Story and photo by TYLER COBB
Paul MacArthur knows the joy adoption can bring to a family firsthand.
The 37-year-old lawyer has spent the last eight years helping families adopt children, which to this day, MacArthur says is a worthwhile experience.
“The newly adopting people ask me, ‘Does it feel any different than your biological children?’ and I can say it doesn’t,” said MacArthur, who has two adopted and three biological children of his own. “My heart is in it.”
When he married his wife, Monica, they wanted to have children right away but couldn’t. About a year later, his wife suggested they adopt a child.
MacArthur said he struggled with the idea of adopting for a few months before he agreed, and three years later they adopted their first child, Emma.
And through that experience, MacArthur now understands the worry and pain new parents feel when something goes wrong and they can’t adopt. He and his wife had three failed adoptions before Emma, now 10, came into their lives.
“You become attached when you meet the birth mother,” Monica MacArthur said about failed adoptions. She said that in one attempt, they had seen pictures of the child. They had spent nine months trying to adopt, but the night before they were scheduled to pick up their baby they were told the adoption had fallen through.
However, in the case of international adoptions, multiple things can go wrong. The failure to obtain and complete the right paperwork in the child’s country or in the United States, and the ambiguity in a country’s laws can create problems.
“Mexico doesn’t specifically allow for international adoption,” MacArthur said. “They also don’t specifically exclude it.”
And even on the national spectrum, adoptions still fail despite the cost and time spent working with lawyers and agencies.
Andrea Anaya, a Salem, Utah, resident, turned to MacArthur for help with adopting an American Indian child in 2002.
“The birth mother had to sign over her parental rights three times because of all the paperwork,” said Anaya, who received custody in 2003.
MacArthur said the costs for adoptions vary from $10,000 to $45,000 and can take years to finalize.
Yet the trouble is worth it, he said.
And despite the hard work, MacArthur loves his job. He didn’t always want to be a lawyer, but after nine years helping families adopt, he can’t imagine doing anything else.
When MacArthur returned from a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 1990s, his father, James MacArthur, encouraged him to take an aptitude test to help decide on a career. His skills pointed in the direction of law school, and in 1995 MacArthur started down a three-year path at the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University.
Upon graduation, he and his wife moved to Idaho where he clerked for a judge, gaining expertise in court procedure.
However, within a couple years, MacArthur decided to open his own firm with a few other BYU law school graduates in Provo. MacArthur, his wife and their daughter Emma had to live in his parents’ house for nine months while setting up his firm.
“It was scary to start this firm, but it was the best thing to do at the time,” Monica MacArthur said. “It took off really quick, but we had no income. We had one kid and another on the way.”
At the time, the couple was trying to adopt a second child, Jake, who is now 7 years old.
Bill Heder, a BYU law school graduate, started working for the firm, which is now called MacArthur, Heder and Metler, in 2004. He said they didn’t have an extravagant office and it was just two lawyers working in a three-room office.
MacArthur specializes in adoption cases, but most of the lawyers do business law.
“We were living very frugally, but we were also very busy,” Heder said.
And now the firm, which handles 110 to 130 adoptions annually, has expanded from two attorneys to more than 10 full- and part-time attorneys.
And MacArthur has gone even further to help families.
He helped start A Child’s Hope Foundation, an organization that creates adoption orphanages in underdeveloped countries.
MacArthur, who is the foundation’s legal counsel and a board member, often travels out of the country to help families adopt children through the foundation.
He’s encouraged his first adopted child, Emma, to get into the spirit of helping other children too.
When MacArthur was packing for a 10-day trip to Haiti near Christmas to offer legal counsel for the foundation, his daughter walked into the room.
“My daughter Emma was 7 at the time and she was being kind of mopey,” MacArthur said. “Then I just asked her [why] and she said, ‘I get tired of you leaving and I don’t know why.’”
He explained to his daughter how he was leaving to help other children who didn’t have parents or homes get some help.
“I kept packing and five to 10 minutes later, she went and got her toys,” MacArthur said. “She wanted me to give them to the kids in the foundation.”
Despite the time spent away from home, he says it’s worth it to see the joy on new parents’ faces. And for the next trip, he’s bringing his two oldest children with him to help.
“It makes me feel really proud of my kids,” Monica MacArthur said.