The Legal Complexities of Adoption
Tips for building families in New York
on January 2, 2018
Updated on July 18, 2022
Of all the hoops prospective parents must jump through to adopt a child, one of the most stressful, according to adoption law veteran Clifford Greenberg, whose Manhattan offices are a four-minute walk from the New York County Family Court on Lafayette Street, is the home study: a required step in the adoption process in which a social worker visits the parents’ home to evaluate their suitability and prepare adoptive families for the rest of the adoption proceedings.
Many clients ask Greenberg how to present themselves in the best light for the home study. He gives everybody the same advice: “Be yourself. That is always enough. The judge doesn’t know you yet, and the home study serves to paint a picture of a beautiful family—a masterpiece of love.”
If only that was the solution to every step of the legal process. Adoptive parents typically need the assistance of an adoption attorney for everything from the termination of the birth parents’ parental rights to the finalization of the child’s adoption in court, when they become the child’s permanent, legal parents. Greenberg says attorney’s fees for an adoption cases usually range from $2,500 to $4,000 for a typical agency adoption. That also covers assistance in finding an adoption agency, arranging fingerprinting, pulling together required tax and residence records, and engaging a social worker for the home study.
That says nothing of the emotional challenges.
“No matter how you look at adoption or frame it, loss is involved,” says Brett Kimmel, a family law attorney with offices on Madison Avenue in Midtown. “There is [for some parents] the loss of not conceiving your own child; the loss of perhaps not having complete medical history for the adoptive child; the emotional scars that come with adoption—from both the parents’ and child’s perspective.”
In Brian Esser’s Brooklyn office, new clients get an overview of the process, starting with the differences between domestic and international adoptions, which have shrunk from roughly 20,000 per year nationwide to about 7,000 per year as more countries tighten their rules, raise their costs and limit adoptions to older or disabled children.
The costs of international adoptions, unsurprisingly, can be steep. Esser says the total cost can top $50,000. Domestically, some adoptive couples seeking a healthy infant go through private agencies that match the couple with a birth mother. Esser says rules vary state to state, and estimates the typical cost at $30,000 to $45,000. The average waiting period can range from two to seven years, according to Kimmel.
Adoptive parents need to remember that biological parents can change their minds before the adoption becomes final. “That’s not uncommon,” Esser says. In some states, birth parents have months to change their minds, but in New York, once the birth mother signs the surrender form, “the consent becomes irrevocable,” he adds. “It takes a minimum of three months before the adoption can be finalized.”
Public adoptions through foster-care agencies can be relatively low-cost, Esser notes, but adoptive parents must be prepared to welcome a toddler or older child who may have suffered physical or emotional abuse and has lived in multiple foster-care homes. “Public adoptions by and large are children who are in the state or county’s abuse and neglect system,” he says. “Private adoptions are voluntary placements.”
While there are plenty of challenges surrounding adoption, Kimmel also sees the triumphs: “The loss or the expense or the potential stresses are countered by the joy of creating a family.”
If you’d like more general information about this area of the law, see our adoption law overview.