McHenry County & Crystal Lake

The area of adoption has changed dramatically over the last fifteen years, both in societal attitudes and actual law. When I adopted my son 20 years ago, the norm was to work with one agency, get approved, and then sit on a waiting list until your name reached the top of the list. A few years later when I started the process to adopt my daughter, it was not a simple waiting game. Now with most agencies, birth parents choose the adoptive parent(s).

Another area that has changed dramatically is the creation of open adoptions. While Illinois law does not recognize open adoptions, i.e. the birth parent who has terminated their rights but are allowed visitation, a lot of adoptive families have opened their adoptions and are having some contact with birth parents and their families.

Agencies' rules regarding single parenting and age have also changed. It was very common when I started the adoption journey 23 years ago that agencies had a cut off age of 40, and also did not allow single parents to adopt. I was very limited in the agencies who would work with me as a single woman wanting to adopt. Almost all of these leading agencies have liberalized the restrictions on marriage and age over the last several years.

The other area that has changed dramatically is Illinois Law. Many of you may remember the "Baby Richard" case. That was the case several years ago, that the birth mother signed an Affidavit saying that the birth father was unknown. A good, loving couple adopted her baby, named him Richard and raised him for four years. After two years, the birth father, who had always suspected that he had impregnated his girlfriend began to investigate the situation more seriously and discovered that his child "Baby Richard" had been placed for adoption. After two years in the Court system, the Illinois Supreme Court awarded custody of Baby Richard to his birth father, taking him from the only parents that he had ever known and loved, away from everyone and everything familiar. The Illinois Legislature acted in record time, then Governor Edgar's urging to change the law to guarantee that the "Baby Richard" scenario would never happen again. Now, there is a burden on the potential father to register with what is called a Putative Father Registry at the DCFS' offices, if he thinks he may have fathered a child. The law states that there is a presumption that every time a man engages in sex with a woman, that he could have fathered a child. He only has from the point of possible conception to 30 days after the birth of the child to register with the Putative Father Registry. If he fails to do so and fails to file any court action within that time, he has completely lost any rights he might have to that child. The "Baby Richard" laws have been challenged to the Illinois Appellate Court and have withstood constitutional scrutiny. An identical law in Indiana was upheld by their Appellate Court, as well. I do not think that there is any question that it is a good law, and is working the way it was intended.

The other major change in the law is that even if a father were to come forward in that thirty days, after placement of the child within adoptive family, the Court has to have a hearing to determine what is in the best interest of the child before making a determination on custody. It is possible that even though the adoptive parents could not terminate the father's parental rights and have absolute rights to that child, that they could keep the child under a custody ruling, with some possible visitation to the birth father. The law is finally moving away from the concept of children as property, and parental rights being paramount, to looking at what is best for the child. This is a much needed change in the law, and still has a way to go.

The adoption journey is a loving journey, but it is also one with legal pitfalls and great emotional stress. It is important to educate yourself on the entire area of adoption if you are considering adopting and be an informed consumer. Choosing an experienced attorney who you are comfortable working with is, crucial.