Recently in Adoption Category

Attorney Michele Jackson and Congresswoman Susan Brooks at NCFA Advocacy Day

November 27, 2015

MJ NCFA Advocacy Day.jpgAs National Adoption Month wraps up, we wanted to share a photo of attorney Michele Jackson and Congresswoman Susan Brooks taken this summer at the National Council for Adoption's Advocacy Day. Ms. Jackson spent the day on Capitol Hill meeting with several members of Congress to promote adoption and advocate for the adoption community.

The attorneys of Harden Jackson Law are devoted to servicing clients throughout the Indianapolis area and the state of Indiana in all areas family law, including divorce, custody, child support, property division, paternity, post-divorce modifications, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, simple wills, adoption, surrogacy and other areas of assisted reproductive technology law. For more information, please contact us at 317.569.0770 or

Remember, these blog posts are not meant to be legal advice. You should consult an adoption attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation.

Open vs. Closed Adoptions

November 20, 2015


In honor of National Adoption Month, our November blog posts are focused on adoption. Today's blog explores open vs. closed adoptions. These terms are often thrown around in discussions surrounding adoption. Simply put, they refer to the agreed-upon relationship between the adoptive parents and the birth mother before and after the placement. However, the meanings of these terms are not as definitive as they may seem.

Open adoptions encompass a broad variety of relationships. While many people understand them as continuing a relationship between the child and the birth mother after the child has been adopted (through visits and communication, for example), this is only one example of open adoptions. The common thread in all open adoptions is that some kind of in-person contact exists between the adoptive family and the birth mother, and the parties share identifying information. However, the degree of openness between the parties is different in every adoption. Some families may elect to have regular visits with the birth mother, while others may choose to arrange phone calls during the holidays.

Closed adoptions involve limited contact. Identifying information is not shared between the parties, nor do relationships exist between the parties before and after the placement. Typically, the only information shared in closed adoptions includes medical records. However, in this age of electronic communication and social media, it may be nearly impossible to conceal the other party's identifying information.

While the open vs. closed adoption classifications exist, they are not necessarily legally enforceable. Parties can enter into a post-adoption contact agreement to enforce the terms of their relationship. It is highly recommended to consult with an adoption attorney to determine the parameters of contact between the birth mother and the adoptive family before and after the placement.

Ultimately, it is important for adoptive parents and birth parents to discuss the type of open or closed relationship they desire. Also, keep the best interest of the child in mind when thinking about an open or closed adoption.

The attorneys of Harden Jackson Law are devoted to servicing clients throughout the Indianapolis area and the state of Indiana in all areas family law, including divorce, custody, child support, property division, paternity, post-divorce modifications, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, simple wills, adoption, surrogacy and other areas of assisted reproductive technology law. For more information, please contact us at 317.569.0770 or

Remember, these blog posts are not meant to be legal advice. You should consult an adoption attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation.

photo credit: via photopin (license)

United States Adoption Statistics

October 23, 2015

Intertwined Hearts.jpgNational Adoption Awareness Month (November) is just around the corner. Here are some statistics about adoption in the United States:

• U.S. families adopt approximately 140,000 children each year. Source

• 7 million Americans are adopted. Source

• Over 100 million Americans have experienced adoption in their immediate family. Source

• 4 out of 10 (or 81.5 million) U.S. adults have considered pursuing adoption. Source

• Most American adoptions (59%) occur through foster care. Source

• The average child waits three years in foster care until they are adopted. Source

• 78% of Americans believe the U.S. should be doing more to encourage adoption. Source

Stay tuned to our blog for more information about adoption in our November adoption series (in honor of National Adoption Awareness Month)!

The attorneys of Harden Jackson Law are devoted to servicing clients throughout the Indianapolis area and the state of Indiana in all areas family law, including divorce, custody, child support, property division, paternity, post-divorce modifications, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, simple wills, adoption, surrogacy and other areas of assisted reproductive technology law. For more information, please contact us at 317.569.0770 or

Remember, these blog posts are not meant to be legal advice. You should consult a family law attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation.

photo credit: Hearts via photopin (license)

Foreign Adoptions by Americans Continue to Decline

April 7, 2015

According to the U.S. Department of State's 2014 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption, American adoption of foreign-born children is dramatically declining. The report, released last week, found that the number of foreign-born children adopted by American families has dropped to its lowest level since 1982. Americans adopted 6, 441 foreign-born children in 2014, which constitutes a greater than 9% reduction from the 7, 094 adoptions reported in 2013. The report's findings indicate a 74% decline over the past ten years, when 22,991 foreign-born children were adopted in 2004.

