Iowa adoption laws explained in light of "Baby Gabriel" death - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa adoption laws explained in light of "Baby Gabriel" death

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WATERLOO (KWWL) - For most of his short life, Gabriel McFarland knew Heidi and Rachel McFarland of Ankeny as his parents.

The adoption attorney for the case, Jason Rieper of Des Moines, told KWWL that Gabriel's birth certificate had the McFarland's last name on it because they were present during his birth, and the birth mother allowed them to name him.

The McFarlands were in the process of adopting Gabriel, who was born in December, when his 16-year-old birth mother changed her mind and got him back.

"We fought as much as we could," the said.

According to authorities, Gabriel died in a Des Moines apartment complex Tuesday night while his 17-year-old birth father was supposed to be taking care of him.

The situation has many people questioning how Gabriel's birth mother could even get her son back.

But Attorney Tim Luce of Waterloo, who finalizes dozens of adoptions every year, said adoption laws are complex.

"There's always that risk involved where a birth parent's going to change their mind," he said.

Luce didn't know the details of Gabriel's adoption, but as an adoption attorney, he has seen failed placements happen for various reasons.

"There's always the potential down the road that somebody could step in and we let our adoptive couples know that there's always risk involved in that," he said.

"We've got to make sure -- as sure as we can -- that everything's done properly so that doesn't happen," said Luce.

State law allows for a birth parent to sign what's called a "Release of Custody" as early as 72 hours after a birth.

From there, birth parents have 96 hours to change their minds for any reason.

But if, after those 96 hours, a birth parent changes his or her mind, the birth parent is required to show "good cause."

According to Luce, this means a birth parent must prove he or she was coerced or forced to sign the release of custody, that an attorney advised him or her incorrectly, or that he or she was promised something illegal.

Additionally, according to Iowa law, the adoptive parents are still considered guardians for at least six months until an adoption can be finalized.

If it's done so that everybody's got full knowledge then I don't think there are as many complications as there can be. The cases that come up and are complicated is when it hasn't been done right along the way," said Luce.

Rieper said Gabriel's birth parents did not sign a release of custody, and that the termination of parental rights was scheduled to be finalized on March 24th.

Gabriel's death is still be investigated, but his 17-year-old birth father has been charged with neglect.
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