HRC Blog

GUEST POST: Choosing an LGBT-Savvy Attorney for Your Adoption

The following comes from Elizabeth Vaughan, an adoption attorney practicing in Virginia and the District of Columbia.  She also writes the popular adoption blog Adoptivity, which can be found at

Anyone considering adoption has options for the type of adoption to pursue. For those who decide on an independent adoption (rather than adopting through an agency), choosing a qualified attorney is one of the first and most important steps.  Because of the confusing state of the law on LGBT family issues, the choice of an attorney is even more important for LGBT couples and individuals.  Below are some tips and questions to ask that will help you choose the right lawyer for your family. Do your homework.  The idea of cold calling attorneys who may or may not be LGBT-friendly is not very appealing.  Instead, do some research to find out who the attorneys with LGBT adoption experience are in your area. 

The National LGBT Bar Association and Lambda Legal both offer attorney referrals.  Local LGBT organizations and support groups are also good sources of information.  Finally, if you have LGBT friends who have adopted, ask them about their experiences with their attorneys. When you get an adoption lawyer, get an adoption lawyer. Obvious, right?  But you might be surprised how many people (LGBT or not) start by approaching the same attorney who did their will or fought their traffic ticket.  Adoption is a highly specialized area, and LGBT adoption even more so.  Choose an attorney who specializes in these practice areas. Shop around.  If you live in a small, conservative community, you may simply be feeling relieved that you found one attorney who does LGBT adoption work.  If possible, however, it’s a good idea to have a consultation with more than one attorney so you can compare prices, communication styles, and your level of comfort with the attorney.  I have heard stories about communities where unscrupulous attorneys market themselves to the LGBT community, only to charge much higher rates to LGBT couples.  That’s not what I’d call advocacy. Go with your gut. Feeling comfortable with your adoption attorney is not a luxury – it’s a must.  After all, you will be discussing your dreams for your family with this person, calling them when you’re anxious and confused about the process, and sharing some of the most life-changing moments with them. 

Choosing someone who “gets” you and is enthusiastic about your family makes a big difference. Read critically.  If the lawyer has paperwork for you to fill out, watch the language.  Is there a line that says “spouse,” or does it use the more inclusive “spouse or partner?”  Do the attorney’s website and promotional materials actively welcome LGBT clients? Ask questions. Some questions you may want to ask prospective attorneys include:

  • How is adoption different for LGBT people compared to non-LGBT people in this state?
  • What are the steps we will go through to adopt?
  • Tell me about the differences between domestic and international, private and agency, and foster-care adoption for LGBT couples.
  • Have you worked with LGBT couples before?
  • Are you affiliated with any LGBT advocacy groups? (Examples include the National LGBT Bar Association, The Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU.  These types of affiliations show a real commitment to LGBT issues, rather than simply seeing the LGBT community as a good source of paying clients).
  • What resources do you know that support LGBT families? (An experienced attorney will know about support groups, nonprofit organizations, informational resources, books, etc.)
  • Can you help us find a social worker who has experience working with LGBT families for our homestudy?
  • What are your fees, and approximately how much do most adoptions cost?
  • Approximately how long do most adoptions take?
  • How often do you communicate with your clients?  Who will be available to us if we have questions as we go along?

It is an unfortunate truth that LGBT individuals and couples often face more hurdles than non-LGBT people do when they decide to adopt a child.  However, with the right professionals on your team, you will achieve your dreams of having a family.

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