Interstate Adoption Attorney Jim Outman of the law firm HesterOutman, LLC has been a pioneer in the world of adoption law. As an adoptive parent himself, he has a unique vantage point to practice his craft. He has vast experience in cross state and international adoption law and has been involved in Georgia adoption legislation since the 1970’s, including co-authoring The Adoption Act of 1977. He was the first President of Georgia Adoptive Parents currently is a board member of both the Atlanta Alliance on Developmental Disabilities and the Georgia Advocacy Office, Inc.
Here is some of the transcript for a CNN interview from a few years ago. The information is as useful today as it was back then. You can see the original CNN interview on adoption HERE
CNN Moderator: Welcome to CNN.com Newsroom adoption discussion, Jim Outman.
James Outman: I’m glad to be here.
CNN Moderator: Where should you start when you want to adopt a child?
James Outman: Adoption is a process, and as we are learning, it’s a lifelong process. It’s not an event that stops with placing the child. You have to search for why you want to adopt. Some couples experiencing infertility may not be ready to adopt, because they may not be yet over the pain of not being able to conceive. Also, if a marriage is not stable, a child will not help. It will stress a marriage. A couple ought to be secure in what they’re about to do. Of course, they don’t need to be a couple… single parents can adopt, too. They should consider the age of the child they want to adopt. Maybe the child will be older or have special needs — health-related, a part of a sibling group, or of mixed race. Individuals can seek out information through the Internet, or local adoption agencies in their states. There are seminars about various adoption options available. These are good places to start. They need to find a good experienced adoption attorney in their process. Like a medical procedure, you wouldn’t have your general practitioner do your heart catheterization. There are highly sensitive, specialized issues that you want your attorney ready for.
Question from chat room: What can be done to make the adoption process a bit less intimidating to those interested in pursuing adoption?
James Outman: I’m having to suppose that you are concerned about intimidation or someone making a judgment of your family. Obviously, a couple that conceives a child in the privacy of their bedroom, no one is judging. But if you adopt, there are courts and judges scrutinizing your family and situation. That’s the intimidation I can think of. The best thing is to be informed. It’s not an adversarial process, although you may have to advocate for your own case. But with preparation and information, the intimidation factor will lessen. Also, the support of a professional, either a licensed agency or licensed attorney experienced in adoption, can blunt the intimidation.
Question from chat room: Which countries are most difficult in adoption proceedings? Which countries are most friendly to international adoptions?
James Outman: It varies from time to time. Some countries have closed their adoptions, for fear of exploitation. Agencies such as Holt, which was featured on CNN, and others, have programs in place, and can speak to what is currently working well, and which ones aren’t. Here again, the importance of using an agency that you have confidence in is important. Chat rooms can help you gather information, and you’ll find voices from people who have just returned from other countries. Some have horror stories. Again, it takes investigation. There is no universal “good” and “bad” list anywhere. There are countries where the experience can be very predictable, and therefore less traumatic. If you know there will be a two-week delay, you’re prepared for it. Again, bottom line, seek out information.
Question from chat room: Out of Russia, Romania, and Ukraine, which country would you recommend adopting from?
James Outman: I know people who have adopted from all three, and if I asked them, they’d say their own country. In my experience, I’m not qualified to judge between the three. I’d ask the agency I’m working with. The agency will have that information, and you can make your decision from the most current information.
CNN Moderator: What legal considerations should you take into account?
James Outman: Well, you’re dealing with the severance of the parent-child relationship between the birth parent and the child. You have a birth mother, and may or may not have a birth father active in the situation. You have to address the rights of each of them, so the child is legally free for adoption. The adoption process works to create a relationship between the adoptive parents and the child. Usually, it’s very clear who the mother is, her rights, and that she is a legal parent to the child. Her rights can be terminated either in court because of her abandonment or mistreatment of the child, or by her relinquishing her rights voluntarily. Also, the father may be present and active in planning for the child. But, in many cases, we refer to him as a recreational sperm donor. His interest was for the immediate gratification of the relationship with the woman and he has no interest in the child. But the would-be adoptive parents have to address that and his rights.
Adoption is unique to state law. Each state may be different. So, the state law is controlled by the state where the parent is adopting. If the birth mother is in another state, you have to take into account the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children referred to as the ICPC. The ICPC has been enacted by all 50 states. It refers to the relationship between the sending state and the receiving state. You may be dealing with two or three different state laws, and all that requires coordination by competent legal counsel. The birth mother and birth father’s rights to the child have to be legally terminated before a child can be securely adopted.
Question from chat room: What are agencies looking for when they are interviewing a family that already has children? Do they consider the current family size and parenting styles?
James Outman: I think a simple answer would be yes, but it would vary from agency to agency, and the agency should make those policies known. If they won’t place a child in a family with more than two children, for instance, they should learn that right up front. If it’s a concern, you should ask that question right up front. But, there are certainly no hard and fast rules that say, “more than three children, and we won’t place anymore in that household.”
The other issue is parenting style, and that’s certainly something that the agency should ask. If someone was into severe corporal punishment for misbehaving children, then there might not be a placement there, because of the risk of child abuse. It’s important that questions are asked, background records are checked and criminal records are checked. Ultimately, the final question is what is best for the child.
Question from chat room: Why is it easier to adopt in China then it is in the U.S.?
James Outman: It may be that China is the most populous country in the world, and also that they are trying to limit their population growth. They have a family size limit. I don’t know if statistics bear this out, but I think the male child is favored, so female children may be more available there. The numbers may say that more children are adopted in the U.S., but the demand to adopt is higher in the U.S., so we’re dealing with a supply and demand model here.
Question from chat room: What can you expect to pay for an international adoption?
James Outman: I have just recently reviewed a contract where the fees were around US$20,000 to the agency, and the applicant still had to pay for his travel to Romania. So you have airfare on top of the agency fees as well as living expenses and visas. When you get back from an overseas adoption, it’s highly recommended that you adopt them again in the U.S., so you’ll have a court order in English that makes record of the establishment of the parent/child relationship. So that may be an additional $1000 to $1500. Susan from the Holt Agency said on the broadcast that their fees are a matter of disclosure up front, so there should be no surprises in a well-handled adoption. Since the agency has done it before, they can likely give a hard, fixed number. Again, that’s one of those questions people need to ask the agencies, and they can’t be embarrassed about it. The agency fee should include the legal fees in the foreign country. It won’t include the legal fees in the U.S. to domesticate the adoption, but the contract I just read included that the applicant agreed to re-adopt the child in the U.S. as one of the conditions. I’ll be representing that individual when they get back from Romania.
CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts for us today?
James Outman: Seek competent counsel, ask questions, be confident that you have good answers, network with others who are going through the process with you, and be sure to talk to people who have been through it recently. Be sure you’re making a decision with your head, not just with your heart.
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CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Jim Outman.
James Outman: Goodbye, and good luck!
Jim Outman joined the CNN.com discussion via telephone from CNN Center in Atlanta. CNN provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Wednesday, May 9, 2001.