Our Adoption Story – part 5 – The Road to Finalization

After S&J were officially placed with us for adoption, we did not get to immediately finalize the adoption in court. Instead, we needed to wait until they had lived in our house for at least 3 months, pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 259.53, subd 4.  Eric and I knew from the classes we took at our adoption agency that even though the adoption can be finalized after 3 months, in many cases it takes much longer than that.

While we were waiting to finalize, we had monthly home visits from the girls’ social worker and Guardian ad Litem. We also had monthly home visits from our social worker. The visits weren’t stressful for Eric and I, because we kept in very regular contact via email with the social workers. We actually enjoyed seeing them each month. Unfortunately, these home visits proved to be a major trigger for our daughters. We were guaranteed to experience at least one of the girls having a major meltdown/tantrum after the home visit ended. It was exhausting. However, these visits are a common trigger for children who are in “the system,” and so we weren’t surprised. We learned that we shouldn’t make plans for right after a home visit. We also learned that we would sometimes need to call the Dakota County Crisis Line to help calm the girls down after a visit.

For many children who are in the system, seeing their social worker and their Guardian ad Litem reminds them of being removed from their biological parents’ home. It also might remind them of being removed from previous foster homes or other pre-adoptive placements. The girls’ Guardian ad Litem really summed things up when she said, “Seeing us probably reminds them of all they have lost.”

In August,  we started the process of getting the paperwork together to finalize the adoption. The first step was to fill out the Adoption Assistance paperwork and then send it to DHS for it to be approved. The girls’ social worker drafted the Adoption Assistance agreements and gathered the necessary documentation. The girls’ social worker submitted the Adoption Assistance paperwork to DHS at the end of August. We were told that although statutorily DHS was required to respond within 30 days, it often takes longer. On October 3, we received an email from DHS with some revisions and a counteroffer. At that point we had to decide whether to “battle” with DHS or whether to accept their counteroffer. We decided that we did not want to further delay the girls’ adoption, and so we accepted the counteroffer. Our social worker hand-delivered that paperwork to DHS on October 12. On October 29, we received the signed Adoption Assistance agreements in the mail. This meant that we could start the process of finalizing the adoption in court.

We knew that we wanted to finalize the adoption as soon as possible. The girls were very anxious for it to finalize. On many occasions one of the girls would ask me why the adoption hadn’t been finalized yet. I could tell that they were feeling insecure and in limbo and I knew that the sooner we got it done, the better. Both girls were also eager for their names to change, so our whole family would have the same last name. Additionally, we knew that we wanted the adoption to finalize in 2012 because at that time the adoption tax credit was in a state of uncertainty for 2013 and each year thereafter, and we were hoping to use our tax refund (from the tax credit) to pay for a surprise trip for S&J to Disney World.

Our social worker told us that the Adoption Specialist at their agency would help us get the paperwork together to finalize. Everyone knew that we were in a hurry to get things done. The social workers did the paperwork that they needed to do. Then we were supposed to get the actual court paperwork from the Adoption Specialist. Unfortunately, our paperwork got misplaced by someone, somewhere. During Thanksgiving weekend, Eric and I were feeling anxious because we still didn’t have our adoption paperwork and we didn’t have a court date. The Monday after Thanksgiving weekend, I decided to be the “squeaky wheel” and made lots of phone calls and sent lots of emails. That was when it was discovered that our paperwork had been misplaced/buried on someone’s desk.

The week after Thanksgiving, our paperwork made it to the Adoption Specialist’s desk and she gathered the documents we needed to finalize. I was told to come into the agency’s office and pick up the paperwork. When I went to pick up the paperwork, I was disappointed, because I had been under the impression that all of the paperwork was drafted and ready for our signature. I mistakenly was under the impression that I was picking up our “court paperwork.” Instead I learned that our adoption agency gave us “fill-in-the-blank” forms to fill out. At that point I was disappointed. I loved our adoption agency, but had I known that we were going to receive forms to fill out (and I have terrible handwriting), I would have started working on drafting up my own forms instead. I wouldn’t have been waiting for the agency to do it for us. Instead I had been operating under the assumption that I could just “coast” through this part of the process. After all, the agency had told us we didn’t need to hire an attorney.

The evening that we got our forms from the agency, I locked myself in our home office and drafted the forms for the adoption myself, using the adoption statutes as a guide. As I had stated in the above paragraph, I have terrible handwriting, so there was no way that I was going to use “fill-in-the-blank” handwritten forms for our children’s adoption. It was a great experience to draft our adoption forms, and it made me feel like I was putting my law degree to good use. The next morning, Eric and I signed the Adoption Petition in front of a notary and overnighted it to the Court. I included a very heartfelt cover letter with our paperwork, basically begging Court Administration to allow us to finalize before Christmas.

The day that the Court received our paperwork, I received a phone call and an email from Court Administration letting us know that we had a court date and that it was before Christmas. Our adoption was scheduled to finalize on December 21, 2012. A few days later we received the official scheduling order in the mail from the Court. It was finally real. We were finally going to be a legal, official family. S&J were also excited because they would get to miss a day of school to go to our court date.

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