Exercise Caution When Paying Living Expenses in an Adoption
Section 48.913(1), Stats., describes expenses that can be paid by adoptive parents to or on behalf of a birth mother as part of a termination of parental rights/adoption proceeding. $5,000 may be paid toward living expenses. Attorneys must be cautious when giving advice on living expense payments.
For example, if rent is being paid, the birth parent should furnish adequate documentation of the lease arrangement, whether oral or written. Before payments are made, verification of the rental amount should be made. Payments should be made directly to the landlord, not to the birth mother. See §48.913(3), Stats.
If food is paid for, it is recommended that a grocery store receipt be produced which identifies the items that have been purchased. Reimbursement or payment should be limited to the items that would truly benefit the health and well-being of the birth mother during pregnancy. Cigarettes, alcohol, household items do not directly serve to benefit the pregnant birth mother. They should be stricken and not paid or reimbursed.
Although a telephone or phone card may be an important item to maintain communication with the adopting parents, the agency and health care providers may be a “living expense,” purchase of an I-Phone 6S, for example, would be viewed with suspicion and not approved by the court.
Abuse of the payment of living expenses statute can result in criminal sanctions under §948.24, Stats. Consequences can include up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $10,000 and potential disapproval of an adoption plan.