Adoption is a serious step, whether you are married to the child’s parent or not. It is not to be taken lightly or viewed as a gesture to integrate a blended family better. If you adopt a child, you are legally their parent. If you divorce the child’s parent or they pass away, that responsibility remains. We have helped many Bucks County clients work through the details of adopting a stepchild to ensure they are making the best decision for all involved.  

Marrying someone may not just mean starting a new life with your spouse. Their children from one or more prior relationships may also be part of the deal. Adoption may be an option if you want or need to have the ability to make parental decisions for the child. 

What is the Process to Adopt My Spouse’s Child? 

A stepparent adoption is considered a kinship adoption, so some Pennsylvania statutory requirements are waived. As part of the process, you do not need to have a home study done, but you must have three background checks before filing an adoption petition: 

  • Child Abuse History Clearance 
  • Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Check 
  • FBI Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare 

Your spouse and the child’s other natural parent would join as petitioners in the adoption matter. Before you can adopt a child, the parental rights of the other biological parent need to end. The other parent may consent to that, or it may have already occurred because they voluntarily gave up their rights or involuntarily had them taken away in the past. 

If the parent is giving up their rights because you are adopting their child, there needs to be at least thirty days from a consent being signed and when your adoption petition is filed with the court. That delay exists because the other parent has thirty days to change their mind and revoke their consent.  

The situation will be more complicated if the other parent’s rights must be involuntarily terminated. The adoption petition will list the grounds for the court to act. You will get a notice of when the hearing will take place after filing the petition. You must notify the parties involved beforehand, per state statute. 

What are Issues I Should Consider Before Adopting? 

There are pros and cons to adopting a stepchild. Each situation is unique, and you must decide what is right for you, your spouse, and, most importantly, the child. 

  1. Pros 

If you have your own kids, all children in the household will have the same status. It may just formalize the reality that you are committed to parent this child. Adoption may be a good idea if the other natural parent neglected, abused, or abandoned the child. You will give the child what that parent has not––love and support. Without that adoption, if that person still has parental rights and your spouse passes away, that abusive parent could make all the decisions for the child unless you adopt them. 

  1. Cons 

Adoption is a lifelong commitment to ending the legal bond with the biological parent. Adoption may not end the tension that can come with a struggling blended family. You should not adopt if you think this is how to control or correct a child’s behavior. You may have all the paperwork done to be a parent legally, but that does not mean the child will accept you as one.  

You should not adopt if you have doubts about the duration or health of your relationship with the child or your spouse. If you adopt, your marriage’s end will not impact the fact you are the child’s adoptive parent. If the child is not on board with the adoption and does not want you as a parent, you should seriously reconsider adoption if it forces the issue. 

We Can Help You Achieve Your Goals  

If you are a child’s stepparent and are thinking about adoption, we can talk about the legal and practical issues so you can decide if it is the right thing to do. If it is, a Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C., attorney can help you through the process so it goes as smoothly as possible. Book a 15-minute consultation by filling out our online form so we can start the discussion.

Adoption is almost always a joyful event. Over 100,000 children are legally adopted in the United States every year. A Pennsylvania adoption attorney can explain this state’s own adoption rules to prospective adoptive parents and guide them through the adoption process.

Like almost everything else in the law, an adoption is seldom straightforward or simple in this state, so prospective adoptive parents must have the right adoption attorney protecting their rights and providing sound legal advice from the very beginning of the adoption process.

As you may already know, an adoption is permanent. Those who seek to adopt will need to comprehend – thoroughly – the gravity and magnitude of the choice they are making.

What Are the Different Types of Adoptions?

If you adopt a child in Pennsylvania, you assume legal parenthood and have the right to decide about that child’s healthcare, education, and well-being. A Pennsylvania adoption lawyer handles these types of adoptions for prospective adoptive parents:

  1. step-parent adoptions
  2. domestic adoptions (of non-related children from within the U.S.)
  3. international adoptions (of non-related children from another nation)
  4. adult adoptions in particular circumstances

What Should Prospective Parents Know?

Prospective adoptive parents in Pennsylvania need not be affluent, but they must be able to offer a stable environment and a safe home that fosters and enables a child’s physical and mental health along with the child’s social and educational needs.

