The Uniform Adoption Act (UAA)

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The Uniform Adoption Act (UAA)

The Uniform Adoption Act was adopted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) in 1994, following five years of intensive discussions with the entire adoption field. The 1994 UAA is the third uniform act NCCUSL has developed. A 1953 act, perhaps because it was promulgated before any professional consensus about adoption had developed, did not receive support. The second UAA, issued in 1971, was adopted by only eight states. ("Uniform" acts are different from "Model" acts: the expectation is that states will enact a uniform act without substantial change.)

The current UAA came about because there was a perceived need for uniformity among the states on adoption matters. Two attempts by the AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION (ABA) and one attempt by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to draft a MODEL STATE ADOPTION ACT had failed. Because one of the charges leveled at the ABA and HHS was that the drafting process has been closed to one or more key interests in the adoption field, NCCUSL initiated its project with an eye to the widest possible participation in the drafting process. Observers from the ABA, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ADOPTION ATTORNEYS, AMERICAN ADOPTION CONGRESS, CHILD WELFARE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, CONCERNED UNITED BIRTHPARENTS, and the NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ADOPTION, among others, were invited to participate in the debates and considerations of the drafting committee.

Several issues surfaced initially and continued to be debated throughout the drafting process by the full body of NCCUSL: the role of unwed fathers; the time given to a birthparent to change her mind about an adoption; transracial and transethnic placements; children in need of adoption who have special needs, preplacement home studies; the role of attorneys as equal partners with agencies and adoption providers; representation of competing clients' interests by the same attorney; the provision of nonidentifying medical, social and genetic background to adopted persons; court-enforced visitation; communication agreements after an adoption has been legally finalized; access to identifying information, such as unamended original birth certificates and penalties for unauthorized access to private, sealed adoption records.

Although there are many articles and publications in print and on the Internet describing the contents of the UAA, most are extremely biased. One of the best brief objective summaries is by Joel D. Tenenbaum, who served as the ABA liaison to the NCCUSL UAA committee.

Despite the substantial differences of opinion that were aired during the drafting process, the NCCUSL aims to resolve issues by compromise and consensus. Therefore, each time the UAA was taken to the floor of the NCCUSL annual meeting, it was clear that there was a large majority in favor of the act and its recommended approaches to the controversial issues under consideration.

The most heated debates, in both the drafting committee and on the floor at the annual meeting, had to do with access to sealed records. A minority of the drafting committee and a tiny percentage of the commissioners as a whole opposed the UAA recommendation that MUTUAL CONSENT REGISTRIES be used as the usual legal means whereby persons who had been involved in an adoption in which records had been sealed could indicate their interest in exchanging identifying information.

Eventually, in 1994, the commissioners voted to approve the UAA and to promulgate it. Early in 1995, the ABA overwhelmingly endorsed the UAA. The NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ADOPTION and a number of other organizations also endorsed the UAA.

The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, according to one of its past presidents, Samuel Totaro, Jr, by contract voted to ".?.?. disseminate the Uniform Adoption Act to the various states for its consideration." A substantial number of organizations that had participated in the process were unsuccessful in each instance in convincing the commissioners to accept their views on controversial issues, among them the American Adoption Congress, the Child Welfare League of America and Concerned United Birthparents. These groups launched a vigorous campaign to keep the UAA from being adopted by any state.

The outlook for the UAA is uncertain at this writing. Although it has been introduced in several states, there has been little or no organized support for the UAA either from NCCUSL commissioners in those states or from state affiliates of the ABA. By contrast, opponents of the UAA have utilized a variety of means to express their objections, and have staged protests and overwhelmed hearings. In the face of such uneven support, many state legislatures have either backed away from considering the UAA, or, in at least one instance, passed legislation directly opposed to key principles of the UAA, such as the privacy of adoption records.

The UAA may be obtained from NCCUSL and is also available on the Internet website of the ABA Center of Children and the Law.

Joel Tenembaum, Esq., "Introducing the Uniform Adoption Act," Family Law Quarterly 30, no. 2 (Summer 1996): 333-343.

Samuel C. Totaro, Esq., "Presentation on the Uniform Adoption Act," Seminar on the Uniform Adoption Act, Adoptive Family Rights Council, Pittsburgh Pa., April?3, 1996, pp. 15-20.

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