You probably thought it was illegal to simply give your child away, without any kind of legal oversight. But Reuters reports that a new Wisconsin law curtailing private transfers of child custody is “the first law of its kind” in the country. (“Wisconsin passes law to curb private custody transfers of children.”)
The new law makes it a misdemeanor for anyone who isn’t licensed to advertise a child for either adoption or informal custody transfer. (The provision apparently applies only when the child is over age one.) The law also applies to people who seek children, and to those who promote their services as middlemen in such transactions. It specifies that those who intend to transfer custody to non-relatives must obtain permission through the courts. (Check out the law here.)
Not Illegal Already?
Surely, existing laws already covered this kind of “rehoming,” right? One can’t help but imagine the kind of worst-case scenarios that would have to be illegal. For instance, Reuters describes the case of a mother who, shortly after advertising him with a Yahoo group, delivered her adopted nine-year-old to a pedophile in a motel parking lot. It was that kind of story, revealed by a Reuters exposé on parents advertising their unwanted adopted children on the Internet, then giving them away, that sparked the Wisconsin legislation. (See “The Child Exchange.”)
Shockingly, rehoming isn’t illegal everywhere—and perhaps anywhere. Reuters reports that “[n]o state or federal laws specifically prohibit the practice,” though people sometimes violate existing law in the course of a rehoming arrangement. And although Wisconsin law now forbids most child advertising and outlaws the practice of moving a child into or out of the state for custody transfer, it doesn’t unequivocally ban transfers themselves.
Legal LoopholesA quick look at existing statutes indicates where they come up short. For example, in Colorado, it’s illegal to sell, exchange, or receive a child in return for anything of value; such a transaction constitutes child trafficking, a second degree felony. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-3-502.) The law conditions punishment on the exchange of something of value, such that someone who simply hands off a kid hasn’t violated it.
Thankfully, other states are looking to enact legislation similar to Wisconsin’s. And Congress is making noise about getting federal laws on the books.