If you and your spouse adopt a child, you will both become legal parents with considerable legal and financial obligations. If you and your spouse legally separate or divorce after you’ve adopted, your responsibilities to the child do not cease until that child becomes a legal adult.

What Are the Legal Requirements for Adoption?

To adopt a child in this state, by law, there are no gender, sexuality, or marital status requirements. However, particular adoption agencies may have some of their own requirements. Prospective adoptive parents should be financially, emotionally and physically ready to adopt before beginning the process.

Depending on the type of adoption, you may also have to satisfy requirements like submitting to a home study or completing parenting classes. Most prospective adoptive parents will also be subject to fingerprinting and a criminal background check.

It is illegal in this state for prospective adoptive parents to pay a birth parent any living expenses. Before you pay any of a birth mother’s expenses, please contact a Pennsylvania adoption lawyer to ensure that your adoption is handled properly and is fully compliant with the law.

Is Your Adoption Domestic or International?

Prospective adoptive parents in Pennsylvania who are not adopting a related child or a step-child may choose to work with a domestic adoption agency, pursue an international adoption, or adopt a child who is currently in the foster care system in this state.

Some of the domestic adoption agencies are “full-service” agencies that provide counseling and guidance to both birth parents and to adoptive parents as well. These domestic adoption agencies may also conduct “home studies” of individuals and couples who are seeking to adopt.

International adoptions are usually more complicated and costlier than domestic adoptions, and laws in the child’s nation of origin may apply. A birth parent, a lawyer, or a judge in the child’s nation of origin could unexpectedly delay or disrupt the process. Consult a Pennsylvania family law attorney before you take any steps regarding an international adoption.

What Are “Open” and “Closed” Adoptions?

Pennsylvania law allows for open adoptions, which maintain the lines of communication among the biological parent or parents, the adoptive parent or parents, and the adopted child.

In a closed adoption, all records of the adoption are legally and permanently sealed, and a biological parent may not under any circumstances attempt to reach, to harass, or to interfere in any way with the child or with the adoptive parents.

Adopting parents should thoroughly understand what an open adoption entails and should settle only for an agreement that they are comfortable and pleased with.

What Should Birth Parents Know?

If you are a prospective birth mother, a Pennsylvania adoption attorney can help you decide if adoption is the best choice for you and your baby. An attorney can help you understand the applicable adoption laws so that you will know your baby’s adoption is handled properly.

To complete the adoption process, birth parents must legally consent to the adoption and the termination of parental rights. This consent may only be signed seventy-two hours or more after your child has been born, and you will have thirty days to revoke your consent.

The laws that address fathers and adoption are complicated, so whether a father’s consent is required for an adoption will depend on your particular situation. An attorney will explain the details about the father’s involvement and will take the legal steps to protect you and your baby.

It does not matter what stage of pregnancy you are in or even if your baby is already born. Let an adoption lawyer discuss adoption with you and guide you through the process.

Prospective Adoptive Parents Must Be Cautious

Not all adoption agencies are professionally operated, but a good adoption lawyer will protect your interests and ensure that your adoption is conducted ethically and legally.

Seeking to adopt without an attorney’s help or without the help of an established and reliable adoption agency may make prospective parents vulnerable to adoption fraud.

Some couples have lost thousands of dollars to savvy con artists with pictures of smiling children who are supposedly waiting to be adopted. Don’t be a con artist’s victim. Have a Pennsylvania family law attorney handle your adoption from the start.

What Else Is Important to Know?

As you might expect, prospective adoptive parents will need some patience. Depending on the details of your adoption, the adoption process in Pennsylvania can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year or more.

When all of the other requirements have been satisfied, your attorney will schedule a final adoption hearing, and a Pennsylvania judge will issue a final decree that grants you full legal parental rights and completes the adoption process.

Scores of children need adoption right here in Pennsylvania; thousands more around the world also need adoption. Whether you are placing your child for adoption or seeking to adopt a child, when you are ready to begin, a Pennsylvania family law attorney will be ready to help.

After your adoption hearing, you can take steps to update your child’s name and/or birth certificate, where necessary. To obtain a new birth certificate you will need to submit a request through Vital Records in the state that issued the initial birth certificate. If outside of Pennsylvania, check with the local office regarding their specific requirements. For Pennsylvania birth certificates, a Certificate of Adoption is forwarded by the court to Vital Records to alert them the adoption was finalized. You would then contact Vital Records with a request for a new birth certificate and submit the applicable fee. Pennsylvania presently charges $20 for a new birth certificate, unless you are a military member, in which case the fee can be waived. The adoptive parents’ names and child’s name after adoption should be included in the application for birth certificate. The completed application, ID and payment would then go to Vital Records.

