Monday, March 31, 2014

Maryland Adoption Expenses - 3 Part Series: Birth Parents Benefit When Placing in Maryland

Adoption Attorney Maryland
by Sheri A. Mullikin

Living expenses. Enforceable post-adoption contact agreements.  Consent laws that enable birth parents to wait until after the birth before they sign away their parental rights. Revocation laws that give birth parents up to thirty days to change their minds.  These are just some of the favorable adoption laws in Maryland for women and men pursuing an adoption plan for their unplanned pregnancy.  Laws in other states, however, are not so friendly to expectant parents with an adoption plan.  As the second in a three-part series on a recent changes in Maryland's adoption law, today's post looks at how Maryland adoption law addresses these important issues to birth parents, and compares that to similar laws in other states.  

With the rise in interstate adoptions involving birth parents from one state and adoptive parents from another, largely due to the use of the internet in locating and making an adoptive match, choice of law issues are an important consideration.  Sometimes, a state will not allow an adoption to be finalized in-state by out-of-state residents; however, in many cases the parties will have a choice. Adoption professionals and attorneys involved in an interstate adoption must examine the laws of the home state of all of the parties early on in the process to determine which laws would be most advantageous to their clients.  State laws on allowable adoption expenses, consent revocation periods, and the availability of enforceable post-adoption contact agreements are just some of the important considerations in determining where an adoption should be finalized.  

Prior to Maryland's adoption of a new law allowing birth parents to be compensated for certain living and transportation expenses, many Maryland birth mothers sought to place their children with adoptive parents in states that would provide them with the financial assistance they needed to complete their adoption plan.  With the passage of Maryland's new law, which was discussed in the first part of this blog series, Maryland now joins thirty-seven other states that permit payment of living and transportation expenses for birth mothers.  While Maryland law may not be as broad as other states such as Kansas, which allows payment of any necessary living expense, or Utah, which allows reimbursement of all reasonable living expenses, it is certainly a welcome help for birth mothers struggling to make ends meet while pregnant and during the post-partum period.  The new law is also not as restrictive as that in some states that may allow payment of living expenses only for a limited time period (ranging from thirty days to six months) or up to a set dollar amount.  See, e.g., Iowa Code § 600.9(2)(d) (2014) (imposing 30 day limit); Arizona Code § 8-114(B) (2014) (imposing a $1,000 maximum absent court approval).

Maryland's new living expense law makes Maryland's adoption laws more favorable for birth mothers than adoption laws in many other states, increasing the likelihood that parties to an adoption will choose to finalize an adoption in Maryland.  In addition to payment of expenses for housing, transportation, food, clothing, adoption counseling, and legal representation, birth mothers in Maryland have the benefit of revocation periods that are much longer than most other states.  Birth parents have thirty days to change their minds after they sign a consent to adoption before their consent becomes irrevocable.  Maryland Code Ann., Fam. Law § 5-3B-21(b) (2014).  In comparison, in most states, a consent becomes irrevocable immediately or up to ten days after signing.    See, e.g., Arizona Rev. Stat. Ann. § 8-106(D) (2014); 750 ILCS 50/9 sec 9(A) (2014); Mass Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 210, § 2 (2014); Missouri Rev. Stat. § 453.030 (2014); Utah Code 78B-6-126 (2014).  Additionally, in Maryland, a consent to adoption can only be signed after the child's birth.  Maryland Code Ann., Fam. Law § 5-3B-21(a)(2) (2014). In comparison, in a few states, birth mothers may sign a consent before the birth and in nearly a dozen states, birth fathers can sign a consent at anytime.  See, e.g., Alabama  Code § 26-10A-13 (2014) (birth mother and father); 750 ILCS 50/9 § 9(C) (2014) (by father only in Illinois); N.C. Gen. Stat.§ 48-3-604 (2014) (by father only); 23 PA Cons. Stat. § 2311(c) (2014) (father only), Utah Code § 78B-6-125 (2014) (father only).

