Long ago, in a law school not far away, Mark Lawton taught Juvenile Law at New England School of Law. He was giving a lecture and, as usual, was sharing stories from his time as a judge. Usually quite animated anyways, his face lit up when he started talking about adoptions and described the typical scene in the courtroom: photos being taken, laughter, bow ties and cute little socks with ruffles.*
Judge Lawton (ret.) was 100% correct. Adoption Day *is* very different than others that occur in the courts. The court room is closed to anyone not directly involved and sometimes the judges will let the kids play with their gavel or spin in their chair during proceedings. We have even seen judges play hide and seek in the court room with the kids! Honestly, the hearing is usually a lot of fun because people are in a good mood and the biggest concern is who is taking photographs.
Getting to Adoption Day is a bit of a journey. Massachusetts has specific laws and procedures that must be followed; our laws might overlap with the laws of the biological parents if they are not Massachusetts residents but the laws and procedures of both states must then be followed.
What to expect if you are considering adopting in Massachusetts:
- Massachusetts does not require a minimal age or marital status. ** of the prospective parents;
- Any person who is younger than the prospective parent can be adopted, with some exceptions, like current spouse, sibling, aunt or uncle. Some people have tried to use this broad language to manipulate financing for higher education but many lenders have become aware of this activity and handle accordingly, including allegations of fraud;
- Adults and children over the age of 12 must offer consent to the adoption;
- Massachusetts allows for prospective parents to pay reasonable birth expenses of the biological mother. All expenses will be reviewed by the court prior to the adoption to make sure that they are reasonable (ie. pregnancy messages may be considered reasonable but granite counters would not). Adoption Disruption Insurance or Risk Sharing Programs may be available and provide some financial stability for the adoptive parents should the adoption plan be disrupted or ended for any reason;
- Prospective parents must be approved by a professional licensed to do a home study. The family will have background checks done, as well as family interviews and home inspections;
- Biological parents must wait at least four (4) days to give consent for the adoption;
- The parties may agree to an “open adoption.” If the parties want to, they may agree that there is an opportunity for the biological parents to get occasional photos, updates and sometimes even an annual visit. These agreements may also allow for adoptive parents to reach out with questions about genetic conditions or if the child ever asks to meet or communicate with the biological parent. Adopted children do not automatically have a right to access identifying information about his or her biological parent(s) and need to show good cause to access that information. *** and
- When a biological parent consents to an adoption, it does not terminate the duty to financially support that child. Yes, you read that correctly. Although the law as written is actually silent on the matter, it was determined by the courts that the public policy reasons behind the law allow for enforcement; child support is most often enforced when a biological parent surrenders custody to the other biological parent (ie. Biological Mom surrenders to biological Dad and his wife).
* You may not be surprised to know that this is not the typical scene in courtrooms. Often there are crowded benches, frowning faces, tension and harsh words.
** In 1993, the SJC determined that the statute did not preclude same sex cohabitants from jointly adopting a child (Adoption of Tammy,416 Mass. 205 (1993).
*** This was determined by Fineberg v. Suffolk Div. of Probate and Family Court Dept., 38 Mass. App. Ct. 907 (1995).
**** As determined by Adoption of Marlene, 443 Mass. 494 (2005).