Processing times for receipt of the new birth certificate vary. The average time for adoptions is currently five (5) weeks. These steps are for a child born in Pennsylvania. For additional information on requesting a new birth certificate through Pennsylvania visit:

After receiving the new birth certificate and depending on the age of the child, you may also need to update records at school, the doctor’s office, Social Security, etc. You may need to present your certified Decree of Adoption from the court in addition to new birth certificate to verify legal name change. Additional certified copies of your adoption decree can be requested through the court at a nominal cost.

The rights of the other biological parent will need to be terminated in connection with any adoption. Their parental rights can be terminated voluntarily or involuntarily. With voluntary termination the other natural parent will sign a consent to the adoption which is subsequently attached to the Petition for Adoption. There must be at least thirty (30) days between when the consent is signed and when adoption petition is filed with the court since there is a thirty (30) day revocation period. With involuntary termination, you will plead the applicable 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.

With a kinship adoption the prospective parents will need to have three background checks completed prior to filing an adoption petition. Presently, the required background checks for Pennsylvania include (1) Child Abuse History Clearance; (2) PA State Police Criminal Record Check; and (3) FBI Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare. The results of these background checks should be attached to the adoption petition. A home study is not required. A hearing will be scheduled by the court within a few months from filing the petition. If heading straight to adoption hearing because natural parents consent to adoption the total process can be completed in a few months. If an involuntary termination hearing is required before the adoption hearing the process can take twice as long.

In Pennsylvania any individual may be adopted regardless of their age or residence. Additionally, any individual may become an adopting parent. Consent of the adoptee is required in all instances where the adoptee is twelve years of age or older. The prospective parent(s) must obtain certain clearances whenever the adoptee is a minor. The adoptee does appear in court for the final adoption hearing. The Judge may have questions for the adoptee as to their relationship with prospective parent(s).

In a contested hearing where the adoptee is a minor, an attorney is appointed to represent their interests. If a name change is sought where the adoptee is an adult, the adoptee must submit a copy of their fingerprints with the adoption petition. Fingerprints can be obtained from your local police department. The adoptee will also need to obtain background checks from the Prothonotary, Clerk of Court, and Recorder of Deeds for each county of residence for five (5) years prior to your filing. Finally, notice of the adoption hearing must be published in a newspaper of general circulation as well as the Law Reporter regarding the proposed name change. Proof of the record checks and publication should be offered as evidence at the adoption hearing. Name changes are not permitted in the event of certain criminal convictions.

If contemplating an adoption you can start the process by gathering the necessary paperwork that must be submitted to the court along with adoption petition. Exactly which documents you will need to include depend on what type of adoption you are seeking. All interested parties must be advised of the availability of ACT 101 and proof that all parties received information should be retained for presentation to the court. You will need to original birth certificate for the adoptee. Additionally, prospective parents and any other adult household members will need to have the requisite clearances completed where the adoptee is a minor and the results of those clearances should be attached to the petition. A home study may be required as well if there is no familial relationship between the adoptee and prospective parents.

In a situation where the adoptee is over twelve years old, you should also have the consent of the adoptee attached to your petition. If the natural parents consent to the adoption and are voluntarily terminating their parental rights, their consent(s) should be attached as well. In some circumstances parental rights do not need to be terminated. For example, if the natural parent has passed away you do not need to request their rights be terminated however you should include a certified copy of the death certificate with the petition. Another scenario may be if you have used an anonymous donor to conceive, that documentation should be included with your petition. You should consult with an experienced adoption attorney to be clear on exactly which documents you will need to include with your adoption petition to make the process as efficient as possible.

It is possible to keep in touch with your child subsequent to the termination of your parental rights and their adoption if all parties to the action, i.e. natural parents/relatives and adoptive parents, mutually agree. Act 101, which became law in 2010, authorizes post-adoption contact by agreement of all the parties. Specifically, a birth relative by blood, marriage or adoption can contract with the new adoptive parents in terms of continued contact with the adoptee. In each adoption case, even if there is not any interest in post-adoption contact, all parties are required to be notified of the existence of Act 101 and option to enter a contract for continued contact. The parties should sign to acknowledge they received notice of the options available under Act 101 and their signed acknowledgment would then be filed with the court. If the parties do not sign an acknowledgement, then proof that they were served with the notice should be filed to the court. A sample of the Act 101 notice is included below.