Various adoption agencies surveyed in this Wall Street Journal article attribute the reduced numbers to several factors, including "policies meant to promote domestic adoption and foster care in countries such as Ethiopia; nationalist sentiment against adoption in emerging economies like China and South Korea; and increased U.S. scrutiny of some countries and individual cases." For example, China recently began advocating for domestic adoption and instituting stringent qualifications for foreigners to adopt. Additionally, the U.S. discontinued adoptions in Cambodia and Guatemala due to "evidence of baby selling and document fraud."

Another potential contribution to the steep decline is the improper implementation of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. The United States implemented the Convention in 2008. The Convention ensures that each intercountry adoption aligns with the best interests of the child and protects children from abduction, exploitation, and trafficking. According to the article, some countries, such as Cambodia, signed the Convention prior to creating procedures enabling their compliance.

Adoption advocacy organizations such as the National Council for Adoption ("NCFA") note that despite the plummeting numbers, American interest in pursuing intercountry adoption has not decreased. In response to the Annual Report, the NCFA proposes that the U.S. create a new office to serve as the nation's Central Authority (as mandated by the Convention). The NCFA contends that the present Central Authority, the Office of Children's Issues in Consular Affairs, serves merely a regulatory role. The proposed new office would focus not only on maintaining ethical procedures, but would also place an emphasis on advocacy. According to the NCFA, this includes partnering with and supporting willing countries in upholding their children's best interests in the realm of intercountry adoptions.

The attorneys of Harden Jackson Law are devoted to servicing clients throughout the Indianapolis area and the state of Indiana in all areas family law, including divorce, custody, child support, property division, paternity, post-divorce modifications, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, simple wills, adoption, surrogacy and other areas of assisted reproductive technology law. For more information, please contact us at 317.569.0770 or

Remember, these blog posts are not meant to be legal advice. You should consult a family law attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation.

Photo credit:

Indiana's Third Information & Awareness Adoption Fair

November 18, 2014

Attorney Michele Jackson, who serves on the Governor's Adoption Committee, is among other Adoption professionals, adoptive parents and adoptees who attended Indiana's Third Information and Awareness Adoption Fair. The fair provided education and celebration for adoption.

Here is Michele's son, Thaxton, with Governor Pence.
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Here are more moments from the Fair:

Third Adoption Fair Pence 2014 .pdf

Attorney Michele Jackson testifies for Indiana Adoption Tax Credit

January 16, 2014

Thumbnail image for Africa orphanage trip.jpgYesterday attorney Michele Jackson was asked to give testimony in front of the Indiana legislature in support of Governor Pence's bill on the adoption tax credit. The bill was approved by the The Family, Children and Human Affairs Committee. Governor Pence has stated that his goal would be to make Indiana the nation's "most pro-adoption state."

This is part of a continued effort from Ms. Jackson to advocate for Indiana laws to benefit adopted children and their families. Prior to this testimony, Ms. Jackson met with representatives from the Governor's office and other Indiana legislature representatives to educate and promote favorable laws in Indiana for adoption. The federal government offers a tax credit for adoptive parents. The bill would allow any Indiana adoptive parents eligible for the federal tax credit to be eligible for the proposed state credit. The bill also would establish a committee to study other states' adoption programs to improve Indiana policy, including streamlining the process.

Ms. Jackson is well regarded for her work in international adoptions. She has dedicated her profession and personal philanthropy to the adoption and care of orphans worldwide, while assisting couples and individuals to realize their dreams of becoming parents. For a link to the article about the bill, click here.

