Family law attorneys lobby for improvements to adoption process

A Washington-based group representing adoption attorneys is continuing a quiet but steady quest to pass a law they say will better protect the parental rights of men who may have fathered children.

The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, an association of 360 lawyers who work on legal issues surrounding adoption, has tapped lobbyist Michaela Sims of Chamber Hill Strategies to advocate for improvements in adoption laws. One of the group’s priorities in Washington is to reintroduce a bill that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) sponsored in the last Congress that would establish a national database known as a “putative father registry.”

Currently, at least 34 states have registries where men can register their name and contact information into a confidential database so they can be notified of any attempts to terminate their parental rights, or of adoption proceedings for children they may have fathered. The idea of the registry is to give birth fathers a chance to assert their parental rights. But there is no federal database, and the laws in each state are different.

One of the major obstacles to finalizing adoptions is not being able to quickly locate the possible birth father. And because there is no mechanism between states to identify or notify fathers who have registered in another state, that complicates the adoption process if a parent or parents are looking to adopt a child from another state.

“The idea is registries in states ought to talk to each other,” said Mark McDermott, an adoption lawyer in Washington and chairman of the group’s legislative committee. “The federal law is best conceptualized as a repository more than a law. It would provide a central database where it all goes into one place. It would eliminate the problem of going from state to state.”

The attorneys organization, along with the National Council for Adoption and Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, was also active in pushing to make an adoption tax credit a permanent part of the tax code in the fiscal cliff deal reached in December.

Catherine Ho covers lobbying at The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.

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