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Adoption and Unregulated Custody Transfers

For full text of S. 397 click here

June is Children’s Awareness Month, and on the occasion a bill (S. 397) was introduced into the United States Senate titled the Safe Home Act. What this bill aims to do is curtail the “unregulated custody transfers” that occur incident to adoption. The bill defines this transfer as “the abandonment of a child by the child’s parent, legal guardian, or a person or entity acting on behalf, and with the consent, of such parent or guardian,” by placing the child with a person who is not the child’s parent, step-parent, grandparent, adult sibling, adult uncle or aunt, legal guardian, or other adult relative; or an adult family friend; or a member of the federally recognized Indian tribe of which the child is also a member. There must also be an intent to “severing the relationship between the child and the parent or guardian of such child” without “reasonably ensuring the safety of the child and permanency of the placement of the child, including by conducting an official home study, background check, and supervision” and “transferring the legal rights and responsibilities of parenthood or guardianship under applicable Federal and State law.”

What this could mean is that there could be penalties if one parent commits an unregulated custody transfer. This bill amends the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. It is a response to the number of unregulated adoptions and would seek to afford social services some oversight into these transfers. According to the text of the bill, the methods of unregulated transfers typically involve use of social media and the internet. It also calls for studies into these transfers and an eventual policy recommendation to the states for identifying, preventing, and responding to the transfers, which could include additions to state statutes.

Adoption can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor, but when using illegal and unregulated channels there are risks that records may not be adequately preserved. Thus, unregulated custody transfers may result in legal issues down the road. If this bill is enacted into law, it would make unregulated transfers a form of child abuse. Please contact your attorney if you need advice on adoptions.