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Jo Piazza
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Celebrity Adoptions: Do Stars Get An Advantage?

Posted: 03/21/2012 11:23 am Updated: 03/21/2012 10:10 pm

Charlize Theron is the latest star to announce a surprise adoption, having revealed last week that she has adopted a baby boy named Jackson. She's in good company, joining such stars as Angelina Jolie, Madonna and Sandra Bullock in the ever-growing list of adoptive Hollywood moms.

Celebrities don't necessarily opt to adopt more often than the rest of the population, although it may seem that way because of the intense media coverage of famous babies.

Because adoption is a private matter, some may question whether stars get special treatment when going through the long, expensive and often arduous adoption process.

"Many adoption agencies claim celebrities do not get special treatment, and celebrities have taken the same stance," said Dorothy Cascerceri, senior editor at In Touch Weekly. "Madonna seemed to fast-track the adoption of her son, David, from Africa, causing critics to slam her, but she insisted that it didn't matter that she was a celebrity or had money -- that she was going through the process the same way as everyone else."

According to David Smolin, a professor at the Cumberland Law School at Samford University and an international adoption expert, non-residents are not allowed to adopt in Malawi, but because of the humanitarian aid Madonna poured into the nation, she was able to skirt some rules when adopting her two children, Mercy James and David Banda.

"For Madonna, being wealthy was maybe more important than being a celebrity because she donated large sums to humanitarian efforts in the country," Smolin said. "To some degree, celebrities can get special treatment based on the amount of money they are donating."

Cascerceri agreed, and she admits celebrities often have an adoption advantage due to their financial status.

"An adoption can cost up to $50,000, so celebrities are in a much better place than the average person because, let's face it, money talks," she said. "This is especially true about overseas adoptions in poor countries. When Angelina [Jolie] was in the process of adopting Pax from Vietnam, she filed the papers as a single parent, and there were reports that her celebrity status is what allowed her to adopt that way, whereas other people would be required to include a mother and a father in the filing."

When discussing celebrity adoptions and the role that fame plays, it's useful to make a distinction between domestic and international adoptions. International adoptions are often a much longer and more complicated process, and as Smolin and Cascerceri noted, celebrities can pay to get priority.

"Cult of Celebrity" author Cooper Lawrence also cites Madonna's adoption of David Banda from Malawi as an example of wealth (but perhaps not celebrity) making things easier.

"If you remember, [Madonna] had trouble adopting David from Malawi until she started throwing cash into it. Most of us can't do that," Lawrence said. "Both Madonna and Angelina Jolie have the multimillions of dollars that are needed in order to improve conditions for children still in those countries, such as funding orphanages directly."

Ann Reese, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Adoption Policy, told The Huffington Post that on average she doesn't believe celebrities receive any special treatment when it comes to adoption.

"We see no evidence that the adoption process is easier for celebrities," Reese said.

Reese explained that there are three main types of adoption -- domestic public agency adoption, domestic private adoption and international adoption -- and there can be slight advantages for affluent and well-known people looking to bring a child into their home.

"In domestic private adoption, birthparents make an adoption plan and choose the parents through an agency or through the use of lawyers," she said. "These are often 'open' adoptions, with some negotiated degree of contact or involvement of birth family in the adoptee's life. In most states, the adoptive parent is allowed to make court-approved payments for some medical and living expenses. It is in this type of adoption that celebrities and other affluent families, by nature of their assumed financial position, may have an advantage in being able to pay for a broader search in order to find a possible match."

At the end of the day, whether they have a leg up or not, Reese believes celebrity adoptions and the media attention they garner are good for the adoption process as a whole.

"We think that successful celebrity adoption is a good thing, because we think that adoption should be a viable method of forming families," she said. "The more positive media coverage there is of families formed through adoption, the better chance that children in need of parents will find them."

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