Adopting Relatives Internationally; It’s Complicated, Part 2


relative adoptionAs was discussed in Relative Adoption and the Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA) – Part I, with the UAA’s implementation, all US citizen families seeking to adopt internationally will now need to designate a Hague Accredited or Approved primary provider. The primary provider will need to ensure that all adoption services comply with applicable laws and policies in both the US and the child’s country of origin. While all Hague Adoption Service Providers (ASPs) will be familiar and accustomed to working within the laws and policies of the United States, they will not necessarily be familiar with the laws and policies of the child’s country of origin from which a family wishes to adopt. ASPs often work with a specific group of countries with which they are familiar and have an expertise. Unlike in non-relative adoptions, where a family is not merely seeking to adopt internationally and often will be open to various country programs, in relative adoptions, the prospective parent will only have interest in one country that may not fall within an ASP’s offerings. This country of interest may not be a large sending country in international adoption and less may be known about adopting from that country; this is especially true when families are seeking to adopt a relative from a country where international adoption is rare. In these instances, it may be difficult to find a primary provider that feels comfortable and competent in taking on such a case, which may leave prospective adoptive parents stuck.

You may be thinking, how difficult could it be to just read the laws of the child’s country regarding adoption and follow those laws? This can actually be very difficult. First, the ASP will need to find the laws that apply to international adoption, if the country has any current established laws. These laws, if established, may not be readily available. It is also important that the information the ASP is relying on is current and accurate and that the ASP acquires English translation of such laws and requirements. Even if the ASP does obtain the current laws and an accurate translation, there are many other factors that color what the international adoption process looks like and how the laws may be interpreted in any specific country. For instance, the laws may say there is “expedited processing of adoption cases of relatives and children with special needs.” Even from this fragment, we may be left with more questions than answers. What does expedited mean and how do we designate a process to be expedited? Who is considered a relative (immediate biological family, extended biological family, only full blood relatives)? What does the country consider to be special needs (minor correctable, minor mental delay, only severe physical needs)?

Even after the laws are found, the ASP will need to further determine how the laws are interpreted and applied in the country and much of the way the language of the laws is interpreted may be cultural. In some countries, the courts and other governmental entities may not even apply their own laws as they are written and commonly allow for waivers or input their own requirements that contradict the laws as they are written in making adoption judgments. The culture may also be one where they do not value documentation, causing concerns that there are rules and policies that cannot be known by reading the laws alone. In order to gain some guidance on the laws, requirements and policies, the ASP may then need to consult an attorney in the country to provide advice on the potential issues. Just as we sometimes need attorneys in the US to decipher and advise us on the laws because of case precedent, passed experience and superior knowledge of the laws, we also need this guidance in other countries. In countries where international adoption is rare, trustworthy attorneys knowledgeable about adoption may be difficult to find.

In researching potential ASPs to assist with a relative adoption, you may note that each ASP specializing in international adoption will have a listing of countries in with they provide adoption services. This is because the ASP has already done the work upfront to learn about adoption in those countries and has developed relationships with in-country attorneys and governmental entities in those countries. Developing these country programs also often requires extensive travel to the country. MLJ Adoptions provides adoption services from Bulgaria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Samoa and Ukraine. Other ASPs will have varying country programs, which may include China, Ethiopia, India and Columbia, among a variety of other country programs. ASPs focus on select countries because of the resources and time required of an ASP to develop and maintain each country program it offers. Each ASP is different, but there is generally a reason for the country programs that you see being offered by any specific ASP. Some factors the ASPs consider in selecting country programs are as follows:

  • Stability of adoption in the country
  • Eligibility requirements for parents (For example, ASPs may not choose to invest in a country program when only adoption by relatives is permitted or that parents have to reside in the country for six months or longer)
  • Number and characteristics (age and special needs) of children in need of families
  • Whether the country is a party to the Hague Convention
  • Approximate length of process
  • Transparency of international adoption process
  • Established relationship with trustworthy in-country attorney
  • Approximate length of in-country stay

