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.  

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