In the adoption process, many of the people involved have to place a lot of trust in others. Birth parents have to trust that adoptive parents will hold up their end of the contact agreement. Adoptive parents have to trust that the birth family is giving them accurate information about their medical history. And both parties have to trust that the agency or lawyer who is handling their adoption is doing so in a legal and ethical manner. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. So, what can you do, or what should you do, if you find out after the fact that some aspect of your adoption was unethical?

A lot depends on why it was unethical. There are varying degrees of severity in regards to ethics, and varying ways an adoption could be seen as unethical. Unfortunately, in most cases of unethical adoption, the party that suffers most is the birth family. Perhaps they were told things about the adoptive family that weren’t true, perhaps they were lied to about how the law worked in regards to revocation. There are unfortunately unscrupulous adoption professionals out there who see adoption as little more than a business transaction and, for the sake of their own bottom line, do things they shouldn’t to ensure the adoption takes place. 

If you find out your adoption in any way was unethical, depending on which part of the adoption triad you represent, you will need or want to take action differently. For a birth family, it would be best to retain the services of a lawyer who can file a suit to try to overturn the adoption, if that is what they wish. An adoptive family who was involved in an unethical adoption can also retain legal counsel to try to seek monetary damages against the individuals involved who behaved unethically. A lot depends as well on how much time has passed since the adoption occurred, as there are statutes of limitation in regards to bringing this kind of legal action. You can also contact any local, state, or national licensing boards and file a complaint.

How much time has occurred is also important in how the most important part of this equation—the adoptee—should be dealt with. If the adoption took place very recently and the child is an infant, returning him or her to his birth family would have a far different impact than if he were even 2 or 3 years old. While as an adoptive parent I would never want to knowingly adopt a child who had family who wished to parent them, I also think it is important for all parties to take the best interest of the child into account. Regardless of what happens, the individuals who handled the adoption unethically should be dealt with, either through filing a formal complaint that may cause them to lose their licensure or in court. You cannot change the past, and what has happened in your adoption most likely cannot be undone. But, in ensuring that unethical adoption professionals are disciplined appropriately, you can help prevent any future family from having to suffer in the same way yours has.


Julianna Mendelsohn lives in sunny South Florida where, odds are, it is hot enough right now that she’s sweating just a little, no matter what she’s doing. She is the brains, brawn, blood, sweat, and tears behind The Adoption Mentor and is thrilled to be able to help others build their families through adoption. She is a former elementary school teacher, current MS in school counseling student, Sephora junkie, and the momma via domestic adoption to one lovely daughter.