Contributed by SaVannah Reading
With the passage of Act 599 (formerly House Bill 1379) and Act 838 (formerly House Bill 1388), Arkansas has elevated its standards for adoptions and given future birth parents who chose adoption more protections. These new laws seek to ensure that parents placing their babies for adoption have given full and informed consent to the adoption in order to prevent cases such as a recent multi-state adoption scheme which targeted expectant mothers from the Marshall Islands who were brought to the United States and paid to give their babies up for adoption, often after they had been misled to believe they were entering into an open adoption. In addition to further protections, adopting parents and birth parents now have further freedom of choice in how they want to conduct the adoption and what contact they want to have after the adoption.
Arkansas has traditionally been a closed adoption state, meaning that biological parents didn’t normally have contact with adoptees once the adoption took place. However, Act 838 grants parents the option to choose a voluntary post-adoption contract agreement. This allows birth parents and adopting families who want to have an open adoption and maintain contact following adoption the ability to legally do so. However, there are limits to the enforceability of this and adopting parents can later decide to terminate contact.
Act 599 requires birth parents and adopting parents to have separate legal representation overseeing the adoption, though you can choose to waive this right by signing an affidavit under oath in the presence of a notary. In the past, one single attorney would oversee the entire adoption process, which raised concerns that the attorney would focus only on the interests of the adopting families since they were the ones paying the fee. The Act also requires that the attorney certify that the parent signed the adoption forms voluntarily after the attorney fully explained to them the effect of consenting to the adoption. If a parent whose consent to adoption is required does not speak English as a native language, the Act requires that they be provided a qualified interpreter before consenting to the adoption, though this requirement can also be waived. The Act also expands accounting requirements of expenses relating to the adoption, making this part of the process more transparent as well. All of this is aimed at preventing abuse and ensuring that parents involved in the adoption know their rights and are fully consenting.