Attorney Serving Seattle and the Pacific Northwest
HOME As an adoptive mom and an attorney, I understand how it feels to sit on both sides of the table. I know what it's like to place your private hopes in someone else’s hands and become part of a process you can’t always control. But I also know that there are happy endings – when I hear my daughter laugh, the rest of the world disappears. That’s why I practice adoption law.
I handle every adoption as if it were my own. My goal is to give you the information you need to make decisions confidently, and to walk beside you through the process of building your family. You are entitled to the peace of mind that comes with the competent, careful management of the legal aspects of adoption. You are also entitled to a lawyer who understands that this is probably the most challenging experience of your life.
My clients have my home and cell phone numbers and are instructed to use them whenever necessary. I am also available for client meetings outside regular business hours and at locations other than my office. If you are ready to begin the adoption process, I invite you to call or email me to schedule a free initial consultation.
Whether or not you choose to work with me, I hope this website will be a helpful resource.
· If you are in the process of deciding whether adoption is right for you, please visit the FAQ page for answers to some common questions. The Resources page also contains links to a variety of organizations, publications and references.
· If you are a potential adoptive parent looking for an attorney, please read the Attorney Profile page to learn more about me.
· If you are an expectant mother considering making an adoption plan for your baby, please visit the For Birthparents page.
ATTORNEY INFORMATION Janna Annest is an attorney in Seattle, Washington. She received her J.D. with honors from the University of Washington School of Law in 2003, and has practiced with the law firm of Mills Meyers Swartling since that time. During law school, Janna served as a Notes & Comments Editor of the Washington Law Review. She graduated cum laude and with high honors from Dartmouth College in 2000, where she captained the women's volleyball team and was a visiting student at Oxford University. Janna currently serves as President of the Dartmouth Alumni Club of Western Washington. Since 2008, she was named to "Rising Stars" by Super Lawyers Magazine.
In her free time, Janna enjoys exploring West Seattle with her husband, daughter, and son, biking, playing volleyball, digging in her garden, and trying to figure out how to incorporate more vegetables into her cooking.
What are the basic steps of the adoption process?
The major steps are as follows:
1. Decide whether you are ready to adopt, as opposed to pursuing infertility treatment or choosing to live child-free. You will know when that time has come because you will be excited and energized by the prospect of beginning the adoption process.
2. Decide whether domestic or international adoption is right for you. Ask yourself the tough questions about whether you are comfortable – or could become comfortable – with the idea of raising a child of a different race, or a child who may have unknown special needs, or a child whose medical history is uncertain. Consider whether you are comfortable or could become comfortable with the idea of meeting and possibly maintaining a relationship with a child's birthparents.
3. If you choose to adopt internationally, select an agency. If you choose to adopt domestically, select an attorney who specializes in adoption to represent you or contact an agency.
4. Contact an approved social worker to conduct a home study.
5. Prepare an informational packet to share with prospective birthmothers, including photos of you and your friends and family. Write a “Dear Birthmother” letter.
The remainder of these steps focus on domestic adoptions.
6. Begin networking. After your homestudy is approved, begin advertising.
7. Have another honest conversation about what to do if you are selected by a birthmother who has used drugs or alcohol during her pregnancy, or if the child is likely to have special needs. Decide in advance what circumstances and risks are acceptable.
8. Once you have connected with a birthmother, your attorney or agency will secure consents to terminate the parental rights of the birthmother and all potential birthfathers. The consents cannot be filed with the court until 48 hours after birth, but can be signed anytime. If the birthfather is unknown or will not voluntarily relinquish his parental rights, termination proceedings will be necessary.
9. Obtain as much of the birthparents' medical and social history as possible. Your attorney or agency will also assist with this step. It is imperative to gather as much information as you can. You may wish to ask a doctor to review whatever medical records are available.
10. Your attorney will obtain a temporary custody order to give you custody of the child while the Petition for Adoption is prepared and filed.
