Ethical Practices in Adoption

Prospective adoptive parents are frequently advised to choose agencies and lawyers that abide by ethical adoption practices. But what does that mean exactly? And what are the unethical practices you are being advised to avoid?

The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (also known as Quad A) has an ethics code for its members, that supplements state ethics rules for attorneys who specifically practice in the area of adoption. The code prohibits fraud or misrepresentations by lawyers (Rule 4) or inducing birthparents to make an adoption plan by paying money or giving anything of value (Rule 5(b)). The ethical code permits adoptive parents to provide assistance to the birthparents, within the parameters allowed by state law (Rules 5(a) and (c)). Where allowed by state law, a lawyer can represent the birthparents and the adoptive parents (Rule 3). New York requires independent counsel for birth families, and in some instances a birthfather and a birthmother might need separate counsel.

These requirements form a strong foundation for ethical practices, but there are other practices that are not specifically prohibited which I personally find to be questionable. Some of them include:

  • Moving the birthmother to another state. Some adoption lawyers and agencies have practices of moving a pregnant prospective birthmother to a state perceived as having more favorable adoption laws, such as Utah. There are two problems here. First she is taken away from her support system, which can have a coercive effect. Second, Utah is notorious for having weak provisions for notifying birthfathers.
  • Leading birthparents on. I have had pre-adoptive families tell me their lawyer told them they should simultaneously pursue contact with multiple potential birthmothers as insurance that one of them will place their child with the family. This family only intended to adopt one child. What would they do if both birthmothers decided to place the child with the family?
  • “Say whatever it takes to get the baby.” Another family told me that their lawyer encouraged them to agree to any arrangement the birthparents requested – once they had the baby they could revisit the agreement. While openness in adoption does change over time, the expectation is that adoptive parents will abide by their commitments for post-placement contact – and that they will not make promises they do not intend to keep.

I personally believe that adoption is about two families coming together to do what is best for a child. And I believe that a family should not be formed with deceit or coercion. I do my best to adhere to these core values as I counsel my clients through their family processes.