Orphan Visa Denials or Revocations - What you need to know about the Universal Accreditation Act

January 13, 2014

quoteblock_clinton.jpgThe Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA) goes into effect on July 14, 2014. As of that date, all agencies or persons that provide adoption services in support of the two forms listed below must be accredited or approved, or be a supervised or exempted provider, in compliance with the Intercountry Adoption Act and accreditation regulations. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), adoptive parents who are not working with an accredited or approved adoption provider and filed Form I-600A or Form I-600 (Application for Orphan Visa) on or after July 13, 2013, may be denied an orphan visa. An Adoptive parent that has filed the appropriate adoption application to the appropriate foreign authority for adoptions prior to July 13, 2013 may also be grandfathered into old regulations and USCIS may not require them to use an agency/provider under the UAA.
This means that many parents may be given a Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) or a Notice of Intent to Revoke (NOIR) if they attempted an independent international adoption or used as their placing agency an organization or agency that was not approved/accredited per the UAA unless they filed the above forms/document prior to July 13, 2013. If you receive a NOID or NOIR, it can be a serious complication in your adoption process and may prevent you from completing the international adoption process. The Orphan Visa enables a child adopted from a foreign country to enter the United States. Without the Orphan Visa it may be impossible for the child to legally enter the United States. Our team can assist you with your Rebuttal of a NOID or Appeal of Denial with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Our legal team may also be able to explore other immigration options with you as well.

Denials & Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) Orphan Visa
If an I600A/I600/I800A/I800 is not approvable, it will be denied. If denial is based on information not previously known by parents, USCIS must issue a Notice of Intent to Deny the orphan visa, prior to a final denial. USCIS may issue a final denial if appropriate and at their discretion based upon the findings of their Orphan Visa investigation (I-604 Investigation).

Why would USCIS issue parent(s) a NOID notification or denial?
This letter would be issued if adoptive parents are not working with an accredited or approved adoption provider and filed Form I-600A or Form I-600 (Application for Orphan Visa) on or after July 13, 2013. The parent may also be able to move forward if they filed these forms after this date but filed an appropriate adoption application with the foreign authority responsible for international adoptions. The exact parameters of appropriate application and proper foreign authority may leave room for interpretation and discretion. Beyond not meeting these deadlines a NOID or NOIR can also so be issued upon a suspicion of fraud, undue influence, duress, or ineligibility of child to be adopted internationally.

What is a NOID?
This is a response from USCIS to your 1600/I800 Petition to Classify Orphan as Immediate Relative, which will provide you with Orphan Visa (IR3 or IR4). The purpose is to notify parents of intent to deny an orphan visa for your child. Prior to a NOID you may also receive a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) in an effort for the parents to have time to provide additional information to USCIS regarding their adoption process or child's eligibility.
The NOID/NOIR/RFE will state the reasons for issuance.

What to do if you receive a NOID letter?
Contact an attorney who has experience with these matter immediately as parents and their attorney have thirty (30) days to respond with a rebuttal of reasons stated. Attorney Michele Jackson at Harden Jackson Law has experience dealing with these matters. Please note that an immigration attorney or adoption attorney may not automatically be experienced in this area. The rebuttal or appeal that is drafted by you or on your behalf may not be successful. Also remember that you may be given a specified time in which you can respond and any answer post deadline may not be accepted.

What to do if you receive a Final Denial of the orphan visa?
Again, time is of the essence. Contact an experience attorney immediately, as parents may appeal denials if "appealable."

Attorney Michele Jackson interviewed regarding Congo Adoptions

January 10, 2014

Thumbnail image for MLJ WEB2.jpgAttorney Michele Jackson was interviewed by the Associated Press about the desperate situation for the children and adoptive parents in the Congo. The article appeared in many national publications, including the Huffington Post. To link to the article, click here. Otherwise, the text is below.

