How much does it cost to adopt a baby in Oklahoma? For one couple, it was almost $150,000. The legal fees included almost $5,000 for work on a six-page legal brief, records show. Almost $800 went to a private investigator to pay for delivering paperwork to two places. Another $8,000 was charged for time attorneys spent talking on the phone. The Oklahoma Supreme Court found fault with many of the fees charged by attorneys and a private investigator in the 2005 case. Justices on May 4 ordered an adoption judge to thoroughly re-examine every expenditure. Justices ruled Oklahoma County Special Judge Larry Jones failed in his duty to be a gatekeeper who protects vulnerable prospective parents and keeps them "from making excessive payments.” "The obvious goal to be achieved by this mandated district court inquiry of expenditures in … an adoption is to thwart the subtle as well as the apparent buying and selling of children,” Justice Steven Taylor wrote. The opinion could lead to more affordable adoptions, said Oklahoma County Public Defender Bob Ravitz. Some judges were rubber-stamping expenses if attorneys had a signed contract, he said. "It will put a big dent in people coming from out of state to buy babies,” Ravitz said. Ravitz and his assistants petitioned the Supreme Court to review the expenses in the case. "There are so many middle-class … families that will make loving parents … . Those people are out of luck,” Ravitz said. "The cost of adoptions skyrocketed, and only rich people could afford it.” The child, now 4, is identified in the opinion as Baby Boy A. The adopting parents live in another state. They were not identified. The parents hired three law firms, two in Oklahoma City and one in their state. The couple’s expenses are listed in the opinion. They paid the first firm, Julie Demastus and Tina Peot, a $20,000 flat fee. They changed to Echols and Associates when the adoption was contested. They paid that firm almost $80,000. They paid $3,536 to the firm in their state. They paid $13,000 to a private investigator to investigate the biological father and track the whereabouts of the biological mother. They paid $13,362 to the birth mother’s attorney. They paid about $12,000 for the birth mother’s living expenses. They also had to cover filing fees, medical expenses, pay for a home study and other things. The total cost was $147,289.
Not a new issueAdoption costs have been a sticky issue in Oklahoma County for years. Oklahoma County became known across the country as a place where birth mothers wouldn’t back out because they were taken care of, Ravitz’s assistants contended. The reputation allowed local attorneys to artificially increase rates to take advantage of well-heeled out-of-state couples. In 2006, a state grand jury reported adoption judges were so indifferent or grossly incompetent in overseeing expenses that birth mothers basically were allowed to sell children for cars, televisions and vacations. The grand jury found attorneys mislabeled improper expenses, often calling them toiletries. The hidden expenses included car parts, traffic tickets, criminal case fees, driver’s license fees and utility bills. The grand jury criticism led to stricter rules on adoption expenses in Oklahoma County and new laws. Also, Ravitz was ordered to keep an eye on expenses. Attorneys involved in the Baby Boy A case contend it was complicated. They point out the biological father kept changing his mind about whether he wanted the baby and the Cherokee Nation got involved. The parents who adopted the child did not object to the costs, David Echols told The Oklahoman. The mother who adopted the boy contacted The Oklahoman at Echols’ request. The mother said, "Really, at no point did I ever think that anyone was in some way taking advantage of us.” The mother said, "This has been a very, very complex case. It’s had a lot of twists and turns. … There was a lot of research that had to be done. There was a lot of information that had to be gathered. There was a lot of work that went into this.” Demastus told The Oklahoman, "The average person doesn’t realize how much work goes into an adoption. "For instance, my clients have the advantage of me or my staff attending all the doctor’s appointments,” she said. "These girls, they come to me. Most often, they’re homeless. They have no food, no shelter, no transportation, nothing. We help them … It’s like an eight- to 10-month process. … We do this all on behalf of the adoptive parents who want their birth parent to be happy and well taken care of.” Special Judge Jones no longer handles adoptions. In approving the fees in Baby Boy A’s case, Jones said: "You would be inclined automatically to say that is outrageous … but not under the facts and circumstances of this case. This is not like any other case I’ve had.” The Supreme Court disagreed, stating, "The record before us demonstrates that this case was closer to a routine adoption than a complex legal contest.”
Some expenses criticized by State Supreme Court
→Use of private investigator to track the birth mother for six months. She was watched even though she had already given up her boy and consented to adoption.
→Use of private investigator for surveillance on the biological father and his wife for 17 months. →$20,000 flat fee charged by the first law firm. The fee was not reimbursed when adopting parents changed to a different firm. →15 cents a page charged by the second law firm to copy thousands of pages. The attorneys’ contract specified 10 cents a page. →About $12,000 for the birth mother’s living expenses. The adoption judge approved costs even though he was shown no receipts. →$865 for medical-related costs. Adopting parents said the insurer paid all such costs. →More than $13,000 to the birth mother’s attorney. That attorney only made two routine court appearances and went to one hearing. →Duplicate attorney bills. →$200 an hour for an attorney to observe adoption hearing already being handled by another attorney in the firm. →$275 an hour charged by an attorney to prepare a document justifying a private investigator’s fee.
Note: The adoption costs in the Baby Boy A case were much higher than most. In nine more recent Oklahoma County cases, couples paid from $1,256 to $22,401, records show.