Adopting Civil Damages: Wrongful Family Separation in Adoption

56 Pages Posted: 24 Aug 2018 Last revised: 12 Sep 2018

Date Written: August 18, 2018


Summer 2018 has been rocked by the Trump Administration’s new immigration policy of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border. Yet family separation is the prerequisite to every legal adoption. The circumstances are different, of course; in legal adoption, the biological parents have been provided with all the constitutional protections required in involuntary termination of parental rights, or they have voluntarily consented to family separation. But what happens when that family separation is wrongful, when the birth mother’s consent is not voluntary or when the birth father’s wishes to parent are ignored? In theory, the child can be returned to the birth parents when consent is invalid because of fraud, coercion or deceit. In actuality, courts are very reluctant to undo an adoption. How, then, to deter adoption agencies and workers from wrongfully separating birth parents and their children? Adoption agencies are not just social welfare institutions, but also businesses motivated by money. Lawsuits, as a cost of doing business, can affect their bottom line. The adoption industry has been responsive in the past to lawsuits from adoptive parents seeking money damages, which suggests that lawsuits from birth parents that affect the bottom line could incentivize better behavior from adoption agencies. This article explores possible tort causes of action available to birth parents, including a proposed new tort of wrongful family separation, with the long-term objective of changing adoption agency behavior, potentially transforming adoption practice.

Keywords: adoption, family law, torts

JEL Classification: K13, K36

Suggested Citation

Seymore, Malinda L., Adopting Civil Damages: Wrongful Family Separation in Adoption (August 18, 2018). Washington and Lee Law Review, Forthcoming; Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 18-35. Available at SSRN:

Malinda L. Seymore (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
United States

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