"Justin Carroll is the proud dad of a 6-week-old daughter in Tennessee, but thus far he's done his doting via Facetime video phone calls from Africa. Since mid-November, Carroll has been living in Congo, unwilling to leave until he gets exit papers allowing two newly adopted sons to travel with him.
Carroll and his wife, Alana, are among scores of U.S. couples caught up in wrenching uncertainty, as a suspension of all foreign adoptions imposed by Congolese authorities has temporarily derailed their efforts to adopt.
While most of the families are awaiting a resolution from their homes in the U.S., Justin Carroll and a few other parents whose adoptions had been approved have actually taken custody of their adopted children in Kinshasa, Congo's capital. However, they say that promised exit papers for the children are now being withheld pending further case-by-case reviews, and the parents don't want to leave Kinshasa without them.
"Justin is not going to leave the boys," Alana Carroll said from the family's home in Jefferson City, Tenn., where she's been caring for biological daughter Carson since her birth on Nov. 25. Justin Carroll was not present for Carson's birth; he left for Africa almost a week earlier.
"In a dire situation, we would just move there," said Alana, referring to Congo. "Leaving our sons there is not an option."
According to UNICEF estimates, Congo -- long plagued by poverty and conflict -- is home to more than 800,000 children who've lost both parents, in many cases because of AIDS.
Until the suspension was announced in September, Congo had been viewed by adoption advocates in the U.S. as a promising option at a time when the overall number of international adoptions has been plummeting. Congo accounted for the sixth highest number of adoptions by Americans in 2012 -- 240 children, up from 41 in 2010 and 133 in 2011.
There are varied explanations for the suspension -- explanations which reflect how international adoption has become a highly divisive topic.
The U.S. State Department, in its latest Congo advisory, says all applications for exit permits for adopted children are facing increased scrutiny because of concerns over suspected falsification of documents. Congolese authorities earlier attributed the suspension to concerns that some children had been abused or abandoned by their adoptive parents or have been "sold to homosexuals."
"The government wants to get a handle on this matter, because there is a lot of criminality around it," Interior Minister Richard Muyej Mangez told The Associated Press last month.
The State Department has said it is trying to get accurate information with the hope of enabling some of the families -- such as the Carrolls -- to take home children whose adoptions had been approved prior to the Sept. 25 suspension. However, it has warned waiting parents that there could be significant delays.
American diplomats in Kinshasa have met with the waiting families and with Congolese officials to discuss the suspension, but Alana Carroll said the families wished the U.S. Embassy staff would press harder to get the cases moving.
"The ambassador said they didn't want to ruffle any feathers," Carroll said.
The Carrolls and four other families have dubbed themselves the "Stuck In Congo Five" and created a Facebook page to draw attention to their plight. Alana and two of the other mothers also have been communicating through their blogs.
One of them, Erin Wallace of Annapolis, Md., has been in Congo since October, awaiting exit papers that would enable her to bring newly adopted daughter Lainey home to her husband and their two other children.
She has urged readers of her blog to contact their congressional delegations on behalf of the five families.
"We are desperate to return home with our children," she wrote. "We have been stuck for too long."
Katie Harshman, another of the bloggers, also has been in Kinshasa since October. Her husband, Eric, a groundskeeper with the University of Kentucky athletics department, joined her for the first seven weeks before returning to work.
"There is no reason why we should still be here," Katie Harshman wrote in a recent post. "We have gotten caught in the middle of some kind of craziness."
The Harshmans, Wallaces and Carrolls have been working with Africa Adoption Services, a Louisville, Ky., agency founded by Danielle Anderson, a former consular staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa.
The spouses who are waiting in Kinshasa, along with their adopted children, are staying together in a guest house. Anderson has advised the Americans to be cautious about venturing out with the children, saying many Congolese people are suspicious about international adoptions.
Anderson said it's difficult to pinpoint why authorities there suspended adoptions.
"It's financial, it's political, it's because of severe homophobia," she said. "But in the end, kids are getting stuck and families are not being united."
In the past two years, Africa Adoption Services has helped dozens of families complete adoptions from Congo, generally for a cost of about $27,000, excluding travel.
Among the successful couples were Emily and Mike Mauntel of Atlanta, whose 2-year-old son, Moses, came home in October. The couple also have a 4-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter.
"My heart is breaking for these five families stuck in the Congo and for the many more families waiting to bring their children home," Emily Mauntel wrote in an email. "I was in the Congo for almost four months trying to bring our son home and it was by far the most difficult time in my life."
Among the U.S. agencies active in Congo is MLJ Adoptions, founded by Indianapolis attorney Michele Jackson, who has two sons adopted from the Congo.
Even before the suspension, Jackson said, the international adoption process in Congo could be slow, with U.S. authorities often taking six months or more to verify that children were not part of any trafficking or baby-selling scheme. In at least recent three cases, Jackson said, children died of disease during the vetting process.
Alana Carroll said one of her two new sons, Canaan, was sickly and introverted when her husband began caring for him, and is now thriving. But the long separation has taken an emotional toll.
"It was like a dream come true and now it's like nightmare I can't wake up from," she said."

Facebook Leads Adopted Indiana Woman to Biological Family in 36 Hours

November 15, 2013

23962308_BG1.jpgThe process of finding biological family can be very difficult for adopted individuals. Thanks to technology, this process has become a little easier for some. An Indiana woman used Facebook to find her biological family. She posted a plea that included her birth information and in less than 2 days found members of her biological family. Read the full story from ABC News.