11. The court will set a date for a private hearing, where the adoption will be finalized and you will obtain a final decree of adoption. Invite your friends and family to join you at the hearing, bring your camera, and celebrate!
Please note that most adoptions require additional procedures. The items listed above represent the major steps required in most adoption cases.
Should we adopt internationally or from the United States?
Both processes have their advantages. Because the processes are very different, though, this decision requires your thoughtful attention early in the process.
Some people are drawn to international adoption because they like the idea of providing a better life to one of the many waiting children in foreign orphanages. Because international adoptions usually involve children already placed in the custody of the state, contact with birthparents is unusual, which is comforting to some adoptive moms and dads. Very few newborns are adopted internationally – most children are between six and twenty-four months old when they come home to the United States. Virtually all international adoptions are arranged through agencies. The child is first adopted in her birth country, then”re-adoped” in the United States with the help of an attorney.
Other people prefer domestic adoptions because the odds of adopting a newborn or very young child are much higher, as are the odds of obtaining medical information about the birthmother and father. Some people adopt domestically because they are unable to travel to a foreign country (sometimes multiple trips are required), because they do not fit the profile required by certain foreign countries (such as age or marital status), or because they wish to maintain more control over the process than is possible when working with an agency and a foreign government.
While these are some of the factors to consider when deciding whether to adopt internationally or from the United States, there are many more. Please see the Resources page for suggested further reading on this topic.
What is “independent adoption?”
Also referred to as “private adoption,” an adoption is considered independent when no agency is involved. The adoptive parents locate a birth mother themselves, usually through word of mouth, advertising, networking, friends, family, church, an attorney, etc.
I’m not part of a traditional married couple. Can I still adopt?
Absolutely. You do not have to be married, heterosexual, wealthy, beautiful, or perfect to adopt. While many foreign countries require adoptive parents to be of a particular age and/or marital status, there are no such restrictions in private adoptions. You just need to be able to provide a child with a stable environment and with love.
How long does an independent adoption take?
I truly wish I could answer this question definitively. It is impossible to generalize, but most people are able to adopt a child in nine to eighteen months if they are proactive about seeking a birthmother. The good news is that some of the variables are under your control, such as how much effort you put into networking. People who are open to children of multiple ethnic backgrounds also tend to have shorter wait times, while it may take longer to bring home a Caucasian newborn with no known special needs.
How do we find a birthmother?
You tell everyone you have ever met – and lots of people you haven’t – that you want to adopt a child, and ask them to tell everyone they have ever met. Think of every constituency you can access (churches, alumni clubs, bowling leagues) and share your news. Some people create websites, some place ads in newspapers, some create “adoption cards” and leave them in public places. This is not a scientific process. It just requires perseverance. I can provide more detailed guidance in person.
What is an open adoption?
It is many different things. An adoption is considered open if members of the birth family visit the child from time to time. An adoption is also considered open if the adoptive parents send letters and pictures of the child once a year.
Almost every prospective adoptive parent resists the prospect of their child’s birth parent remaining part of their lives. Won’t the child be confused about which mom and dad are the “real ones?” Won’t the birth parent want to take the child back? Won’t the child be less “ours” if the birth parents are around? All these hesitations are common and legitimate. You need to honestly consider how much openness your family can accept – agreeing to a very open arrangement in an effort to make an adoption succeed will lead to problems down the road if you’re not really comfortable with the involvement of the birth family. That said, parents participating in open adoptions consistently report that despite their initial concerns, they are happy to have at least some degree of contact with their child’s birth family. Although the child knows that he has a birthmother, there is no confusion about who is mom and dad. Open adoption is not co-parenting.
Also, do not assume that every birthparent (usually birthmother) will automatically try to negotiate for as much contact with the child as possible. If someone has chosen to make an adoption plan, they have chosen to have someone else raise their baby. Often, birthmothers are happy to know that their child is growing well, but do not wish to have contact with the child. As time passes, birthmothers tend to seek less information as they move on with their lives and other activities.
