Birth parent expenses and USA adoptions


Joanne Thalken
Focus on Adoption magazine

The Adoption Act 1996, regulates adoptions in BC, and is specific about what birth mother expenses prospective adoptive parents might expect to pay [see sidebar]. Medical expenses related to the prenatal care and birth of the baby are not usually covered unless the mother doesn't have medical coverage from any other source. Thankfully, our Medical Services Plan will almost always cover these expenses.

This is not the case in the United States—a fact that prospective adoptive parents considering US adoption need to consider.

I have spoken to several adoptive parents involved in USA adoptions who have paid a much wider range of birth parents’ costs. In some states adopting parents can pay for rent, food, medical costs, travel, and even maternity clothes. In most cases, these have been entirely legitimate, and are in accordance with the adoption laws of the state where the birth mother resides and the child is born.

As long as families adopting from the USA follow the state regulations around payment for birth parent expenses, they are not breaking BC law. Intercountry adoptions must be completed according to the laws of the sending, not the receiving, country.

Most states do have statutes that specify the type of birth parent expenses a prospective adoptive family is allowed to pay. The actual dollar amount is usually limited by the standard of "reasonable and customary." Adopting parents are not permitted to pay for items such as a car or to give cash payments not related to legitimate expenses.

One USA agency representative I spoke to explained that she advises Canadian families that they have a choice: they can look only at adopting a child where the birth mother has health insurance, or they can be open to adopting a child where they will be responsible for all such expenses. However, I have also heard of a case with that very same agency where parents were called and told about a particular child, became emotionally involved, made the decision to adopt, and were then subsequently overwhelmed by the financial burden.

When considering payment of birth parent expenses, parents should also realize that the birth mother might change her mind after the birth and not go ahead with her adoption plan. I also have heard of instances where
families have paid expenses to birth mothers who were not even pregnant. Parents should always ask the birth mother to provide evidence from a doctor that she is pregnant. They should also make sure that the birth mom is tested for drug or alcohol use.

Families should also ask their Canadian agency and the USA agency or lawyer they are working with to give them guidance on birth parent expenses, and they should also make the effort to familiarize themselves with the laws of the state that they are adopting from. It is also always a good idea to ask the agency or lawyer to refer you to Canadian families who have adopted through them. Be concerned if they are not prepared to do that.

If you are considering a USA adoption, think carefully about what level of birth parent expenses you could manage before going ahead. It hardly needs to be said that medical expenses for even short hospital stays and routine medical treatment can be astronomical in the US. Having to decide at the last moment whether to accept a referral of a child where the birth mother does not have medical insurance could prove to be extremely stressful. Prospective parents should also check into whether the birthmom is covered by the US Medicare program.

The best source of information on state laws regarding paying birth parent expenses and other adoption costs in the US is the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (see end of article for the address).

As mentioned earlier, if you do go ahead, stay in close touch with your BC agency every step of the way, especially if you are concerned about escalating or unexpected birth parent expenses.

There are some USA agencies that charge a flat fee per adoption. In such cases, the agency will cover birth parent expenses. AFABC can provide you with details of those agencies.

AFABC staff, many of whom are experienced with USA adoptions, are always willing to talk to you and offer guidance and support.