. Lack of sleep and financial strain are not good for one’s health. Prepare yourself and avoid unnecessary surprise and stress at the end of the month.

2. Update your Wills and Life Insurance. Now is the time to insure your family’s security if something were to happen to you. “You need a will, not only to determine who are the beneficiaries of your assets, but also the manner in which they pass. If you prefer your assets to be protected for your child until she reaches a certain age, you may want to create a trust for her,” says Sharon L. Klein, President of Wilmington Trust in the New York Metropolitan region. You will also want to make the important decision about who should raise your child, should you not be around, and name the guardian of your choice in your will. In addition, you want to prepare health care proxies, which allow someone of your choosing to make medical decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so, and “Living Wills”, for each spouse, which express the desire not to be kept alive by machinery. If your family relies on you financially, you need life insurance! Klein notes that “term life insurance is a less expensive way to protect your family than whole life insurance, in the event that the bread winner has an unexpected, early demise.” Have you considered how your spouse will afford the mortgage? You may want to also consider purchasing life insurance on the non-working spouse. If the non-working spouse passes, this insurance will pay for necessary child-care, so the working spouse may continue to work. Klein warns, however, “that life insurance does not pass under your will, rather it has a separate beneficiary designation, so it is critical to insure that the insurance passes in a manner that dovetails with your overall estate plan.” Of course, if you are a single parent it is readily apparent that you must make these decisions, in advance, so that it is not the court or a family member who determines your child’s future. You are best advised to avoid the on-line sites, which allow you to prepare “do it yourself” wills. When it comes to the critical decisions that will impact your cherished family and your hard-earned assets, you should seek the assistance of a lawyer to customize your plans to best fit your circumstances. 

3. Prepare for Retirement and Emergencies. Retirement may seem like a long way away, but this is surely an expense we all face eventually. Thomas Henske, Certified Financial Planner and Partner at Lenox Advisors, notes that “Putting yourself in a good place for retirement savings is all about building good habits. It is more important that you establish a regular savings routine (monthly, for example) than actually getting the right amount to save at the start of this endeavor. You can always adjust the amount up a few dollars without it making a noticeable difference to your lifestyle.” Henske advises to save regularly, not just when the mood hits you. If your employer has a 401k plan, sign up for automatic pre-tax deductions from your paycheck to go to your account. Employers often match their employee’s pre-tax contributions up to a certain amount. This is free money, so look into it! If the 401k is not available, it is easy to set up an IRA. Retirement loans are not easy to find late in life. The sooner you start saving for retirement, the more money you will have thanks to the compounding of interest and dividends.  

A rainy day fund for unexpected emergencies is also an important item to include in your budget. Experts say it is good to have six to nine months of salary put aside in case of unexpected job loss or a big emergency. If only one of you is working, you may want to put away closer to one year’s salary. You may have 30 or 40 years to save for retirement, but one never knows when you will have to dig into emergency savings funds for a new car, new roof, or medical care. It is important to set up this savings account so that if that emergency arises, you do not have to dip into a retirement fund and suffer taxes and penalties for early withdrawal.

4. Think about starting a College Fund. The cost of college is going up, up, up! The good news is you have close to 20 years before this big ticket item hits your budget. There are also many venues for scholarships, loans, and grants to help with the cost of college. There are many options, such as stocks and bonds, to begin putting a little away for college now, which will grow and save you a bundle down the road. Many experts recommend 529 accounts because they are designed specifically to save for tuition, to compound and grow tax free and they are easy to set up. Money withdrawn for future college expenses will be tax free, but experts caution to be comfortably saving for retirement before you start putting away money for college.

5. Establish A Regular Schedule. Above all, set up a regular schedule to discuss your savings and financial goals with your partner, or if single, revisit your progress and determine whether you are on track to meet your goals. It takes time to change spending and savings habits. Keep the channels of communication open with your partner and make sure to plan for grown up fun and time out!