It all started with a simple Facebook post: "My name is Elizabeth Boys aka Betsy. I was born at St. Francis Hospital in Beech Grove, IN on May 29th, 1984. I am searching for my biological mother."

Thirty-six hours later, Boys had Facebook messages from her biological brother, a cousin and an aunt. She was stunned.

Boys, 29, is the mother of a 2-year-old and lives in Indianapolis. She owns a housecleaning service called Maid in Indy.

"I've always known that I was adopted," Boys told "That was never, ever a secret."

She was adopted when she was a day old by loving parents who were high school sweethearts whose first date was a Beatles concert. They have been married for 42 years.

Boys' sister, who is two years older, was also adopted at a few days old and successfully tracked down her birth family two years ago.

"It inspired me," Boys said. "I've always wanted to find her [biological mother], but I had an awesome childhood so I was a little hesitant. I didn't want to juggle things up. There was a little part of me that was scared of the result."

When Boys recently saw a story similar to hers on a national news show, she found herself crying and knew it was time.

"All of a sudden [I realized], I'm going to use Facebook. I guarantee I can find her through Facebook," she said.

Her parents were fully supportive and her dad even told her he'd want to do the same thing if he were adopted.

Woman's Facebook Plea Finds Brother She's Missed Since Childhood

Then she got a clue from her mother that proved to be key to the search. The adoption was closed on both sides, but her mother had seen Boys' biological mother's last name on a form where it wasn't entirely whited out. It was Woods.

Boys created a Facebook page called, "Betsy's biological Journey" and kept her bio simple with her name, birth date and the hospital where she was born. She invited all her friends to see and share the page.

"Before I knew it, I had 300 likes on the page and people posting left and right, saying good luck and we're here for you," Boys said. "I was like, 'Wow, this could really happen.'"

The next day, she was receiving messages from across the country and around the world. The page now has nearly 6,000 likes and Boys hopes to continue using it to help others find their families.

Boys posted her information on Facebook at 2 p.m. last Wednesday and by Friday at 2 a.m., she had messages from her biological brother, a cousin and an aunt.

"I found her within 36 hours," she said of her biological mother. She soon found out that she has a large family. Her biological mother is the youngest of six.

Boys told her brother to call her right away and when he did they confirmed that they had found each other. They talked for two hours on the phone and agreed to meet.

By Sunday, she was standing outside a door waiting to meet her brother, Toby Hardy.

"I can't even explain it. I wasn't nervous at all. I was just so excited," she said. "When he opened the door, I just froze not because I was nervous, but because I was like, 'Lord, this is really real.' It was like I was looking at myself because he looks just like me."

Hardy grew up as an only child raised by his father and step-mother. He had intermittent contact with their birth mother throughout his life.

"I had no idea," Hardy said of his sibling. "Nobody had ever told me anything. I was excited because I always wanted a little sister."

He was just as amazed as Boys when he saw her for the first time.

Video below from local news station, WTHR:

13 WTHR Indianapolis

Indiana Court of Appeals rules in same-sex custody dispute

November 7, 2013

Thumbnail image for heart break.jpgThe Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's decision not to enforce an agreement between Mother and her Partner, who did not give birth to Child, that Partner would be Child's custodial parent.

During the course of their same-sex domestic partnership, N.J. (Mother) and A.C. (Partner) decided to have a child together. Mother was artificially inseminated with donor semen and gave birth to C.J. (Child), and for a time, Mother, Partner, and Child functioned as a family unit. After Child's birth, Mother, Partner, and Child lived together as a family unit for over two years, with the exception of an approximately two-month period shortly after Child's birth when Partner moved out due to difficulties in her relationship with Mother. During the time they all lived together, Mother was Child's primary caregiver and did not consistently work outside the home. Partner worked and provided financial support for the family for the majority of this time.

When Child was two years old, Mother and Partner ended their relationship. Thereafter, Partner exercised regular visitation with Child for several months, until Mother stopped all contact between Partner and Child. Partner then filed a petition seeking joint custody and visitation, which the trial court denied. After Child's birth, Mother, Partner, and Child lived together as a family unit for over two years, with the exception of an approximately two-month period shortly after Child's birth when Partner moved out due to difficulties in her relationship with Mother. During the time they all lived together, Mother was Child's primary caregiver and did not consistently work outside the home. Partner worked and provided financial support for the family for the majority of this time.

