Federal Adoption Tax Credit for 2018

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 2018, the maximum allowed for adoption tax credit is $13,810 per child. The credit phases out for families with higher levels of income. Under the 2018 adoption tax credit formula, adopting parents who earn no more than $207,140 are entitled to take the full credit. For adopting parents who earn between $207,140 and $247,140 in income, there is a reduced tax credit, and no tax credit is available for those earning more than $247,140.

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 $13,810 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 2018 federal taxes and finds they owe $5,000 in taxes and is eligible for the full tax credit of $13,810. 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 $8,810 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 2018 tax year. Rules and eligibility have changed over the years and are not documented in this article. 

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

Interstate Adoption

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How does one adopt a baby or child from another state? If you are working with a national agency, chances are you will be traveling to another state to meet your birth mother and new baby. A large number of private adoptions also happen across state lines. Whether you are flying across the country, or driving twenty minutes to your neighboring state, you will need to comply with the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) before you may bring your new baby home.

ICPC is a legal agreement between all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands, enacted to ensure that children being adopted across state lines were going to safe and suitable homes. Adoption laws are widely variable from state to state. Because there is no federal law regulating adoption, an ICPC office is set up in each state to review specific paperwork for each non-relative, interstate adoption placement. The state where the birth mother resides is referred to as the “sending state”. The adoptive family’s state of residence is called the “receiving state”. ICPC administrators are tasked with making sure the laws and regulations in both states have been followed before they allow the adoptive parents to travel home with their new baby.

Your lawyer or agency will prepare a packet of documents for the ICPC administrators to review. The process is primarily the same in each state, but because the state laws differ there are occasionally variations in what the ICPC offices require. When you have an out of state adoption plan, you should always prepare to be out of state for at least two weeks once your baby is born. The ICPC process can take less than a week, up to two weeks, or even longer. There are many factors which influence the length of the ICPC process.

Generally, the steps in an across state lines adoption include the following:

1. The adoptive parents will travel to the sending state before, or once, the baby is born.

2. The baby is discharged from the hospital usually into the adoptive parent’s custody.

3. There may be a waiting period before the birth parents are legally allowed to consent to the adoption. A signed consent is mandatory for ICPC.

4. Your attorney, working in conjunction with the birth parent’s attorney, will submit the necessary ICPC paperwork and supporting documents to the sending state’s ICPC office. This paperwork includes the home study, certification as qualified adoptive parents, medical records on the baby, the birth parent’s consent, information on how the adoption plan was conceived and an accounting of fees or expenses paid by the adoptive parents.

5. The sending state approves the ICPC request and sends it to the receiving state, which then conducts a similar review.

6. Occasionally, one of the ICPC administrators will request additional information. For example, if the baby was born with a medical disability, or drugs in his system, ICPC will want to see an affidavit from the adoptive parents that they have been fully informed of the medical health of the child and attendant risks and that they accept the risks.

7. Once the sending state approves the ICPC request, the administrator will contact the adoptive family’s attorney, who then contacts the adoptive parents that they have been cleared to take their new baby home.

ICPC approval means a potential stay out of town with a newborn baby for a week, maybe longer. There are several factors that contribute to the period of time it takes to obtain ICPC approval. In some states, a birth mother must sign her relinquishment of rights in court in order for the consent to the adoption to be valid. In other states, such as New York, the birth mother may sign her consent as soon as the baby is born and while she has 45 days to revoke her consent, the ICPC paperwork may be filed as soon as she signs. It often takes a day or two to obtain medical records from the hospital where the baby was born. ICPC packets may not be filed without a complete set of the baby’s medical information. In addition, it generally takes a day or two for the attorney or adoption agency to complete the file and submit all necessary documents. Of course, there is always the variable in how fully staffed an ICPC office is and whether the baby is born on or around a government holiday or weekend.

Preparation is important! Adoptive parents are wise to find a comfortable extended stay hotel and bring an infant car seat with them when they travel to their baby’s birth state. If you have special medicines or dietary concerns, pack wisely and take what you would need for potentially 2-3 weeks. It is always everyone’s intention to get the new family home as quickly as possible, but it is wise to plan ahead.

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.

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.  

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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.

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!

How to Choose Your Adoption Attorney

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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.

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. 
    

    


 

People Say the Darndest Things!