Finally, birth parents in Maryland have the benefit of very favorable laws making post-adoption contact agreements between birth and adoptive parents enforceable.  Maryland Code Ann., Fam. Law § 5-3B-07 (2014). At this time, adoption laws in nearly one-half of the states, including Colorado and New Jersey, do not address the enforceability of post-adoption contact agreements, leaving the parties to such agreements without a remedy in the event one party refuses to abide by the terms of the agreement.  And some state laws actually state that post-adoption contact agreements are unenforceable.  See, e.g., N.C. Gen. Stat. § 48-3-610 (2014); Ohio Rev. Code § 3107.65 (2014); S.C. Code Ann. § 63-9-760 (2014).

As a result of Maryland's new living expense law and other favorable adoption laws, it is likely that we will see an increase in the number of domestic adoptions being finalized in Maryland. As adoption professionals implement this new law, it is advisable that they develop documents and procedures to ensure that all payments are made in accordance with applicable law.  My next post will provide practical advice to these professionals as they encounter birth parents seeking assistance with living and transportation expenses.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Maryland Adoption Expenses - 3 Part Series: New Law Will Help Birth Parents With Living Expenses

In January, I gave a presentation to the local bar association on recent changes in Maryland's adoption law, which now permits adoptive parents to cover certain living expenses of a birth parent. I have broken down that presentation into a three part series, with today's post discussing the recent changes in Maryland's adoption law.  Part two in the series will focus on how Maryland's adoption law, including allowable adoption expenses, compares to other states. I will conclude the series with recommendations for adoption professionals on how these changes will impact their practice.

by Sheri A. Mullikin, Attorney at Law

Assistance with living and other expenses is an important consideration to expectant women contemplating an adoption plan Prior to October 1, 2013, the only expenses Maryland law permitted adoptive parents to pay on behalf of a birth mother were "customary and reasonable" costs for adoption counseling, hospital or medical expenses related to the pregnancy or birth, and legal services related to the adoption.  Living expenses of a birth mother, including housing costs, food, clothing, transportation, and other necessary expenses could not be paid by a prospective adoptive parent.   Consequently, expectant mothers residing in Maryland intent on pursuing an adoption plan often sought to place their unborn babies with adoptive parents living outside of Maryland, particularly if they were already in the midst of a difficult financial situation prior to the pregnancy.  Birth mothers would seek adoptive parents from states with more favorable adoption laws and would often resort to the internet and unregulated facilitators to locate parents for their unborn child.  As a result, hopeful adoptive parents residing in Maryland faced long waits for a child from Maryland or also resorted to an interstate adoption to build their family. 

In 2013, Maryland Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais sponsored legislation to expand the type of permissible payments that may be made to a birth parent, in an effort to address the short-term and emergency financial needs these birth mothers face.  House Bill 363, patterned after a similar Virginia law, was passed unanimously, and took effect on October 1, 2013.  The new law, codified at Maryland Code Ann., Family Law §§ 5-3A-45 and 5-3B-32 (2014), provides that birth mothers can receive payment of "reasonable expenses for food, clothing, and shelter, if, on written advice of a physician, the birth mother is unable to work or otherwise support herself because of medical reasons associated with the pregnancy or birth of the child."  Id.(b)(2)(i)(3).  Additionally, birth mothers may receive payment of "reasonable expenses for transportation for medical care associated with the pregnancy or birth of the child."  Id.(b)(2)(i)(2).  Finally, birth parents may also be compensated for "reasonable expenses associated with any required court appearance relating to the adoption, including transportation, food, and lodging expenses." Id. (b)(2)(i)(4).

Women facing an unplanned pregnancy who want to choose life but are struggling to make ends meet now have even more financial resources available to them in support of an adoption plan.  In sum, Maryland adoption law now permits an expectant woman making an adoption plan to receive assistance with the following types of adoption expenses:

1.  expenses for maternity clothes, food, and housing, as long as a doctor certifies that she is  unable to work or otherwise support herself because of the pregnancy or birth;
2.    legal expenses;
3.    adoption counseling;
4.    medical expenses related to the pregnancy or birth;
5.    transportation expenses for medical care related to the pregnancy or birth; and
6.    expenses associated with any required court appearance related to the adoption, including transportation, food, and lodging.

My next post, the second part in this series, will discuss how Maryland's law allowing payment of certain living expenses compares to that permitted in other states.