An adoption by a grandparent qualifies as a kinship adoption. Some of the statutory requirements for adoption are waived in the case of a family member adopting a child. A standard adoption will require a home study to be completed by the local Children & Youth services agency. This process is expensive and takes a number of months. This requirement is waived in the event of an adoption of a grandchild. Background checks will be required for the adopting parent(s). Presently, there are three background checks required: (1) Child Abuse History Clearance; (2) PA State Police Criminal Record Check; and (3) FBI Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare.

If the natural parents are consenting to the adoption, their consents can be attached to the Petition for Adoption. There must be at least thirty (30) days between when the consents are signed and when they are attached to the Petition for filing since there is a thirty (30) day revocation period. Alternatively, if the natural parents do not consent, you can plead grounds for involuntary termination within your adoption petition. A filing fee is payable to the county at the time you file your petition for adoption. After filing the Petition, you will receive notice of when you are scheduled for your hearing. You will need to notify any party that is required to receive notice of the hearing per the adoption statutes in advance of the hearing.

If your spouse has a retirement plan or pension and you are entitled to share in the distributions, you absolutely need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). In fact, a plan’s administrator is not permitted to distribute funds to anyone but the participant without a QDRO.

A Domestic Relations Order (DRO) is an order or judgment issued by a court directing or approving the distribution of all or part of a participant’s retirement plan to another payee. This payee can be an ex-spouse or a dependent. According to the IRS, an adult payee would also be required to cover part of the cost of the plan, while a minor would not. (The calculation is here.)

An order is considered “qualified” only after it has been approved by the plan’s administrator–i.e., it fulfills the particular plan’s criteria and procedures. A DRO judgment is generally submitted directly to the plan to be officially qualified. Distributions to the payee are made tax-free and penalty-free, even if the participant is below the age of distribution, so that the participant is not disadvantaged by the roll-over or distribution.

The language of a QDRO is very specific, so it’s best to work with an experienced lawyer and/or actuary to draw it up. The need for a QDRO can be avoided, even if your spouse (or you) have retirement or pension plans, through the negotiation process. Some other asset or assets can be accepted by a spouse in exchange for any portion of the retirement account, for instance, maintaining full ownership of the family home rather than selling and splitting the profit. If you can come to an out-of-court property settlement that stipulates how much, if any, of the pension or retirement account will be split, you can avoid the judge dividing your retirement accounts for you, as he or she sees fit. If at all possible, come to an equitable agreement before the end of the divorce process in order to retain a degree of control.

The QDRO process can take time, so don’t wait. Ideally, it should be completed in time to submit along with the rest of the divorce settlement. If you begin the process late, or even after the divorce, and your spouse remarries or dies, you may not get any benefits.

Government and military pensions follow different laws and are not covered by the QDRO laws. They are more difficult to split than plans from private employers, in which case, it is even more imperative to get the help of a divorce law expert.

Same-sex adoptions can take place in the form of a second-parent adoption. A second-parent adoption allows a person to adopt the child of their “unmarried” partner. In 2002, the Supreme Court held that the parental rights of the first parent need not be terminated for the adoption by the second parent to take place. Since that time, PA has remained in the minority of states that allow second-parent adoptions on a statewide basis. If a same-sex couple is married, they follow the same procedures as a kinship or step-parent adoption.

Both types of adoption will require background checks be completed as it relates to the adopting parents. Presently, there are three background checks required: (1) Child Abuse History Clearance; (2) PA State Police Criminal Record Check; and (3) FBI Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare. There are nominal fees associated with requesting these background checks. Second parent adoptions will also require a home study whereas a step-parent adoption does not. The home study consists of several visits to the home over a span of time to observe the living arrangements and relationship with the proposed adopting parent. In Bucks County, home studies are conducted by the Children & Youth Social Services Agency. Following successful completion of all the pre-requisites and filing of the Petition for Adoption, the final step is the adoption hearing in either scenario.

Background checks are required for all prospective parents in an adoption matter. In Pennsylvania, there are three background checks that are required: Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance through the Department of Human Services, Pennsylvania Criminal Record Checks through the State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare. These background checks must also be completed for all other adult household members where the adoptee will reside. At this time, requests for all three background checks can be done online. The cost for each background check is nominal. Fingerprinting is required for the FBI Criminal Background Check.

If a prospective parent has lived outside of Pennsylvania in the five (5) years preceding the adoption petition, similar background checks must be acquired from each state where he or she previously resided. Background checks must be less than one year old at the time of the adoption hearing. The background checks are reviewed in the context of a home study, where required, and attached to that report. Where a home study is not required, the background checks can be submitted to the court with the petition for adoption. The mere existence of a record does not necessarily thwart the adoption process. The court must look to the nature of the record and whether it poses risk to a child. If there is no substantial risk, the adoption may still proceed.

November is National Adoption Month. This is the 23rd year for recognition of National Adoption Month which began in 1995 when President Clinton extended the recognition from a week to the entire month of November. Pennsylvania participates in national adoption awareness each year through presentation of a proclamation and renewed pledge to make sure every child has a place to call home. Pennsylvania specifically achieves these goals through the Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network and PA Adoption Exchange. Both organizations work towards the overall goal of permanency for all children. PA estimates that currently there are approx. 2,500 children in foster care awaiting adoption. You can visit for more information on the adoption process as well as many of the children in need of a home.

In addition to a month-long awareness, a National Adoption Day is also recognized. This year it will be November 18, 2018. Many local courts will schedule adoption hearings for that day as well as celebrations for the families. National Adoption Day will be observed in Bucks County on November 16, 2018 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Food will be provided along with speakers and the Central Bucks West choir. You can visit for more information and to register to attend.