Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cancelling the Adoption Contract

Look at any website encouraging women to give up their babies for adoption and you’ll see that one of the promises is a “forever family” for the child. Sign on the dotted line and, and you’re guaranteed that s/he will have a better life and a permanent family. For someone who truly wants the best for her child, this can be an enticing lure.

The reality, though, is that adoptive parents don’t have to be bound by this contract. At any point in the child’s life, should the adopters decide that they no longer can, or want to, parent the child, they can place the child in foster care, petition to have their parental rights legally terminated, or simply “rehome” the child – oftentimes through a shadowy, unregulated network of online sources. This is known as an adoption “dissolution” (as opposed to a “disruption,” which occurs prior to finalization).

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, between 1% and 5% of finalized adoptions dissolve. It’s impossible to know the true number, due to sealed records, child name changes, and modification of other personal information, but if more than 130,000 adoptions are finalized each year (again, per the Gateway), then somewhere between 1,300 to 6,500 adoption contracts are cancelled by adoptive parents on an annual basis.

Unfortunately, the person who is arguably most affected by adoption – the adoptee – has no similar recourse under this contract. Once you’re adopted, you’re adopted forever. I know this, because I’ve been trying for the past year to find a way to cancel my own adoption “contract.”

My personal adoption experience is ..... complicated. The “Cliff Notes” version is that I was adopted twice – the second time at the age of 11, by relatives who took me in only out of a sense of “familial responsibility”. The age of consent in the state where I was living was 12, so even though I was vehemently opposed to the adoption, I had no input into the decision. I was never interviewed by a social worker, and I never appeared before a judge. The limited information I’m able to obtain from my adoption file includes this statement: “presently family feels [child] has adjusted quite well and is eager for adoption”. (Emphasis added.)

This is blatantly untrue. I was being abused – emotionally and physically – and was desperately unhappy. I hated living with these relatives, and they made no secret of the fact that they didn’t even like me – much less love me. Within a year of going to live with them, I had started writing diary entries in which I contemplated suicide – at the age of 11.

Regardless, the adoption was finalized and my birth certificate amended for a second time. These people are now my “as if born to” parents and, unless I can persuade my executrix to “forget” my adoptive status, they’ll also be listed as such on my death certificate.

A couple years ago, I decided I’d had enough of being adopted, and started working towards ending that status. All three sets of parents (one birth, two adoptive) are deceased, so there are no concerns with wills or inheritances. It’s just about me wanting to legally sever ties with the adoptive family and reclaim my place in my real family, with whom I’ve been in reunion for more than 30 years. The first step was going to court and legally reclaiming the name given to me by my birth parents. Then I started researching the possibility of actually annulling my adoption – and that’s where I hit a brick wall.

I dug through state law until I found a form one can complete and file with a court to re-open and review decisions made in family matters. I sent it, accompanied by a $175 fee, to the court and waited for a letter giving me my court date. Instead, I received a call from the Clerk saying the form didn’t apply to adoptions, that they had no jurisdiction over adoptions, and that I’d have to contact a different court. I did so, and was told that “there is no process to annul adoptions” in the state and that I needed to contact an attorney for more information.

I’d found another possible route, which was to file an official “appeal”. However, the attorney informed me (and this was confirmed by the court) that there is no standard form for appealing a family decision. It has to be made in the form of a letter, which can only be crafted by an attorney since it must include relevant citations and such. However, he added that adoption annulment is not supported by state law and, therefore, highly unlikely to be granted. He also informed me that the filing fee was $350 and that if the appeal was rejected outright (and he was sure it would be), the fee was non-refundable. He said my only real option was to be adopted by some other adult, who would then become my legal parent. I pointed out that a) at 57, I’m far too old to be re-adopted and b) I don’t want to be RE-adopted, just UN-adopted.

I then contacted three different legislators who represent the state, asking for their help in this matter. Two never responded; the third’s answer was that the Constitution’s separation of powers clause prevents him from getting involved. And that I should consult an attorney for more information. My next thought was that I could try to annul my *first* adoption, which took place in a different state, because if the first adoption didn’t exist, then the second one wouldn’t either. After some research, I found that the state does have a provision by which a form can be filed to annul an adoption, but I couldn’t find the actual form, itself. I didn’t wait to be told to consult an attorney – I was proactive in making contact.

Unfortunately, the attorney said that no adoption can be appealed for any reason, if more than two years have passed since finalization. I was 40+ years too late. He did helpfully suggest that I could try finding someone else to adopt me.

So I’m back to square one. I’m still investigating other options, but the painful reality is that there is simply no way for *an adoptee* to easily annul an adoption. And I have to ask, “Why?”

In my opinion, adoption is a legal contract between the state and the adoptive parents, with the child being the “property” that is conveyed. However, as one person said to me, “An adoptee can’t unadopt him/herself any more than a house can unsell itself.”

Whether adopted as an infant, or as a child, this decision -- made by others -- is irrevocable and binding on the adoptee. That’s neither appropriate nor fair.

Yes, I’ve heard the counter-argument that biological children can’t “divorce” their parents, either. Apples and oranges. The biological child wasn’t taken from his/her first family and given to others to raise. There was no contract written establishing the legal relationship. The child’s birth certificate was never altered. If a biological child really wants to sever familial ties, well, just find someone else to adopt him/her. After all, if it’s good enough for some of us .....

Most adoptees won’t want to cancel the adoption contract and, obviously, no one should ever be forced to do so, but the option MUST be available for those of us who DO want it. At the age of majority, the adoptee should have the absolute right to decide whether s/he wants to remain a member of the adoptive family. If not, then the state has the moral obligation to honor that decision. 

Anything less is unacceptable.