Friday, February 05, 2010

A Legal Racket

One year ago, we brought home our beautiful daughter from Ethiopia. It was the culmination of almost 2 years of working and waiting, of filing paperwork and jumping through hoops, and thousands of dollars at each step. That day when we saw her sweet smile in person for the first time and felt her arms around our necks, all of the frustration and stress of the last 2 years just seemed to melt away.

....That is, until we had to begin the re-adoption process in Illinois.

I consulted a local attorney who was an adoptive parent himself. He generously offered to waive his fees, but we'd still be responsible for almost $1,000 in costs. Seemed like we'd be taking several unnecessary steps, so I kept looking...

An adoptive parent/attorney friend in Cook County recently went through the process with her Ethiopian son, and encouraged me I could do it on my own. She generously walked me step by step through the process and even shared copies of her documents for me to copy. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the Sangamon County Clerk's office with my documents, they informed me that there are different requirements in this part of the state. Not only were the requirements different, they clerk's office couldn't tell me exactly what the requirements were. They pointed me in the direction of the standard adoption forms, and wished me luck.

As a college-educated woman with an advanced degree, graduate coursework in Legal Studies, and several years of experience in the legal field, I was determined that I could do this myself. Moreover, there's the principle of the thing - - should it really be necessary for me to hire an attorney to do this? I've done two years worth of form-filing, paper-chasing, fingerprints, back-ground checks, and I really have to pay someone hundreds of dollars to file a few papers for me? Not give me legal advice, mind you.......I don't need advice. I don't have a problem or a legal question. I just need to file the stinking papers.

I'm lucky to have a father who is an attorney, and is always willing to help - I just didn't want to have to bug him for something I could do on my own. After my discouraging visit to the Clerk's Office, I surrendered and asked dad for some help. Here has been the process for us so far for those of you who are interested or will soon be in the process:

  • File a Petition for Adoption with the Circuit Clerk's office (case number assigned at that time$68)
  • File a Summons in the Sherrif's Office (Selah had to come with me and be served papers $30)
  • Have a Guardian ad Litem appointed to represent Selah's interests (don't get me started....$150)

So I called the attorney who was appointed GAL to ask what came next in the process. His first question to me was whether or not I was being represented by counsel. I told him no, I was going to do this Pro Se (and with the back-up help of my dad) and he asked why I wasn't going to use an attorney? At this point I had had it, and replied, "Because I think this whole re-adoption thing is a racket!"

Probably not my best moment.

We met in person a few days later. I apologized, told him I appreciated his expertise and experience in this area, and I think we're okay. Next:

  • Filed more exhibits (documents) in the Clerk's office
  • Called the Judge's office to schedule our hearing for 30+ days from the serving of the Summons (March 8th is our date).
When I asked the scheduler if there's anything I needed to bring or have prepared for the hearing, her not-so-nice response was "I don't know. People who represent themselves need to represent themselves".

Our GAL says these are the next steps:
  • He will prepare an Interim Order (necessary? I'm skeptical...)
  • He'll appear at hearing with an Answer
  • Adoption Decree (dad will draft for free :-))

So, this is my rant about the legal system, about the State of Illinois, about adoption craziness in general.....I have documents from Ethiopia naming us as Selah's mom and dad. I have documents from the State of Illinois stating that we are fit parents and clear to adopt. So why does Sangamon County need to appoint a Guardian for a child who is already mine, and living in my home? Why is she not automatically our daughter? And why is the system set up to exclude the common man from being able to complete the process on my own?

...and yes....she's totally worth it :)


ThirtyWhat said...

It sounds like Selah's got a wonderful mother who is jumping through hoops of fire to make things official.

I agree ... it sounds like there's a lot of unncessary red tape in the process. And if the government of Ethiopa and the State of Illinois calls it good, what is Sangamon County going to do? Deny you? To what end? So you'll move out of the county? Ridiculous.

In any case ... best of luck and I hope your case gets fast tracked so you guys can get this part of the experience behind you and get on with the important part ... raising your child. :)

Suzanne Stem said...

Wow, I have heard that North Carolina is tough depending on which county you live in and apparently from what I hear our county clerk will only process if you have an attorney.
We just had our 2nd post homestudy visit yesterday, long costly road ahead.
Congrats on the 1 year mark!

Sam's mom said...

arrrgggghhhhhhhh! I'm so sorry Gretchen! As your cook county EAP friend who SENT you the information I feel awful. You should have called, or emailed, or just thrown a rock at me...I live close enough for it to hit, I think.

Glad your dad could help. What would we do without family??

Gretchen Magruder said...

Meg, are you kidding? You were a fantastic help and encouragement! I don't blame you for the screwed up system!!

And, to all of my other friends in the legal profession....I do respect the work you do and the expertise you possess.....I just don't like the system :)

Dana said...

Gretchen I feel for everyone who is in your shoes and has to re-adopt. It is a mess. It's not like you haven't already had your life gone over with a fine toothed comb, spent tons of money, traveled half way around the world, and legally adopted her in Ethiopia!!!! Maybe Illinois and Sangamon county could trim some fat from their mess of a budget if they made the process simple, user friendly and quick!

It's a good thing we didn't know everything that would happen before we started our adoption journeys!! We might have whimped out!!LOL