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.