This ruling has little to do with Indiana court's stance on same-sex marriage, but demonstrates the necessity for same-sex couples to proceed with a second-parent adoption in these types of situations. Had the Partner adopted the child at birth, the Partner would have had the same standing with the court as the biological Mother. A second parent adoption in these situations can also provide many benefits:

  • Second parent adoption allows the child to have two legal guardians.

  • The child's right to maintain a continuing relationship with both parents is reserved.

  • It protects both parents by giving each a legally recognized parental status

It also should be noted that the Indiana Court of Appeals again pleads for the General Assembly to provide legislative guidance in the area of same-sex parenting issues.


September 24, 2013

CARMEL, IN - September 24, 2013 -. Attorney Michele Jackson, who chairs the Harden Jackson Law's Adoption and Reproductive Law Practice Group, was selected as a finalist for the 10th annual Indy's Best and Brightest award ceremony created by Junior Achievement. The event will honor 100 of central Indiana's most outstanding young professionals, age 40 and under, in 10 different industries.

The Best and Brightest event was created by Junior Achievement to recognize up and coming talent and the next generation of leaders in our community. Finalists in each category are judged on professional accomplishments, civic contributions, character and leadership qualities. The finalists to be honored at the event are listed below, as well as the website,

Michele Jackson chairs the firm's Adoption and Reproductive Law Practice Group and focuses her practice in domestic and international adoptions as well as reproductive law matters. Jackson is also the founding Executive Director of MLJ Adoptions, Inc.
In addition to her professional contributions, Jackson also founded the Global Orphan Foundation (formerly the Fatherless Foundation), a not-for-profit organization which raises funds and provides supplies to orphanages world-wide.

Harden Jackson, LLC is a Carmel law firm providing personalized service with a responsive and compassionate approach. As effective and experienced litigators, the attorneys work with clients to develop strategies for negotiating settlements, while always preparing for litigation if necessary. The practice assists clients in all areas of family law, adoption and reproductive law matters.

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Attorney Michele Jackson recognized in local business newspaper for adoption

September 24, 2013

MLJ WEB2.jpgAttorney Michele Jackson was profiled in this week's Indianapolis Business Journal. Below is the text from the article. We are so proud of Michele and the work she does to advocate for orphans around the world.

"Michele Jackson marched into an internship in 1999 hoping to deliver a swift blow to international injustices against women and children.

The 24-year-old Indiana University law student didn't realize how unpleasant the topics would be.

Her assignment at Canadian not-for-profit Human Rights Internet was to pour over legal documents and data relating to the sex trade. A lot of it involved children.

The key question she looked at was, "Why did these kids get into this situation?"

"I would have to research the whole story of a child and how they were exploited," said Jackson, now 38. "A lot of times it was because they didn't have any family. They were kids on the street, kids in orphanages, or they were in families that couldn't afford them and so they would be sold."

She concluded adoption was one of the best solutions. Kids with parents had better odds of growing into stable adults and avoiding the hardships she spent her time learning about.

That's why Jackson, a family law attorney from Indianapolis, founded MLJ Adoptions Inc. in 2008. The 52-employee agency, which operates out of a red-brick former schoolhouse in the Mass Ave neighborhood, has orchestrated about 400 adoptions in Congo, Samoa, Bulgaria, Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua, Ukraine and Honduras.

The children were among more than 132 million estimated by UNICEF to need families. Burkina Faso in West Africa will likely be the next new office.

"I always said I would do about 40 clients a year. We just counted the other day and we have over 500," Jackson said.

"I told myself I never wanted something this big," she later said, "but I think once you get into something and you're passionate about something ... once you get into it, it becomes something you never planned."

Jackson's interest in international affairs goes back to when she was 5 and her mother began going on mission trips.

One of two children growing up, her mother would take her to do local charity work, like clearing brush and painting cabins at a camp for children with disabilities.

That, she believes, ignited her interest in social causes. The route she picked for her career was a degree in international law from IU, which she earned in 2000.

She began working in adoption that year when she took a job as an attorney at family law firm McClure McClure Davis & Henn.

In her first year at the firm, she helped all three families that adopted children from the Ukraine navigate red tape. But the international adoption climate was changing, which meant Jackson saw a need to change how she worked.

