Finding Knowledgeable Counsel to Assist You During Surrogacy

Victoria Ferrara

8/28/14

The field of surrogacy is largely unregulated and can be difficult to navigate for those who are unfamiliar with it. It is important to find an attorney with a good reputation who has in-depth knowledge of the field to guide you on your path to parenthood. The most important thing is to do your research before selecting your attorney.  Otherwise you could end up like Stephen Melinger.

Mr. Melinger was a single, gay gentleman in his early sixties when he decided to become a parent. He enlisted the help of an attorney in Indiana to facilitate the process. On April 8, 2005, Mr. Melinger's twins were born in Indianapolis to a surrogate mother from South Carolina.

The attorney then filed a petition on behalf of Mr. Melinger, seeking to adopt the twins. In his petition, the attorney represented that Mr. Melinger was born in Indiana, and was an Indiana resident teaching in the state. The attorney informed the court that Mr. Melinger was the sperm donor and biological father of the child. The surrogate mother had also listed Mr. Melinger on the birth certificate as the twins' father. All parties involved expected the adoption to be granted in a routine manner.

However, Mr. Melinger turned out to be a bit of an eccentric man, and had hospital employees concerned about his fitness to be a parent after he showed up to visit the twins in the hospital with a live pet bird in his pocket. The hospital staff contacted Indiana's child welfare agency, which then launched an investigation.

During the pending investigation, Mr. Melinger's attorney filed another motion on his client's behalf, hoping to get the adoption approved. In this motion the attorney alleged that the twins were "hard to place" because they were biracial. In Indiana, courts are especially more willing to grant adoptions of children who are considered "hard to place" and Mr. Melinger's attorney had hoped that this would help to persuade the court to grant Mr. Melinger's adoption of the twins despite the ongoing investigation. 

Shortly thereafter, it came to light that Mr. Melinger's attorney had been gravely dishonest in his representations to the court. Mr. Melinger was not born in Indiana, but was born in New York. At the time the adoption petition was filed he was residing and teaching in New Jersey - his Indiana "residence" turned out to be a hotel room. Mr. Melinger was not in fact the sperm donor and had no biological ties to the children. Additionally, the twins, although carried by an African-American surrogate, were not biologically related to her and were not biracial, meaning that they were also not considered "hard to place" by the court.    

Although misrepresentations such as these easily could have caused Mr. Melinger to lose the twins, the court finally granted the adoption in 2006. However, the Indiana Department of Child Services appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court. Ultimately, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the original adoption was defunct because Mr. Melinger's attorney had neglected to supply certain documentation required under Indiana law.   Despite having hired an attorney and expending significant time and resources, Mr. Melinger was required to repeat the entire adoption process again.

As this case demonstrates, it is of utmost importance to research an attorney before you decide to hire him or her. An attorney's reputation for honesty and morality is important because an attorney's willingness to make misrepresentations on your behalf could cause a court to look unfavorably upon you and could ultimately prevent you from achieving your goals. 

It is equally important to hire an attorney who has knowledge of the field so that your goals may be pursued in accordance with the law. As Mr. Melinger learned the hard way, even the slightest non-compliance can cause a favorable result to be reversed and require that the entire process be started anew. 

            

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