Legal Blog

Pathways to Adoption

Feet walking away with many directions arrow. Taking decisions for the future sneaker shoes top view road. Selfie student child standing on floor or pathway to success. Creative idea, future concept.I often get asked what is the “best” or “fastest” way to adopt. Simply put, there is no right answer. The best pathway is unique for every family, taking into account their goals, openness to medical and legal risk, comfort level in publicizing their desire to adopt, availability to build relationships with expectant parents during their pregnancy, desire to be in control of the process, goals for future contact with the biological family and budget. I often begin working with clients by asking pointed questions to learn more about you in these areas so I can make recommendations. Let’s review some of the different pathways to adopt:

State Adoption. State-run adoptions enable families to provide a loving forever home to a child who needs a family. Working with the state child protective system is the ideal choice for families who choose adoption primarily for humanitarian reasons. It’s also important to keep in mind that the mission of state child protective systems is to protect and maintain the safety of children with the goal and directive of keeping a biological family unit together (also called “reunification”). Such cases often begin with foster care, which is temporary by definition, and adoption is often not considered until the passage of time and reunification has proven impossible. Simply put adoption is a last resort after other options are exhausted. Pursuing adoption in this manner requires that hopeful adoptive families be child-centered and strong, capable of providing unconditional love and nurturing to a child who may have competing emotions and challenging behaviors due to stress and uncertainty with their biological family. It also requires patience with a legal process over which they have little control. For families whose goal is adoption from the start, the mission can mean risk (both emotional and legal) and delay from achieving their long-term dream of building a family. Ultimately, the process is the least expensive means of family building and may entail financial assistance and other state resources for the child after adoption.

Private adoption. In contrast, biological parents who are certain they cannot parent have the option to choose voluntary placement soon after birth, or later, if they believe is in the best interests of their child. The goal of private adoption laws is to achieve permanency and security for the child as early in their lives as possible, while balancing the needs and rights of birth parents. Accordingly, such laws require that birth parents wait until after they have given birth and the passage of time to make a final decision about their child. The laws also give equal rights to biological mothers and fathers to make decisions for their child. If one parent is not participating in the voluntary plan to place the child, the law affords the non-participating parent a presumption that he or she has the right to parent his or her child for a reasonable time after birth. Recognizing that infants demand significant attention and resources from birth, and that they should begin to bond with their family from the youngest age, the law requires that the non-participating biological parent seize the opportunity to parent within defined timesframes or forfeit his rights.

Private Agency Adoption. Agency placements offer soup to nut services in adoption case, with the exception of legal services. Agencies provide matching services that enable adoptive parents to connect with a child who is eligible for adoption, as well as counseling, legal approval of the adoptive home, court reports, and serve as a neutral, third party to enable the parties to mesh and accomplish their respective goals. Agency Placements work well for families who are comfortable putting their faith in others and waiting until the right mutual match is found. Agency adoptions require adoptive parents to be patient and trusting that they will come together with the child who is meant for them. Agency adoptions are likely the most expensive pathway to adopt, but offer a pre-defined bottom line, built in counseling for all parties, more predictable processes and procedures, and a liaison for communications with birthparents in the short and long-term. Further, in some states like New Jersey, Agency Placements offer a shorter legal risk period compared to Private Placements. A birth parent’s rights may be relinquished to a licensed agency 72 hours or more after a child is born. Once a birth parent executes the agency surrender form after having received appropriate counseling, the relinquishment is irrevocable under the law (absent fraud or duress). This structure gives adoptive parents taking custody of a new baby great assurance that the adoption is legally secure and will ultimately finalize. After the birthparents sign surrenders, the agency becomes the guardian of the child and gives you supervised physical custody until finalization.

Private Placement/Independent/Person to Person Adoption. In contrast, Private Placement adoptions are a-la-carte, as all services are provided by a team of people that the parents put together. In private placements, adoptive parents receive custody directly from the birthparents, rather than through a third party, and often become intimately involved with the birthparents during the pregnancy, and possibly thereafter. Private Placement allows hopeful adoptive parents to have maximum control over finding a child who is eligible for adoption and bringing that child into their family. These cases require direct, regular involvement of adoptive parents to find a child eligible for adoption, using tools such as advertising and networking. Adoptive parents should be prepared, available and comfortable talking to birthparents who learn of their interest in adopting. Adoptive parents and birthparents together forge a relationship to see if their goals for the child match with one another. If they do, the parties should each have professionals to help put together a legally secure plan that meets each of their needs. Birthparents in private cases sometimes contact adoptive parents through advertising early in their pregnancy, which may require adoptive parents to put other adoption networking on hold. Private Placements also require that the professionals providing counseling and legal services to the birthparents be put together based on geography and needs, often at the expense of the adoptive parents. Thus, the overall cost may wind up being lower than an Agency Placement, but the bottom line and positive outcome may not be known until the end of case.

Only you can determine that best or fastest means of growing your family through adoption. Understanding your options, knowing yourselves, and research will help you make the best decision for your family. In the end, most families feel that luck, fate and having an open heart also helped lead them to the child who was destined for their family.


Professional Headshot of Attorney Deborah SpivackDeborah E. Spivack is a principal attorney in the firm’s Family Law practice group based in Southern Jersey. Deborah’s practice focuses exclusively on adoption and family planning in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. Deborah has extensive experience representing Adopting Parents, Birth Parents, Agencies, and Children (upon appointment by a court) in a broad range of adoption matters, including those which are private/independent, agency, identified, stepparent, second parent, guardian, legal custodian adoptions, or adoptions by individuals standing in loco parentis to the child, as well as adoptions of foreign-born children present in the United States. Many of these adoption cases have complex legal issues such as interstate placements, adoption subsidy, non-participating or contesting parties, international parties, immigration problems, Indian Child Welfare Act implications, state child protective services, and special needs or older children. The hallmark of Deborah’s practice is providing personalized, practical, and informative legal advice that enables clients to make informed decisions about family planning while considering their short and long-term goals.