When establishing country programs, in an effort to place more children in need of a family with parents seeking to adopt, ASPs often seek out programs for which many adoptive parents would qualify and may be interested in. These programs are not generally established for relative adoptions, as most often in the past, relatives typically adopted children independently, without the assistance of an ASP. Independent international adoption of a relative made sense because often the adoptive parents were already connected with providers and attorneys in the child’s country through extended family. Prospective adoptive parents often spoke the native language of the child’s country, more easily allowing for direct contact with providers in the country. However, independent international adoption was not without risk. There have been many accounts from families adopting independently where funds distributed in-country were lost, and/or those in-country over promised and under delivered on services. Families adopting independently may have also found it difficult to manage the process and to know what to expect because they had not completed an adoption from that country before. Whereas, in working with primary providers who have a country program in the child’s country, they have experience working in the country and data on past adoptions. The primary provider in these cases is in a better position to assist families, advising them of risks in adoption and providing experienced guidance walking families through the adoption process. In the event that the adoptive parents’ relative resides in a country where an ASP already has an established program, this is likely beneficial and in the best interests of the child, though at an additional cost to adoptive parents.

However, what about the situation in which a prospective adoptive parent is looking to adopt a child from a non-Hague country in which no ASP provides adoption services? Herein lies the second main problem with the UAA regarding relative adoption. There remain many countries in which no US ASPs currently work and, of course, US citizen prospective adoptive parents adopting a relative are only looking to adopt the relative child in a specific country. In countries, such as Andorra, Fiji and Malta, there are no ASPs working in those countries according to the US Department of State. For prospective adoptive parents wishing to adopt a child from one of these countries, the UAA may render the adoption effectively impossible because ASPs may not be in a position to agree to take on the case as a primary provider. Though the UAA does not disallow these adoptions, the practical repercussions are that there are few, if any ASPs, who will be able to take on these cases. Even if an ASP elects to take on such a case, the cost may be substantially higher than the average international adoption, and the adoption process may be longer in general.

Why would this relative adoption be even more expensive if an ASP took the case on? First, in many countries in international adoption, the country’s government requires that the ASP apply for and be accepted and thereafter authorized to provide adoption services in the country. It is sometimes the case that this approval process could take months or years. Working towards and receiving approval can be a time consuming and expensive process for an ASP. Applications often require significant documentation and explanation to apply to provide adoption services, which takes significant staff time. Further, these extensive documents will require translation and authentication. Certified translations of the documents can run in the thousands. ASPs will cover this cost in the process of establishing a country program for future clients, but it would be difficult, and for many ASPs impossible, to cover this cost for one family seeking to adopt a relative. Second, if there are few adoptions from the country and no ASP currently providing adoption services in the country, less will be known about the laws and requirements of the country by the ASP. As these countries have few adoptions, it will also be more difficult to research adoptions from the country and build a relationship with a trustworthy in-country provider, as noted above. When ASPs establish country programs, it requires staff travel and meetings to establish what the program will look like, training for in-country providers and meetings with government officials. Again, this is usually a cost covered by an ASP in developing a country program that may serve many adoptive families. This is a cost that would not generally be covered by one adoptive parent. Further, once in-country providers are interviewed and selected, there would need to be contract negotiations for fees. This is all even before the family would be able to begin to prepare the dossier to apply to adopt in the child’s country of origin. Even when the family is ready to move forward with the adoption process in the country, instruction from the country on the dossier and other requirements are likely to be modified during the process, causing delays.

Ultimately, the UAA has an important purpose in furthering the best interests of children and creating more stable and predictable adoptions for adoptive parents now required to work with an ASP as their primary provider. However, there is seemingly an unintentional and unfortunate consequence for those attempting to adopt relatives. As time goes on, ASPs may begin to start to establish and develop more programs along with relatives seeking to adopt from sending countries where adoption is rare and may be more difficult. Currently, MLJ Adoption is providing adoption services for prospective parents seeking to adopt relatives in all of our country programs. We have seen specific interest in adopting a relative from Mexico, Nicaragua and Samoa. At this point in time, we are happy to serve families seeking to adopt relatives from any of our current country programs. Please contact us for more information.

Photo Credit: phanlop88/

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.