Regardless of the other professionals you choose to involve (or not involve) in your adoption process, an adoption attorney will always be required at one point or another. All of the time, energy, hope and finances you invest in the adoption process won’t mean anything if you don’t work with a qualified attorney to legally complete the process — which is why it’s so important to choose an experienced adoption attorney you can trust.
But how exactly do you determine whether an attorney is the right fit for you? You should always do thorough research and interview any potential adoption lawyers you’re considering. As you weigh your options, here are the top five questions you must ask before hiring an attorney to handle your adoption:
1. How much of your practice is focused on adoption?
Some family law attorneys and general practitioners will offer adoption services — but unless a significant portion of their practice is focused on adoption, these attorneys may not be the best choice to represent your family.
Adoption is a highly specialized area of the law — and state laws regarding adoption are always changing. Choose an attorney who is focused primarily (or better yet, solely) on adoption cases and who successfully completes many adoptions every year.
You can check the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA) for a list of adoption-focused lawyers in your state.
2. What is your experience with adoption?
It doesn’t mean much for an adoption attorney to be 100 percent focused on adoption if that’s only been the case for the past year. Ask your attorney how long they’ve been practicing and how they came to focus on adoption cases. How many adoptions have they successfully completed? How many of those adoptions took place in the past year?
In addition to the depth of their adoption knowledge and experience, make sure they have the breadth of experience, as well. Do they have experience with contested adoptions? Interstate adoptions? You want to choose an attorney who will be able to handle your case regardless of any potential complications that may arise.
3. What services do you offer to adoptive families?
Different professionals may offer different ranges of adoption services. Beyond the necessary legal services, some adoption attorneys can also assist families with finding an adoption opportunity, paying birth parent expenses, facilitating open adoption contact and more. If there are services an attorney can’t provide, like emotional support and counseling, ask whether he or she can refer you to another trusted professional for those services.
You may also want to ask some more specific follow-up questions based on the services your attorney can provide. If your attorney is able to offer matching services, for example, ask how the matching process works, what the average wait time is to find an adoption opportunity and what their adoption disruption rates are.
4. How are your fees structured? What can we expect to pay for your services?
Many lawyers charge for their services on an hourly basis, which can sometimes make it difficult for them to provide an overall estimate of adoption costs — especially in the case of an unforeseen event like a birth father contesting the adoption. Other attorneys may charge a flat rate, especially if you connect with them through an adoption agency.
Find out how many hours the attorney typically spends on a case and how much you can expect to pay for those services. Also find out what happens to any fees you’ve paid the attorney in case a prospective birth mother changes her mind and decides to parent.
5. When will you be available to answer questions?
Key events in the adoption process don’t always happen within traditional business hours. Ask your attorney if you will be able to get in touch with them during off-hours, like evenings and weekends. Find out how he or she will handle your case when time-sensitive issues pop up, and ask who will be available to answer your questions if your attorney is out of the office or unavailable. Communication is key to a smooth adoption experience, so make sure you know how and when you’ll be able to get in contact with someone in your attorney’s office throughout the process.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the questions you should ask prospective adoption attorneys, but it’s a good place to start when evaluating whether a professional may be the right fit for you. If an attorney can’t at least answer these five questions to your satisfaction, it may be time to start looking for other options.