With a few exceptions, adoption is controlled by state law rather than Federal law. Each state has its own body of law on adoption. It is typical for the laws of the various states to conflict on fundamental points. As a consequence of this, interstate adoptions are presently plagued by uncertainty. This fact has been brought to the public’s attention by the contested adoptions which have received media attention.
One of the answers to the above dilemma would be to make the laws of the states more uniform. A vehicle for achieving uniformity is available. In August of 1994, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) finished five years of work on a new uniform adoption act. In the final vote, the act was accepted almost unanimously by the Commissioners. It is now up to the individual states to decide if they wish to implement the act or parts of the act. While there are those who disagree with some aspects of the act, the move toward uniformity is desirable.
The Act addresses every aspect of adoption procedure from pre-placement evaluation of adoptive parents, through securing consent of the birth parents, to assuring finality once the adoption process is finished. With this scope, it is not surprising that critics will find one or more aspects with which they do not agree. At the same time, nearly everyone agrees that there is a need for uniformity.
Consequently, the question becomes whether an act with some flaws is better than no act at all. If we as a society are truly committed to promoting the welfare of children affected by adoption, then the answer must be “yes.”
Those who oppose the Act say that it is weighted against birth parents in favor of adoptive parents. Those critics contend that the Act sets up a system for expeditiously acquiring babies for adoptive families. In truth, the Act represents the fruit of a successful effort by many individuals over many years to produce a model law which reasonably balances the interests of all the parties to an adoption.
Built into the Act are a number of safeguards. For example, the Act provides that no one may adopt a child unless the adoptive parent has undergone a pre-placement evaluation. In an attempt to promote the accomplishment of such evaluations early in the process, the Act provides that no adoptive parent may advertise a willingness to adopt without first undergoing the pre-placement evaluation.
The Act does not permit a birth parent to consent to an adoption until after the child is born, and a consent to adoption is revocable up to 192 hours (8 days) after the birth of the child. More importantly, the Act does not permit a birth parent to sign a consent until the birth parent has been counseled concerning the significance of the adoption decision.
Also built into the Act are provisions requiring notice to birth fathers who are not actively participating in the adoption plan. A number of the contested adoptions which have received media attention have been caused in large part due to lax state laws concerning notice to birth fathers.
An extremely significant aspect of the Act is a provision which protects final adoption decrees from any challenge once six months have passed from the time when the adoption is finalized. Such a provision does not violate the constitutional rights of the birth parents since there is an overriding societal interest in creating permanency for adopted children.
If an adoption is contested, the Act requires expedited court proceedings. Contested cases have involved adoptive parents being ordered to give up custody of children two to three years after their birth and their placement with the adoptive parents. These situations were created primarily because of delays in the court process. The Act’s goal is to eliminate such decisions in contested cases.
Other provisions of the Act address such issues as cross-racial adoption. The Act prohibits the use of racial and ethnic matching policies designed to delay or deny an adoption. Another provision deals with the question of access to adoption records. With regard to this, the drafters of the Act came down on the traditional side by sealing the records of an adoption for 99 years. At the same time, the Act would establish a registry through which birth parents and adoptees could locate one another if there is mutual consent.
In balance, the criticisms of the Act are greatly outweighed by the crying need for uniformity. The Uniform Adoption Act represents a Herculean effort by its drafters, and it provides real hope for uniformity in adoption law.
For more information about independent adoptions, click to view one of the following pages:
- Independent Adoption