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Being an adopted child or an adoptive parent can invite strange and unwelcome comments from strangers, as well as family and friends. Sometimes it is helpful to be ready with an easy answer, so that you, or your child, do not feel defensive or angry. Your child may be asked questions about her “real parents” or “real family”, especially if he is of different racial background or the adopted child of a same sex couple. It may be difficult to avoid the unwelcome comments and questions, but you can be a positive role model for your child and for adoption if you think about your response and reply calmly.

One insensitive and particularly galling question is “Why would you want someone else’s child?” It takes a lot of patience to smile and say, “Alex is my child and I love being his parent”. When others speak in terms of your child’s “real parent”, it is helpful to educate them to understand that your child had a birth family, or a first family and that you are her parent and forever family. A child might be asked who or where her “real family” is. It is helpful for her to know that while she had a first or birth family, you are her real and forever family. After a stranger nosily insisted that her daughter looked nothing like her, one adoptive mother smiled and said, “I know. Sara is so cute, I wish I looked more like her!”

A foster father once told me his foster son was confused about who his Daddy is. This Dad gently explained to his foster son that a Daddy is someone who makes him breakfast and dinner, and special treats, reads him books, plays with him and is always there, everyday, to hug and love him. 

Gay Morrissey, LMSW, is a social worker in private practice and has been performing home study reports, in New York, for the past 25 years. Gay is also an adoptive mother of two adult daughters, Kate, 27, and Liz, 25, whom she and her husband adopted as infants. Gay explains, “Children figure out how to respond to questions about adoption in a way that is unique to their personalities. Kate to this day is more likely to ‘go to task’, and Liz is much more likely to ‘let things roll’”. Gay shared that she told her girls their adoption stories from the earliest of ages. As the girls grew older, Gay explained that some people, adults and children alike, ask questions about adoption simply out of curiosity and often out of ignorance. Gay counseled her girls, and numerous adoptive families, that we should practice what to say when asked a difficult question, but more importantly that we know how to talk about our family’s adoption story with each other. Of course, every chance she gets, Gay reminds her girls that she and her husband are lucky to have them as their daughters! 

People are generally well meaning but can say hurtful things out of ignorance. I am told clients have actually been asked how much their child cost! It takes a very strong and patient person to calmly answer that one! Sometimes less is more and maybe, in such a situation, you can find the inner peace to suggest the questioner research different agencies and call a few adoption attorneys to get a sense of adoption expenses. Adoption is a wonderful avenue to becoming parents and while you may not have signed on to be an adoption advocate, our community and our children become stronger and better understood when we speak of adoption in a positive manner.

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.

Single Parents and Adoption Profiles

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Creating an adoption profile is an important step in your adoption journey. The profile enables a birth parent to learn about you and to help her make the difficult decision of who she will choose to parent her unborn child. The adoption profile is your chance to make a first impression with a prospective birth mother. As many birth mothers are single women, they typically look for a married couple to adopt their baby. Single adoptive men and women have an extra hurdle to jump in convincing a birth mother that they are up for the task of parenting on their own. In addition to presenting a beautiful profile full of warm, loving, images, single adoptive parents must show they are a capable of being a single parent and will provide a full forever family to child. There are many ways to overcome any potential concerns by a birth mother by addressing them upfront on your online adoption online and in your profile books. If you are single and considering adoption, please find below several useful tips, from Creating a Family* when building your adoption profile.

Who is your support system? Remember to share photos and descriptions of your family and friends. Include images of holidays spent together, special events shared, or just every day happenings enjoyed with your loved ones.

Focus on the stability of your job and your financial ability to raise a child. Explain where or what you do for work, your career goals reached, and a plan you have in place to accomplish your next challenge.

Who will take care of your child when you are at work? Describe the childcare arrangements you will put in place. Will you use a day care center? Will you have help at home?

Explain how you hope to achieve balance in your life as a single mom or dad. Is your employer family-friendly? Does your job allow for flexibility?

Share why you want to be a mother or a father even though you are not married or do not have a life partner. Explain what parenting means to you and why you know you will be a good mother or father.

Who will be male or female role models for your child? Share the other relationships in your life that will allow a child to connect with other adults.

Do you have single parent role models? If yes, explain how meaningful those role models are to you and why.

* Creating a Family is a nonprofit organization that provides education and support to families touched by infertility, adoption and foster care.