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My Specialty

Adoption Law

January/February 2008 Table of Contents

Daneille D. Stewart

The Offices of Jeanne T. Tate

Naples, Fla.



I am an adoption law paralegal working in the Naples, Fla., area. I have been working in the legal field since 1983 as a legal assistant. I began my career working with an attorney in family law and criminal defense. I was introduced to adoption law in the early 1990s by assisting the attorney with uncontested stepparent and grandparent adoptions.

I received my paralegal certificate of completion from Florida International University in 1986, my Certified Legal Assistant designation in 1987 from the National Asso­ciation of Legal Assistants, and my Certified Florida Legal Assistant designation with a concentration in family law in 1988 from what was then Florida Legal Assistants, Inc. I received an Associate of Arts degree in criminology from Edison Community College in 1996, and a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2006. I currently am an associate member of the Collier County Bar Association and the Florida Adoption Council. There are five attorneys and four paralegals at the firm.

What are your responsibilities?

One of my daily responsibilities is legal research, which differs from other specialties because some adoption cases involve researching and complying with your own state law as well as another state’s law. For example, if a prospective adoptive parent who resides in Florida calls and wants to adopt a baby being born in another state, it’s my job to analyze and report to my supervising attorney where the termination of parental rights will occur (which state has the most favorable laws, time frame and costs). Next, I determine where finalization will occur (i.e., whether the sending state allows out-of-state residents to finalize), and what the legal requirements are for the family regarding the interstate compact, including whether an attorney can be the receiving entity or whether it has to be an adoption agency. Then, I research how the consent for adoption should be drafted. Finally, I determine and draft the required court pleadings for my supervising attorney to review and sign, including affidavits, petitions for adoptions, petitions to terminate parental rights, pending adoptions and final judgments. In contested cases, I review the case notes and file to draft the Request for Admissions, Request for Production and Interrogatories.

How did you get into this specialty?

My husband and I adopted three children, and my legal background gave me insight to the many aspects of adoption law. When it came time for me to work part time, I decided I wanted to use my legal background for the good of adoption. I was hired by the attorney who handled our third adoption. After she closed her practice, I was hired by Jeanne T. Tate, an American Academy of Adoption attorney.

What are some challenges in this field?

In adoption law, the most challenging aspect of working with families is the anxiety and other emotions involved with wondering whether the adoption will fall through. Another challenge is deadlines that are equivalent to a “race to the court­house” since petitions often need to be filed the same day they are signed.

Adoption laws change regularly, and keeping up with the changes also can be a challenge. For example, one of the biggest changes in adoption law right now has to do with international adoption after The Hague. In an effort to better protect the well-being of children available for adoption internationally, more than 60 countries worldwide are adopting The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, including the United States, where it’s anticipated to take effect in March 2008. Any adoption from a Hague participating country will have to be processed through a Hague accredited adoption agency. The accreditation process under The Hague is lengthy and helps ensure that the agency is operating under a series of best practices designed to protect the children and the adoptive families. By having an up-to-date knowledge of The Hague, I am able to better assist my law firm and the agencies we represent.

What is your most memorable case?

My most memorable case was a maternal grandparent adoption. The birth mother was 100 percent sure she was going to place the child until she was asked to sign the consent for adoption. The birth mother was crying and shaking and saying she just wanted to try to parent her child. I said, “Then go home and try, we’re here if you need us.” After six months, she came in, said she tried, and signed the consent for adoption. It then took me about two years to secure the birth father’s signature on the consent for adoption because he always was out of the country. I kept in contact with him from country to country via the Internet, telephone and regular mail and finally got him to sign the documents in England. It took a lot of patience and perseverance but this case taught me how to serve documents in different countries. The greatest joy of my job is making families’ dreams come true.



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