The Hague Adoption Convention, an 88-country pact on adoption standards, tightened regulations on U.S. adoptions in 2008. Among the many provisions, member countries needed to set up central adoption authorities--the Department of the State took over here--to certify adoption service providers and monitor them.

The best way to comply with the stricter regulations was to stop handling adoptions independently and set up an accredited adoption agency, Jackson decided.

National spotlight

Jackson's work has brought a national spotlight to MLJ.

The National Council for Adoption and the Joint Council on International Children's Services both featured her as a speaker earlier this year at conferences in Orlando and New York. And the Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute named her an Angel in Adoption last year.

Jackson splits her time between MLJ--a for-profit enterprise from which she does not collect a salary--and Harden Jackson Law in Carmel, where she typically spends two days per week.

She juggles the two jobs with a separate not-for-profit she runs on the side, the Global Orphan Foundation. The group provides grants to adopting families and food to orphans in the Congo.

"Even knowing her as a teenager, most of us were relaxing on the weekends and watching TV or whatever teenagers do. Michele was working with her family," said Leah Potter, a longtime friend and employee at Jackson's law firm.

"She works very hard, but I think it's because she's chosen a career that is part of her passion and it fits in with her family life," Potter said. "It fits in with what she's about."

Jackson and her husband, WellPoint Inc. Chief Financial Officer Wayne DeVeydt, raise six kids ages 2 to 17. Two sons are adopted from the Congo, a daughter is from Nicaragua, and three stepdaughters are from her husband's previous marriage.

She described her schedule with two and a half words, a gritted smirk and a laugh: "It's fun."

Congo in her heart

Managing eight offices and additional employees scattered around the globe has meant a lot of travel for Jackson. Flying to a foreign country once a month became typical after she started MLJ.

As she spoke of her time in Haiti, Honduras and Bulgaria, she most lit up at mention of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

MLJ has been in the central African nation since the agency's onset.

The country is poor and war-torn, making it one of the hardest places to operate.

"I caution myself to say some of those things because I love the country so much," she said, "but the reality is there's some struggles there. It's one of the poorest countries in the world."

An estimated 5 million children in the country need families.

It was through her work at MLJ that she found her sons in the Congo. The agency handled everything, except the home study because of potential bias.

"It's hard to turn back around and not do it," she said. "It's hard to look away."

Diplomatic duties

Jackson had always envisioned starting a family by adopting children, even before she met her husband.

Following through on her dream altered her perspective on the process.

"You can understand the emotion and the unknowns" without adopting, she said. "But now you've experienced it."

Working in countries like the Congo creates a lot of obstacles and heartbreaks, she admitted.

Social and political complications are always a risk--like when rebels took control of part of eastern Congo last year and Jackson had to halt adoptions from that part of the country because children could not leave.

"You just pull all that together and all these people and different languages and different culture, and all of a sudden you have this creation that's hard to understand, hard to implement and hard to always predict and there are no guarantees," she said.

Parents wanting children of certain ages, especially infants, face long waiting lists, as do those seeking children from certain countries. That's why MLJ is not in China.

Adopting in the U.S. or foster care can be better options, Jackson said.

"I think I'm the bearer of bad news sometimes," she said. "What I will say to people is, if this is what you want to do, let me see what the right fit is for your family because there are children out there who need families."

Education matters

MLJ requires parents to take classes before adopting to make sure they're prepared to take in a child from another country. Curriculum ranges from family bonding to skin and hair care for the children.

Sympathy would occasionally get the best of Jackson. She would see prospective parents endure a years-long process that costs $20,000 to $40,000 and then often cut them slack when it came to attending their classes.

She admits that was a mistake.

"There were things that I would do that maybe I wouldn't draw such a hard line about. They could not go to their education class, and I would let them slide. I learned that I need to enforce that."

One couple who adopted through Jackson feel the classes are invaluable.

Without the classes, Holly Harrold said she and her husband, Doug, wouldn't have understood their children's cultures and what it takes to raise them.

The Frankton couple adopted a son from the U.S., a daughter from Guatemala and another daughter from the Congo, so they had to learn about the countries before bringing the children home. That included writing an essay on the Congo.

"All of our children know their birth story from the very beginning," Harrold said."

Article courtesy of Indianapolis Business Journal.

