So here it goes....
Deciding to adopt required us to ask ourselves some very difficult questions: Should we adopt domestically or internationally? How do we feel about an open vs. closed adoption? Should we consider adopting from foster care? Are we willing to accept a child with medical issues? Are we willing to accept an older child or siblings? Are we willing to accept a child of a different race/ethnicity? Do we have a gender preference? Can we afford adoption?............................
As you can imagine, we really had to explore all of these issues in depth and it was not easy at times. Through much research and soul searching, we ultimately trusted our hearts to lead us in the right direction and we were consistently led back to Guatemala. It's really as simple as that. Even so, there are many factors that also influenced our decision. Guatemalan adoptions are typically quicker than some other countries (though this is not necessarily the case anymore). Most babies live in a foster home during the process (as opposed to an orphanage) so they receive a lot of one-on-one love and care. The foster families are typically not allowed to foster more than 2 babies at a time (besides their own children). We are only required to travel once and that is when the adoption is finalized. When we travel, the typical stay is 3-5 days. At the same time, we have the opportunity to visit Eli as many times as we want during the adoption process. Guatemala also allows adoptive parents to stay in Guatemala and foster their own babies while the adoption is being processed. I also have a personal connection because I studied abroad in Guatemala while in college. My time in Guatemala was transformational and I am just astounded that Guatemala is transforming my life not once, but twice!!
Where is Eli living right now?
So, Eli is currently living with a foster family in Guatemala City. We do not have much information on the foster family other than their names. We do know that Eli has a foster sister born 10 days after him. She is in the process of being adopted by another family with our adoption agency. So, our foster mom has her hands full with two newborns!!
When is Eli coming home?
This is the million dollar question! Our agency tells us that the average time frame from the date of referral is 6-10 months, though most families' time lines seem to be on the longer end of the time frame. We hope that he is home by Christmas, but it is more realistic that he will not be home until February.
Why does it take so long?
Adoptions in general can be very complicated and there are so many factors that influence the process. International adoptions are especially complicated because there are two governments involved, which means two sets of laws, two cultures (at least), two languages, and more. Guatemalan adoptions are especially unique and complicated. There are many steps that need to be satisfied on both the U.S. and Guatemalan sides.
Here's the Cliff Notes version of the Guatemalan adoption process:
- Dossier: This is all the paperwork we had to complete and send to our agency before we could be added to the waiting list. This portion of the process is "affectionately" (ha!) referred to as The Paperchase. Just to give you an idea of what a huge undertaking it was, the dossier instructions we received from our agency was 40 pages long! It was not an easy task, to say the least!
- POA: After we accepted the referral of Eli, we had to complete a Power of Attorney appointing our attorney in Guatemala to act on our behalf. He will be completing all of the legal steps for us in Guatemala.
- DNA Authorization: One unique aspect of Guatemalan adoptions is DNA testing of the birth mother and child. This test confirms that the child placed for adoption is the biological child of the woman placing him for adoption. After reviewing our file, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala grants authorization for our attorney to schedule the DNA test. This can take 2-8 weeks. We received DNA authorization June 20th!!
- DNA testing: Our attorney schedules the DNA test to be completed with the birth mother and Eli. The birth mother and Eli must be present together for the test. This is actually a very critical step for 2 reasons: The DNA must match for the adoption to continue and, if the birth mother is going to change her mind, this is usually when it happens. It is very rare for either of these things to happen, but it does happen sometimes. The DNA test can be scheduled fairly quickly or it take a couple of months.
- Family Court: Once our dossier is translated and certified by the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Guatemala, we are submitted to Family Court. A social worker is then assigned to interview the birth mother and see the foster mother and Eli. The social worker writes a report with a recommendation approving or denying the adoption. The Family Court judge then signs off. Average time line is 6-12 weeks.
- Pre-Approval: Once we receive DNA results, the U.S. Embassy reviews our case and approves the adoption. The Guatemalan government must have this approval before continuing with the case. Average time line is 6-8 weeks.
- PGN: Once we have approval from Family Court and the U.S. Embassy, our case is submitted to PGN, which is the equivalent to the U.S. Attorney Generals office. Our case is randomly assigned to a PGN reviewer who verifies that our file fulfills all aspects of Guatemalan law. This is the legal review of all of our documents. More often than not, the reviewer will request corrections to documents and they have complete power to require changes. In rare instances, some cases are approved within 2 weeks, but most cases take 2-3 months.
- Final Adoption Decree: Once PGN approves our case, the birth mother must sign the final adoption decree. Once she signs, Eli is legally our child. *It is very important to note that the birth mother can change her mind at any time during the process up to this point, though this is very rare.
- New Birth Certificate: A new birth certificate is issued in our names. Eli's last name will be changed on this birth certificate, but not his first name. We will have make that change when he comes home. This process takes 1-4 weeks.
- PINK!!: The U.S Embassy reviews our case one final time and issues Eli's visa packet. This is referred to as "pink" because of the color of the cover sheet. This take 2-5 days.
- Embassy Appointment: Once we receive pink, we are scheduled for our embassy appointment in Guatemala and we travel for our pick-up trip.
- Home forever!!!
Clear as mud?? As you can see, we have a long road ahead of us!