Hausmann & Hickman, P.A. Helps Couples Address Knotty Family Issues
|Michelle Hausmann and Amy Hickman|
Danae was an unmarried mother of three when she became pregnant again. Not wanting to have an abortion, she called attorney Michelle Hausmann, co-founder of Hausmann & Hickman, P.A., in Boynton Beach. “She told me of a young couple who had tried for eight years to get pregnant,” Danae said. “I think I knew right away that the child I was carrying was meant to be theirs. It has been nine months since Adam was born, and we still keep in touch.”
Since 1997, Hausmann and co-founder Amy Hickman have been helping individuals and couples wrestle with life-changing decisions related to unplanned pregnancies, infertility, surrogacy and adoptions. Both Hausmann and Hickman are board-certified adoption lawyers who focus on the rapidly evolving field of reproductive law. They are also wives and mothers themselves with five children between them.
“Through the years, we have represented hundreds of clients seeking to grow their families through adoption and surrogacy,” says Hausmann. “We strive to create a secure, permanent placement, and feel very privileged to help make our clients’ dreams come true.”
Hickman notes that today children and families can be created in many ways, including private adoptions and surrogate parenting. “Prospective parents need to understand their legal rights, and become informed consumers,” she says. “And the legal issues need to be addressed right at the start of the process.”
A Natural Partnership
Hausmann and Hickman bring complementary perspectives to their roles at the firm. Both facilitate adoptions and surrogacy parenting agreements, while Hickman also handles litigation matters, such as contested adoptions. A graduate of the University of Florida and Nova Southeastern University, Hausmann launched her career in family law in the early 1990s, beginning as an associate for another adoption-oriented law practice.
Hickman, a University of Florida graduate, began her legal career handling civil litigation and medical malpractice cases. “I decided to go back to my roots and work with families,” she says, “I became an attorney with the Juvenile Advocacy Project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County where I represented children in state and federal courts.”
The two attorneys say it was a natural step for them to launch their own firm together 18 years ago. “We have a similar philosophy about the importance of strong families and healthy children,” says Hickman. “We also have children around the same ages, so we know what it’s like to balance our families and professional responsibilities. ”
Since then Hausmann and Hickman have handled all types of domestic child adoptions, adult adoptions, stepparent and second parent adoptions, gestational surrogacy agreements, preplanned adoption arrangements, pre-conception parenting agreements and donor-recipient contracts.
The firm’s “people-focused” team includes Mary Jean Fried, adoption coordinator, and four legal assistants. “All our employees have been with us for a long time,” Hickman says. “They help us take very good care of everyone.”
Both attorneys have played an active role in legal associations. Hickman was a leader in getting the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar to support updating and revising the state’s adoption laws. She was also a powerful advocate for The Florida Bar’s approval of board certification in adoption law in 2011.
“Florida is the first and only state in the country to offer this certification,” Hausmann says, adding there are now about 25 board-certified adoption attorneys in the state. “We are now working to expand that certification to include reproductive law, as well.”
In 2013, Hickman received the Palm Beach County Legal Aid Society Pro Bono Child Advocate of the Year Award. She is a founding board member of the Florida Adoption Council, a fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and a member of the board of directors of the Children’s Home Society of Florida, South Coastal Division.
Hausmann is a fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (///A), a founding fellow of the American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys (//ARTA), a founding member of the Florida Adoption Council, an honorary board member of the Florida Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) Alliance, and an associate member of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.
A High-Stress, But Rewarding Practice
Adoption and reproductive law is a highly rewarding, but high stress field of law, says Hausmann. “Our phones ring 24/7 and we have to be there to handle those immediate issues.”
Adoptive parents – married, unmarried, same-sex or single – are the firm’s typical clients. “We do the legal work, but we are not an adoption agency, says Hausmann. “Our goal is to protect the rights of the child and both traditional and non-traditional families.”
A typical placement might begin with a phone call from a woman who is three or four months into her pregnancy and wants to explore her options for adoption. “We talk with her about what criteria she might want in a family for the child,” says Hickman. “In many cases, the birth father is involved in the placement process as well. It’s all about making a plan for the best future for the child.”
Today, the adoption process is open and transparent, and a birth mother like Danae can stay in contact with the adoptive family. “About 98 percent of our birth mothers do meet the adoptive parents,” Hickman says. “The placements are direct and happen when the baby is released from the hospital, so there isn’t a need for temporary foster care. The process is overseen by the courts.”
For couples struggling with infertility issues or same-sex couples who want to start a family, engaging a surrogate to bear a child can be a life-changing decision.
“Florida law is quite favorable regarding gestational surrogacy,” says Hausmann, who has represented intended parents, recipient parents, gestational carriers, and donors.
However, surrogacy also involves a number of liability issues. “What if the surrogate develops medical problems? Who is responsible for the immediate care of the woman or any long-term health issues that can be related to the pregnancy?” Hausmann says. Having an attorney draw up the documentation is very important in terms of limiting the legal risks, she adds.
“Surrogates are really generous people who want to do a really good act for a family,” adds Hickman. “We prepare donor-recipient agreements, regarding donated eggs, sperm or embryos so we can protect everyone’s legal rights before an in-vitro fertilization is created.” The issue of ownership of genetic materials recently made the headlines when actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiancé Nick Loeb engaged in a legal battle over the couple’s frozen embryos.
Reflecting on their firm’s practice, Hausmann and Hickman agree that the late nights and weekend conversations with clients – as well as the legal challenges of adoption and surrogacy law are well worth while. As Hausmann says, “We are building families and that is very satisfying to everyone at our firm.”