Contested Adoptions

September 19, 2013

sad boy.jpgAny parent, whether birth mother, intended parent, step-parent or otherwise, who has considered adoption must understand the risks. There are certain circumstances in which an adoption is not successful. In domestic adoptions, the birth mother and birth father have numerous rights that vary based upon the specific situation. It is important that all parties involved in an adoption understand the process and work with experienced professionals to assist. However, there are some situations that cannot be remedied and an adoption is contested.

Under Indiana law, birth parents are almost always required to give consent to the adoption of their child. A contested adoption can occur under a number of circumstances - when a birth parent contests the validity of consent documentation, alleges that consent was obtained under fraud or duress, or a birth father contends that he was never informed of the child's birth (and not given the opportunity to retain or terminate his parental rights). In Indiana, this withdrawal of consent must occur within thirty days of the consent being signed; there may not be withdrawal of consent after an adoption decree.

In the event of a contested adoption, adoptive parents may argue that the adoption should continue, even in the absence of consent by one or both birth parents. Usually, these arguments offer grounds that the birth parents: abandoned the child, failed to communicate with the child, failed to support the child, or are generally unfit to be parents. The overarching theme of all of these arguments is that the adoption is in the best interests of the child.

No matter what type of contested adoption you are involved in, the attorneys at Harden Jackson Law can help. You could be a biological father opposing the proposed stepparent adoption of your child, a would-be adoptive mother or father, or a grandparent seeking guardianship or to assert rights to custody or visitation. Understand your rights and most importantly understand what is the best for the child.

photo credit: kellynphillong via photopin cc

Top 10 Initial questions when considering adoption

August 6, 2013

boys.jpgAttorney Michele Jackson, who chairs the Adoption and Assisted Reproductive Technology divisions at Harden Jackson Law, lists the Top 10 quesions you need to ask when considering adoption.

  1. Was adoption a 2nd choice for your family building? If so, how are you mentally changing your prospective so that your adopted child does not feel 2nd choice. Is Adoption right for you?

  2. Do you need an adoption attorney or adoption agency? Yes, in most states a Court requires an adoption professional to be involved in a legal adoption process. For most international adoptions, the country or your state requires an international adoption agency.

  3. Can you choose the age and/or gender? Sometimes! In domestic adoption and international adoptions you can often provide an age preference (usually at least a range) for your child. In domestic adoption you often cannot choose the gender of your child but you can in an international adoption.

  4. Do you pursue domestic infant adoption, foster-to-adopt or international adoption? All have different risks, costs and challenges.

  5. Can you afford an adoption? There are various ways you can afford an adoption: sacrificial savings (you discontinue cable, movies, going out to eat), adoption grants, employer benefits, adoption tax credit and fundraising.

  6. How will your spouse, children or other family members feel about adoption? How do their feelings affect your family and the child you hope to adopt?

  7. Are you willing to adopt a child of a different ethnicity? If so, how will you be able to make this child feel welcome and loved in a family of a different ethnicity? How can you celebrate their uniqueness and heritage without embarrassing them?

  8. What responsibilities do you have in the adoption process? In general: Paperwork, home study, Court appearances, and adoption education classes.

  9. Will my adopted child love me? From personal experience, yes! I have seen hundreds of adoption journeys and I have experienced it in my own family. While your child may have questions and curiosity about their birth family, if you are a loving and good parent - just as with biological children, your adopted child will love you. Be sure to remember that curiosity and wanting to know about their biological family does not mean they don't love you.

  10. How do you get started in the adoption process? Research adoption options, choose the best option for your family and choose the best adoption professional for you.
  11. Harden Jackson Law routinely assists clients in a number of domestic and international adoption matters. We also handle step-parent and relative (i.e. grandparent) adoptions. Contact one of our Indiana adoption attorneys if you have questions about adoption.

Photo Friday and supporting Congo adoptions

July 19, 2013

Attorney Michele Jackson is photographed on one of her trips to an orphanage in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

congo adopt.jpg

Please join and support the Facebook group, Hope for DRC Adoptions. This group exists to raise awareness, discuss the issues, and work together to advocate for the best interests of the children and promoting ethical adoptions in DRC. There is concern about current events impacting adoption in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the future hopes for a family of the millions of orphans in DRC. There are millions of orphans in Congo and international adoption gives some of them hope for a family. We cannot take away their fundamental right to have a family. Advocate for orphans and children's rights!