Adoption is a process and while the process is similar for every one, things don't always happen the way they are set to. At least that's what we are telling ourselves as we chase our tails.
After the referral, and that is how our agency refers to Izzy to this day - Your Referral - not Isabella, not Gersel (her birth name) but Your Referral - there are several necessary steps to finalize an adoption.
The steps as described to us:
1) Complete your dossier
2) Accept a referral
3) Complete a power of attorney
4) Translate the dossier from English to Spanish
5) Have case assigned an attorney
6) Complete DNA test
7) Go through Family Court
8) Receive Pre-approval for Visa
9) Enter PGN (final court)
10) Receive embassy appt.
11) Travel to pick up your child
Seems pretty straight forward, right? That's what we thought. But there are lots of little steps in between these major ones that can cause major problems for a family.
Thanks to www.guatefam.org we have the real picture of the process (It's pretty comprehensive, so you may want to skip it, but this shows you how things can get messed up):
Note: Some steps may overlap or happen out of order, but this gives the general sequence.
Referral and Adoption Procedures
1) Dossier is sent to Guatemala to be translated.
2) Child is born.
3) Birth is registered at Civil Registry and a birth certificate is issued.
4) Birth mother signs over custody to a lawyer and authorizes the lawyer to pursue adoption plans for the child; child enters foster care (usually) or sometimes orphanage or children's home
5) Child is taken to a pediatrician for basic physical and (for newborns) usually for first immunizations, if these steps were not done prior to relinquishment.
6) Birthmother also sees a doctor to make sure she is fine and may have blood tests done at this time, if they haven't been done prior to the birth of the child.
7) You receive a referral with child's and birth mother's names, basic physical info, and usually a photo and results of screening blood tests for syphilis, hepatitis and HIV.
8) You accept referral and sign a Power of Attorney (POA) to authorize the lawyer in Guatemala to act on your behalf during the adoption process. Under Guatemalan law the same lawyer may represent the birth mother's and child's interests and your interests during the adoption. Some agencies use separate lawyers for adoptive parents, most don?t.
9) Your POA is registered in Guatemala.
10) The lawyer submits all the documents in the case to Family Court, and petitions the Family Court to assign a social worker to investigate the case.
11) The lawyer requests authorization from the US Embassy to have DNA testing performed on the birth mother and child to confirm that they are indeed biologically mother and child. DNA testing is done with supervision and a photo of the birth mother with the child is taken at the testing site to ascertain their identities.
12) Family Court social worker reviews your dossier, interviews the birth mother, sees the child in foster care or orphanage, and (almost always) approves the adoption. The social worker writes a several page report summarizing the facts of the case and attesting to the reasons that the birth mother cannot care for the child. The birth mother signs consent for adoption for second time.
13) Meanwhile the DNA test should have been performed, cleared, and submitted to the Embassy with your dossier for review and approval by the Embassy. The case cannot take the next step after Family Court until the Embassy DNA approval has been issued. This is a safeguard to prevent a situation in which a child is legally adopted under Guatemalan law, but not eligible for immigration under US law. A third consent by the birth mother is signed during the DNA process.
14) The lawyer then submits a petition for approval of the adoption case to a notarial officer of the Attorney General's office (Procuraduria General de la NaciÃ³n or PGN). (A Notary in Guatemala is an attorney with additional powers, not simply someone who certifies signatures as in the US.)
15) Notary in PGN reviews all the documents (often requesting that some be re-done because of minor spelling errors, expired notary seals, etc.) and almost always approves the adoption. The PGN may at their discretion investigate aspects of the case if they wish and as a result of that and other variations, time in this step (as in many steps) can vary widely.
16) PGN issues its approval for the adoption to proceed.
17) The lawyer then meets the birth mother for the 4th and final sign-off.
18) The adoption decree is then written and issued by the lawyer and the child is legally now the child of the adoptive family.
19) A new birth certificate is then issued by the Civil Registry with the child's first and middle names unchanged, but with the names of the adoptive parent(s).
20) Lawyer takes new birth certificate and applies for a Guatemalan passport (although the child is adopted by US parents, he or she is still a Guatemalan citizen).
21) All documents are translated into English by certified translators, as required by US INS regulations.
Visa Issuance and Travel Procedures
These are the procedures followed if you travel to pick up your child.
1) Passport is issued.
2) Child gets a visa photo done.
3) Lawyer takes all the paperwork back to the Embassy, including the passport, your dossier, the Family Court findings, the adoption decree, the DNA results, all translations, and the visa photos, and requests approval for an orphan visa to enter the US.
4) Embassy authorizes visa. This approval is on pink paper and is called the "pink slip". It is usually issued a day or two after submission of the documents.
5) Child gets an exit physical by an Embassy-approved doctor (to make sure the child doesn't have unrecognized handicapping conditions or infectious diseases). Note that this exam used to require prior embassy approval, but can now be done any time after the passport is issued, without prior approval of the embassy.
6) You are told your case is complete and you travel to Guatemala (many people travel sooner but this is the "official" time when travel is recommended).
7) The lawyer completes required INS and State Department forms for visa issuance and includes them in the document package along with the results from the exit physical.
8) You meet your child, and they stay with you from this point forward.
9) You -- often but not alwaysaccompaniedd by the lawyer or someone from their staff -- bring your child and all the papers back to the Embassy early one morning, pay the visa fees, present the I-600 and I-864 forms (fill these out well ahead!), show your tax returns for the past 3 years (including W-2s and 1099s, pluscurrentt letters of employment or recent pay stubs) to prove you can support the child, and come back later that afternoon for your visa and sealed packet of documents.
10) Then you can go home. On arrival you must to submit the sealed packet to INS at your first point of entry into the US.