Illinois lawmakers are considering a proposal that would limit how much money a birth mother can receive from prospective adoptive parents to medical and reasonable living expenses.
Co-sponsored by state Reps. Dennis M. Reboletti (R-Addison) and Paul D. Froehlich (R-Schaumburg), House Bill 0468 also would make it a felony for a birth mother who promises her unborn child to more than two people not living in the same household.
“I felt like more had to be done to protect prospective adoptive parents,” Reboletti said. “And since there is nothing on adoption compensation in Illinois law, I decided that this proposal was a good idea.”
Under the proposal, “reasonable living expenses” would include the cost of daily living, like rent, food and clothing, for no more than 120 days before the birth and for no more than 60 days after the birth. Not included would be expenses for lost income, gifts and educational expenses.
“It’s a common-sense approach,” said Reboletti. “If an apartment is $900, then the birth mother doesn’t need $10,000 a month for rent.”
Bruce Boyer, director of the Child Law Clinic at the Loyola University School of Law, said that “reasonable living expense” has been difficult to define because there was no legal definition in Illinois law.
“It used to be up to a judge to define what was reasonable, and since there was no set definition, the adoption system was open for abuse,” said Boyer.
Richard Pearlman, the executive director at Chicago-based Family Resource Center, said the proposed legislation is “not a bad thing” since adoption law is complicated. However, Pearlman cautions that every situation has to be considered on its own merits.
“A birth mother can receive support for daily living expenses, but what if there’s a boyfriend she’s living with or has another child she’s supporting and is unable to work?” he said. “Those are situations that require careful consideration.”
Julianne Tye, president and CEO of the Cradle, a domestic and international adoption agency in Evanston, said she finds the proposal confusing since there is potential for abuse on both sides of adoptions. But she is glad the proposal could stop what she calls adoption compensation abuse by birth mothers.
“For every piece of legislation criminalizing a birth mother’s actions, there ought to be 10 more criminalizing adoptive parents,” she said, noting that this type of abuse normally happens with private adoptions, not with adoptions overseen by agencies like the Cradle.
Tye said she has witnessed situations where prospective adoptive parents financially support more than one birth mother, then end their support to the others once they receive a baby.
Reboletti said he believes that if the proposal became law, there would not be any cost to the state, but it could be costly for counties prosecuting these cases.
When Reboletti was a Will County prosecutor, he had a case where a birth mother had promised her baby to two out-of-state families who were both supporting her. When the families realized what was happening, they filed suit in Illinois, but the law at the time stated the birth mom could only be charged with theft by deception, which in Illinois is a Class A Misdemeanor.
“It was frustrating for both me and the parents,” said Reboletti. “To make matters worse, neither family got the baby.”
Indiana has an adoption compensation law that’s been on the books since 1999. It prohibits payments of more than $2,500 for certain adoption-related expenses of a birth mother. Also, it requires the disclosure of the expenses in the court supervising the adoption.
And in Wisconsin, the law is even stricter. Since 1997, a birth mother could receive a fine up to $10,000 if she asks for money exceeding the cost of the hospital and related medical expenses.
No hearing has been set for the bill, which has been sent to the Illinois House Executive Committee. Committee Chairman Rep. Daniel J. Burke (D-Chicago) could not be reached for comment.
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