What are the average costs?
Independent and private agency adoptions can cost anywhere from $5,000 to upwards of $30,000. Independent adoptions are more likely than agency adoptions to fall in the lower end of that range, because parents adopting independently perform some of the work that an agency would otherwise do (coordinating the homestudy, searching for a birthmother, etc.). Factors influencing the cost of independent domestic adoptions include (a) whether both birthparents voluntarily relinquish their parental rights, or whether involuntary termination proceedings are necessary; (b) how many potential birthfathers are involved; (c) whether a child is considered an Indian Child for the purposes of the Indian Child Welfare Act; and (d) whether the adoptive parents pay any medical or living expenses for the birthmother. International adoptions, virtually all of which are accomplished through agencies, often involve significant travel costs.
As a very general guideline, a 2006-2007 Adoptive Families magazine survey of domestic and international adopters found that the average total cost of an adoption was between $20,000 and $25,000.
Be aware that a significant (up to nearly $12,000) tax credit is available to adoptive parents. Please visit the Resources page for more information and a link to the IRS website.
What is a homestudy and what should I expect?
Most people use the term "homestudy" to refer to the preparation of a pre-placement report, which is a document submitted to the court by a licensed social worker, stating that you are qualified to adopt a child. The goal of the homestudy is to demonstrate that you are capable of providing a stable and loving home. The pre-placement report includes a great deal of information that can be cumbersome for you to gather (FBI and state patrol background checks, letters of reference, tax statements, medical reports, and more!), but people tend to worry more about the home visit and interview with the social worker.
The social worker will probably meet with you twice, typically once at his or her office and once at your home. He or she will ask you questions about your background, upbringing, job, friends, family, activities, marriage or living situation, why you wish to adopt, and about your basic parenting and discipline philosophies. You will give a brief tour of your home, and the report will include a statement about where the child will sleep, whether the home is generally appropriate for children, etc. (Someone I know was prepared to install child locks on every drawer before his homestudy. This is not necessary. Social workers are looking for hazards more on the order of open fire pits or a cliff in the backyard . . . and even those can be cured with a fence.) Do the dishes and pick up your clothes, but you don't need to clean out the lint trap in the dryer or hide all your steak knives. The social worker does not have the goal of disqualifying you!
I can provide a more detailed explanation of the homestudy and pre-placement report process in person.
What can I do right now?
Start networking. Tell everyone you meet that you want to adopt a baby. Note that Washington law prohibits placing advertisements until you have a completed, approved home study, but you are free to use word of mouth. You can also start preparing a packet of information about you and your family, and writing a “Dear Birthmother” letter.
FOR BIRTH PARENTS My office serves as an adoption resource for prospective birth mothers. If you are considering whether adoption is the right choice for you and your baby, I invite you to contact me by phone or email. I am happy to travel to meet with you.
You will be working with a real person - me - instead of a bureaucratic organization or agency. Although I can't be your attorney, I can handle the arrangements necessary to make sure you have all the information you need to make an informed, loving choice about who will parent your child. All potential adoptive parents must be screened by a court-approved social worker to ensure they are able to provide a good home for a child, but you might want to know even more than that. You can choose adoptive parents who have other children or are childless, who are of a specific religious faith, or who live in a particular town.
You also have the right to decide if you would like to make an open or a confidential adoption plan. We can arrange for you to receive medical care if you are not already seeing a doctor, and some living expenses may also be available, within the boundaries of state law. If you are interested in talking to someone about your adoption plan, either before birth or after your child is placed, we can also make counseling services available.
I will never try to talk you into making an adoption plan for your baby if you are undecided. My goal is just to make sure you have access to the resources and support that will allow you to feel confident about your decision, if you determine that adoption is in your child's best interests.
For further information or to schedule an appointment,