Adopting Relatives Internationally; It’s Complicated, Part 1


A benefit that Hague approved or accredited adoption agencies should offer to prospective adoptive parents is to inform and educate parents on changes in the international adoption landscape and how those changes will impact their adoption process. At MLJ Adoptions, we are fortunate to have three adoption attorneys on staff who maintain a daily focus on understanding and implementing international adoption legislation. Today, in the first of two parts, Nicole explains how adopting a relative internationally has changed in light of the implementation of UAA. 

adopting a relativeThe Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (“UAA”), which is now in full effect has a significant impact on US citizens hoping to adopt a relative who resides abroad in a non-Hague country. A non-Hague country is a country that is not a party to the Hague Adoption Convention. You can click here to determine if the country you wish to adopt from is a Hague or non-Hague country. The UAA effectively extends Hague requirements to non-Hague countries and requires that prospective adoptive parents work with a Hague Accredited or Approved Adoption Service Provider. For prospective parents seeking to adopt from a Hague country, these requirements already applied to you, but now the requirements are being extended to all international adoptions to the US, in both relative and non-relative adoption cases.

It has long been the case that the same immigration requirements and procedures apply to US citizens adopting relatives abroad as they apply to prospective adoptive parents adopting non-relatives. In relative adoptions, there is one exception in that there is no ban on prior contact with children or their caretakers in Hague Convention cases, where this ban would otherwise be in place. This exception is also likely to extend to non-Hague cases under the UAA, but at this time there is not specific guidance regarding this issue. In both Hague and non-Hague adoptions, the same standards and immigration requirements must be followed according to the laws of the United States, which will now include the UAA.

The UAA requires that all adoptive parents must designate a Hague Accredited or Approved Adoption Service Provider as their “primary provider” in all international adoption cases. A primary provider becomes responsible for ensuring that all the necessary adoption services are provided in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. This also requires that the primary provider monitors and oversees the in-country attorney or facilitator processing the adoption in the child’s country. The primary provider is required to prepare a service plan for the family that sets forth which entity will provide which adoption service in each adoption case and ensure that adoption services are provided. The primary provider is often the main point of contact for all questions and concerns throughout the duration of the adoption process, acting as the liaison between the adoptive family and those performing services in child’s country of origin.

This primary provider requirement, specifically, and the UAA, generally, will impact many current and future adoptions from non-Hague countries in a big way. The intent of the UAA is a honorable one, to extend the safeguards of Hague adoptions to all international adoption. However, with the implementation of the UAA, there will also be seemingly unintentional negative consequences for some children and the families who wish to adopt them. There are two main reasons that international relative adoptions will now likely be more difficult for a family. First, families are required to designate of a primary provider, which is likely to significantly increase the cost of adopting a relative child from a non-Hague country. Second, depending on the child’s country of origin, the prospective adoptive parents may be unable to locate a primary provider who is both capable and willing to take on their case. This blog will discuss the first issue and will be followed by Part II, discussing the issue of securing a primary provider in a relative adoption case.

As indicated above, adoptive parents will now need to designate a primary provider. In the past, in non-Hague countries, prospective parents would be legally able to complete their adoption on their own behalf with only very limited services from an Adoption Service Provider. For many international adoptions, the only service that necessitated the use of an Adoption Service Provider was to conduct the home study for a family. The cost of this service can range from approximately $1,200 – $4,000. This cost is associated with services providing guidance on gathering home study documents, reviewing documents, conducting at least one home visit and drafting the home study document. The adoptive parents would then navigate the remainder of the adoption process themselves, locating and directly paying an in-country attorney or facilitator for the in-country services provided to them.

Now, as a result of UAA, the primary provider will provide or oversee all adoption services, and more services will be required in relative adoption cases. Services may include, but are not limited to:

  • Adoption preparation education
  • Selection and monitoring of in-country attorney or facilitator
  • Securing necessary consents to terminate parental rights
  • Creation of a service plan for family to identify which individual or entity does which parts of the adoption process
  • Identifying and/or matching a child to a family and providing medical and social information (even for relative adoptions)
  • Assistance with immigration process for child
  • Translation of documents
  • Communication and support throughout the process
  • Travel assistance
  • Post-adoption reporting
  • Case management (1-4 years or more depending on the child’s country of origin)

As you can see, there are many more services that are now being provided in a family’s adoption case. Understandably, these type of extensive additional services will come at a cost to adoptive parents. This cost may not have been originally contemplated by prospective adoptive parents, especially those seeking to adopt a relative. I believe having a Hague primary provider provide services and oversee the case is ultimately best for children and best prepares parents for the adoption, but only when families can find a provider to assist them and can acquire the funds necessary. Unfortunately, these additional requirements and additional services may render international adoption of a relative cost prohibitive for many families. This raises the question about whether applying the UAA to relative adoptions is truly in the best interests of the child.

It could be that prospective adoptive parents that are not related to the child, but are financially able to gather the funds needed to adopt internationally, could adopt a child whose US citizen relative is willing to adopt them, but cannot afford to do so. The Hague Convention states, “Recalling that each State should take, as a matter of priority, appropriate measures to enable the child to remain in the care of his or her family of origin” (emphasis added). One of the seemingly unintended consequences of the UAA is that relative children of US citizens may have a decreased likelihood of being adopted by a relative who is unable to raise the necessary funds now required for the additional services provided by a primary provider.

Thankfully, for those relative families willing to raise funds, there are financial options and opportunities available. We understand that there may be families who have a heart to adopt a relative internationally, but feel as though the cost of adoption is prohibitive. However, for families who are committed to making a relative adoption a reality, there are many ways to save and raise the funds needed to achieve this goal and retain your family. Family preservation, whether in the child’s country of origin, US or any other country, is worth the effort for a relative child in need of a family. MLJ Adoptions has a staff member, Camie, who  works closely with families to raise the funds necessary to adopt. Please contact us if you are interested in learning more about raising funds for international adoption, as we are more than happy to help.

MLJ Adoptions has assisted, and will continue to assist, families seeking to adopt a relative from one of our country programs, which include: Bulgaria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Samoa and Ukraine.

Photo Credit: David Castillo Dominici/

Nicole Skellenger works as MLJ Adoptions’ Chief Executive Officer and Adoption Attorney. Nicole has spent time in orphanages with children who have nothing and are desperate for affection and has committed herself to using her skills to create better futures for these deserving children.

Nicole Skellenger works as MLJ Adoptions’ Chief Executive Officer and Adoption Attorney. Nicole has spent time in orphanages with children who have nothing and are desperate for affection and has committed herself to using her skills to create better futures for these deserving children.