The Evolution of Adoption: How The World of Adoption Has Changed During My 41 Years as an Adoption Attorney

This article by Martin Bauer is sponsored by Martin-Pringle Attorneys at Law.

I have been representing parties in adoption proceedings since 1979. Back then, courts in the United States were just beginning to recognize that both biological parents should be given an equal chance to parent, and that the decision to place a child for adoption should not be granted solely to a birth mother if the biological father satisfied his moral and legal obligations to the child. The courts’ recognition of the role biological fathers could play was tempered by the fact that birth mothers have the primary initial burden—that of physically carrying the child and caring for the fetus during pregnancy. The biological father had, and still has, moral and legal obligations to provide support for the child if he wants to be actively involved in parenting.  During pregnancy, that requires him to provide reasonable support to the birth mother.  

As with the changes related to birth fathers, there have been dramatic changes related to the child being adopted. Initially, I counseled adoptive families against agreeing to an open adoption to protect them from potential interference from either birth parent. I have made a complete 180-degree change in my view since that time.  The interests and needs of the adoptee should be a primary concern in any adoption.    I have learned that children who are adopted, even as infants, frequently have an emotional need to know about their parents, their siblings, and sometimes their other “family.” They still love and respect their adoptive parents, but they have a need to know themselves entirely.  Without knowing where they came from—positive or negative—they often fail to achieve a sense of wholeness.  Therefore, I now encourage families to consider open adoptions. The best outcome for adopted children is that they have two families that know them and love them.  As adopted children mature, openness can provide answers to questions like “Who do I look like?” “Do I have a brother or sister?” “Why do I like certain things that my adoptive parents do not?” “Why am I struggling with education, emotionally, or other issues?” Closed doors can make these unanswered questions loom even larger for the child.  

Internationally, the U.S. is considered out of touch. Much of the world believes the rights of children to know their biological parents, whether in adoption or in gestational carrier situations, outweighs the privacy rights of the adults involved. This right of the child to know has been extended in many countries to information about egg and sperm donors. A decade- long study was conducted in England, where donors were told before the donation that their information would be shared with any child born from the donation. The fear was that there would be fewer donors.  In fact, the number of donors increased and the quality of the adopted children’s physical and mental health improved. 

In the years before the 1960s, adoptions often involved crippling shame for birth mothers and a complete disregard of the rights of biological fathers. Those factors are much different in today’s world.  The progression toward openness in adoptions and consideration of the adopted child’s rights and interests is another large benefit that has occurred over the years. My own journey as an adoption practitioner has changed dramatically over the years. I suspect there will be more changes as the law continues to evolve and as we, as a society, try to balance the interests of all those involved in building families through adoption.   

Martin is known, both nationally and internationally, as a preeminent adoption attorney. He frequently represents either adoptive parents or birth mothers who are seeking a loving, stable home for children through the permanency of adoption. Martin has vast experience in independent and private adoptions, including offering services that match prospective adoptive parents with birth mothers during pregnancy. He is intimately familiar with the requirements of the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC), the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), and the issues that arise in contested adoptions.  In addition, Martin understands the unique legal challenges that surrogacy agreements and artificial reproductive technologies create. His clients include adoptive couples from across the nation and around the globe.

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