Not so fast, President Trump: Russian adoptions fraught with horrors

Thanks to the media’s nonstop reporting of all things Russia, we have a glimpse into items on President Donald Trump’s to-do list — including one goal that should be forgotten.

That would be to persuade Russia to resume Russian adoptions by American citizens, which Trump says he discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the recent G-20 summit. Donald Trump, Jr., claimed he discussed the issue as well during his infamous June 2016 campaign meeting with a Russian lawyer, which is now part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

Whether the two men really discussed Russian adoptions is anybody’s guess, but the fact that they both mentioned it frames the topic as a priority. It doesn’t need to be. We have a host of more pressing problems.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but truth is the ultimate defense: As an attorney who has been involved in difficult adoptions for 17 years, I can tell you that the stereotypical brisk and simple adoption of a white Russian child is a myth. For many families, the experience has been a nightmare.

Putin banned adoptions in 2012 as retaliation after the U.S. sanctions over the mysterious death of imprisoned Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblower against corruption. The Magnitsky Act allowed the U.S. to freeze assets of Russian officials engaged in human rights violations.

In the year before the ban, Americans adopted nearly 1,000 Russian children, according to the U.S. State Department. A 2017 Harris Poll revealed that, as of 2015, 112,000 children were in U.S. foster homes waiting for permanent homes. Parents presumably go to Russia to get a Caucasian child, but there are plenty of white children here in foster care.

The U.N.’s official stance is that international adoption should be a measure of last resort after it is established that the country of origin can’t care for the child.

I have taken innumerable phone calls from couples desperate for a Russian baby — as well as couples who went through the Russian adoption process and were scammed and needed help. Once they’ve signed the paperwork and “bought” the child, there is nothing I can do.

The biggest problem is that parents may not be allowed to see their child in person or by photo before the adoption is complete. Orphanages exploit this by sometimes substituting a different child for the one the parents agreed to. Others have been strung along for years, enduring numerous trips to Russia only to receive a child that is traumatized by culture shock or the product of a drug-addicted mother. Still, others become victims of extortion as they find the payment amount or terms of the contracts have changed.

I recall one case where a couple was delivered a severely disabled child in a wheelchair. This wasn’t what the couple agreed upon, but the orphanage would not take the child back, leaving the couple to a lifetime of extensive medical and day care bills. A few years ago, a 7-year-old boy was sent unaccompanied from Tennessee to Moscow with a note from his adoptive mother saying she no longer wanted him because he displayed psychological problems.

In America, families can see the child prior to adoption and obtain a medical and family history. And during the past 15 years, about half the states have enacted laws allowing “open adoptions,” in which both parties take each other’s contact information. This can be good on both sides — the child may someday want to contact birth parents or a medical issue may develop where the adoptive parents need information.

American adoptions can take as little as six months or up to three years if the parents want very specific traits and can cost between $1,500 and $15,000.

Russian adoptions take about 18 months and cost more than $40,000, factoring in travel expenses. The country has a huge amount of red tape — prospective parents given one set of guidelines often return to find the rules have changed.

I recently had a California couple searching for a girl between the ages of 12 and 14 with specific traits. Three years and hundreds of phone calls later, we found their daughter in Minnesota and, amazingly, she even looked like the couple. It was perfect.

The Holy Grail is not in Russia. It’s here.

Maya Shulman of Shulman Family Law Group of Calabasas, one of Southern California’s leading family law advocates, handles all aspects of family law including divorce litigation and mediation, finances and property, all in the best interests of the children. The firm also assists with adoptions, assisted reproduction technologies, marital agreements and the family rights of same-sex couples.

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