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Financial Aspects of Adoption and Relinquishment

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

dollars and coinsThe majority of the expenses of an adoption (which are many) are typically paid for by the potential adoptive parents. The birthmother will herself generate many legal and medical expenses (e.g., for the court process, prenatal care and delivery of the child). Each location has their own laws as to what financial assistance may be given to the birth mother by the adoptive parents. In some locations, the adoptive family is allowed to pay the mother's legal and medical costs, if they choose to offer that assistance (and most do). There are generally strict laws that prohibit the adoptive parents from offering any financial rewards to the birthmother (such as paying for her tuition, a home, etc.), that could be construed as "payment" for her child. All states consider the process of selling a child, or bribing/providing incentives to birthparents so as to influence selection to be illegal.


Relinquishment, also known as "voluntarily termination of parental rights" or "consent to adoption," is the process where the birthmother gives her consent for her child to legally become the child of another family. Once this process has occurred, the birthmother has no remaining legal or financial responsibility for the child.

There is generally no law requiring unwed birth fathers to be involved in the relinquishment process. Legally, a birth father can only preserve his right to veto an adoption; he cannot initiate one himself. Therefore, an unwed male who discovers that he is to become a father should immediately acknowledge paternity and should communicate with and support the birthmother while she is contemplating adoption if he desires to be involved in the selection of a family to raise his child.

With a domestic adoption, once adoptive parents have signed a placement agreement in which they consent to adopt a particular child, that child will usually be temporarily placed with them upon discharge from the hospital (shortly after birth). The actual placement process varies slightly from agency to agency and from state to state.

Following initial temporary placement of the child, there is generally a supervision period of two to six months during which the newly formed family will receive several follow-up visits by the social worker assigned to their case to determine how things are going. During this supervision period, the adoption is not final and it is possible for either the birth parents (including the birth father if he is present) or the adoptive parents to change their minds.

The final adoption cannot take place until the birthmother has officially signed a voluntary waiver of parental rights/petition for adoption. In most states, there is a set rule governing the earliest time that the birthmother can sign these papers. In most cases, the waiver cannot be signed until the baby has actually been born. Typically, signing occurs in the hospital or in the weeks following the birth. States, territories and provinces generally do not impose a deadline on the birthmother to sign the waiver, so the process can sometimes take a long while, depending on how certain the birthmother is that she wishes to go forward with the adoption. Some locations require that the voluntary waiver form be signed in front of notary or in court in front of a judge, while others require that an adoption agency representative or lawyer/facilitator be present. In addition, some locations specify a period of time after the form has been signed wherein the birthmother can still revoke her consent.

The last legal step is a generally a court session finalizing the adoption. This is a very short court appearance, usually only taking about 15 minutes, and does not require presence of the birthmother or father. The judge, lawyer, and adoptive parents will be present, and sometimes the social worker that has worked with the family will also make an appearance depending on government requirements. The adoptive parents will be required to take the stand and state the date of their marriage (if applicable), the child's birth date and the date of placement. The judge will ask a number of questions to verify that the parents understand the legal implications of accepting the child for adoption. After all the questions and answers are completed, the judge will formally sign off on the adoption decree, finalizing the adoption once and for all. Within several weeks the court will issue a "Delayed Certificate of Birth" which documents the child's new legal name and adoptive parents.