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Podcast Interview with Jill Cucullu


Reed James: Hello listeners. Welcome to another edition of legal translation podcast. Today’s guest is Adoption Attorney, Jill Cucullu. Hello Jill, and welcome to the show.

Jill Cucullu: Thank you, it’s fun to be here.

RJ: All right. First question, tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get into Adoption Law?

JC: So I graduated from law schools from Pepperdine Law School back in the 90s and I initially did legal aid on Skid Row in Los Angeles. When I started having a family, I wanted to transition into something that I could practice from my home as well as in office, and so I and a law partner founded Adoption Law Group, which is so cool, I mean just so – such an awesome opportunity to interact with really great people both adoptive parents and birth moms. I did that for several years and then we actually adopted two kids ourselves, and I felt like I needed to take time off from work just to focus on our growing family. And so now that our six kids are all school-age I'm back into Adoption Law and loving, getting my feet wet in it again.

RJ: Okay. And I noticed that on your site you talk a lot about readoption. What is readoption and why is it important?

JC: Right, so when a family adopts from overseas they’re going to go through that country's legal process to adopt the child, and so it'll be whether it's India or China or Ethiopia or whatever country they are adopting from, it’s going to be that country’s laws that govern the termination of the biological parents’ rights that determine the final decree of adoption. And then the family is going to apply for a visa to come into the US with the child. When the family comes back to the US it depends on what type of visa they got as to whether or not a readoption is absolutely mandatory or whether it's optional.

And whether it’s mandatory or whether it's optional it's always a good idea because what it enables a family to do is to get a US birth certificate for the child that has the adoptive parents’ names on it and the child's name on that US birth certificate, which certainly makes it a lot easier for parents when they re-enroll or enrolling their child in school or for medical insurance.

For those adoptions though that it's mandatory that they readopt in the US that's super important and we've seen a lot of issues arising from people who just get busy, they bring their kid over and all of a sudden, they’ve got this child that’s they’re parenting and they forget that there is some legal process to do as well. And then kid grows up and is happy and great and then they go to apply for a driver’s license when they turn 16 and uh-oh, they don't have proof of US citizenship to get that driver’s license or they’re 18 and they’re applying for financial aid for colleges and oops, where is the proof of citizenship. And so even though the adoption is the vehicle to get the citizenship unless you go through the right legal process, you won’t have that proof of the citizenship to show at the vital points in life like the DMV and the Social Security or certainly financial aid has been a big one that we've seen recently with older kids that they just assume that they were citizens and it turns out nope, I got to do something to get proof of citizenship.

And in some cases, that readoption is a necessary step in getting that proof of citizenship. Other cases you arrive on US soil and they're going to send you a proof of US citizenship and you don't need the readoption process necessarily to get that but you still need it if you want to get a US birth certificate, which again that just makes it easier to show government agencies or to a school or to your health insurance rather than having to show adoption papers.

RJ: Okay, next question. Oh, I’m sorry, is there is something else you wanted to add?

JC: No, no, go ahead.

RJ: Okay, great. Why is it important to hire an attorney when going through the readoption process?

JC: Yeah, so I think that a legal pair of eyes on the citizenship issues is really important because like I say there might be multiple steps in getting that all important certificate of US citizenship. And so it's good to have someone just telling you, yeah, you’ve got it or yeah, you need to do this. As far as by actual readoption with the court it’s pretty straightforward and frankly a lot of folks figure it out themselves. But again, there is a whole lot of cases in which probably better if you have a lawyer just looking and making sure that you've gotten all the citizenship issues taken care of. And then for the folks that wait then legal issues come up.

And so again most of the people actually they hire us are hiring us because there is some kind of issue that they either waited too long to start their readoption process for it to be simple and straightforward or else there is something funky. Like here is an example of something funky that a lawyer can help with you adopted a child from China or Ethiopia or any number of countries where they really don't have a good birth date. And so the country the adoption agency and the sending country made a guess as to the kid’s birth date. And then the child gets here and well and behold they have a doctor’s appointment and they’re a year older than what the adoption paperwork said perhaps.

And so a lot of families will want to say let’s correct that birth date through the adoption process and that’s something that can be done through the adoption process. Same thing with name issues. I’ve had a case where the name on the entry paperwork to the US was different and the name that the family was using for the child and then there became a confusion between what the IRS thought the child's name was and what the passport office thinks the child's name is and what Social Security thinks the child's name is and now they’re 16.

And the DMV says, wow, you can't prove who you are, no driver’s license for you, right until we actually had to go to court and get a court decree saying all these names they’re all the same person and here is going to be the official name from now on. And so things like that are things lawyers can help on navigate and it’s kind of fun.

RJ: Okay.

JC: I see it as – I was going to add like I see it as any of these problems there is some way to figure out how to solve them and my little lawyer had kind of had fun with that like okay, that’s a weird problem, let’s figure out how we can solve it.

RJ: Okay. Jill, what countries do you deal with? Which ones are the most problematic?

JC: Yeah, so I wouldn’t say any in the readoption process I wouldn't say that any one the country is particularly problematic because once you’re doing readoption you're dealing with US law. The only issue again would be what kind of visa did the child come under kind of the general rule. It's like a little rhyme but IR3, you’re free and IR4, you need to do more. And so it’s looking at that visa where the IR3 status or IR4 status is there. IR4 status is probably going to have to be more post-placement visits by a social worker before you can do the readoption.

RJ: Okay, and is there any risk of deportation or I mean, do the children have to follow some sort of immigration procedure?

JC: Yeah, so again, so once you’ve – on any of the foreign countries still, you're going to go through a visa process to get into the US. And so any kid coming through adoption is going to arrive on US soil in good standing with at least a green card with at least permanent resident status. That status will expire if they don't do what they need to do to become a citizen if they don’t automatically become a citizen. Some kiddos they’re going to get a certificate of citizenship mailed to their doorstep without doing anything else. Other kiddos are going to have to go through a readoption process and then an application for a certificate of US citizenship.

So like my own child the agency actually advised us incorrectly and said that he was in IR3 visa and in the craziness of getting a four-year-old I didn't look at his visa myself. And then actually last year or so six years after his adoption, I’m just going through some papers and his little visa comes up and Jill, the lawyer sees IR4 and I said, oh, shoot, he was in IR4 visa, hold up, kid is not a citizen. What am I doing, right? Like, here I’m the International Adoption Attorney and my kid’s legal status is going to expire if I don't do something about it. But kid will go adoptive mom, right. I’m not worried about what the card says I'm worried about getting him to eat his dinner.

But so anyways so then we had to do the readoption process. Oh, we had done the readoption. I had to do the applications for the certificate of citizenship. And then he and I went to a swearing-in ceremony in downtown LA actually just a couple of months ago. Now he had been in the US seven years but we finally do the raise your hand and say the Pledge of Allegiance.