      NOTICE REQUIRED BY ACT 101 of 2010

23 Pa. C.S. §2731-2742


This is to inform you of an important option that may be available to you under Pennsylvania law. Act 101 of 2010 allows for an enforceable voluntary agreement for continuing contact or communication following an adoption between an adoptive parent, a child, a birth parent and/or birth relative of the child, if all parties agree and voluntary agreement is approved by the Court. The agreement must be signed and approved by the Court to be legally binding.

A birth relative is defined only as a parent, grandparent, stepparent, sibling, uncle or aunt for the child’s birth family, whether the relationship is by blood, marriage or adoption.

This voluntary agreement may allow you to have continuing contact or communication, including, but not limited to:

Letters and/or emails

Photos and/or videos

Telephone calls and/or text messages; or

Supervised or unsupervised visits.

If you are interested in learning more about this option for a voluntary agreement, you contact your attorney.

Adoption will establish all the legal rights, duties and responsibilities as exist for natural born children between the adoptee and the prospective parent(s). Those rights and duties include, but are not limited to, the right of the child to inherit through you and your family, the legal obligation to financially support the child, the right of the child to seek support from you, the principle that these rights and duties would continue if you and your spouse separate or divorce as well as if the child develops any physical, psychological problems or becomes ill or disabled for any reason in the future.

At the final adoption hearing, your attorney and/or the Judge will confirm whether you understand the legal consequence of finalizing the adoption matter. A final adoption decree is issued following a successful hearing. Subsequent to receipt of the decree and barring any legal appeal, adoption is permanent and cannot be undone. Parties may elect to add the child to their health insurance or other benefits once the adoption is finalized and they can provide proof of their legally recognized parent-child relationship. The birth certificate for the child can also be updated at this time.  By April M. Townsend

There are two options to place a child for adoption. The first option is to surrender the child to the appropriate agency. This can include the county social services agency or private adoption agency. Under 23 Pa C.S. 2501, written notice of intent to give custody of the child to the agency should be presented to the agency. The natural parents should also cooperate in petitioning the court for permission to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights to the child. The agency must consent to accept custody of the child. To the extent the natural parents are under 18, the consent of their parent(s) is not required.

Natural parents may also elect to surrender the child to an individual. The individual(s) accepting custody of the child will need to file a report of intent to adopt as well as sign a consent accepting custody of the child. They will also need to follow the other procedures for adoption which include getting necessary clearances as well as getting a home study, where applicable. Again, the natural parents should cooperate in petitioning the court for voluntary relinquishment of their parental rights. Alternatively, if the natural parents are consenting to the adoption, a petition for confirmation of consent can be filed instead. The court will schedule a hearing following receipt of petition for voluntary relinquishment or confirmation of consent. Notice of the hearing date must be served on natural parents as well as their parent(s) if they are still minors at the time. The natural parents should appear at the hearing. The court may enter a final decree of termination of parental rights after the hearing.  By April M. Townsend

A foreign adoption decree is a decree issued from another country regarding adoption that took place abroad. If you have adopted a child from abroad, you can take steps to register that foreign adoption here in the United States. Pennsylvania discusses the applicable steps in 23 Pa. C.S. Section 2908. The adoptive parents can file a properly authenticated copy of the foreign adoption decree along with copy of child’s via and birth certificate in the county where the adoptive parents reside. The adoption decree should be translated into English where applicable. If there is no birth certificate or other birth record for the adoptee, the parents may submit an affidavit instead.

The court is to supply a foreign adoption registration form for adoptive parents to use. The form should include information on how to obtain an adoption decree from the Commonwealth. Where the court is satisfied that a full and final foreign adoption was completed, they would enter the decree on the docket and issue a certificate of adoption to the parents. If the court is not satisfied that a full and final adoption took place, instructions regarding re-adoption are to be provided to the parents. All records submitted to the court to register a foreign adoption are maintained by the court and sealed. Filing fees may be assessed by the county for this procedure.  By April M. Townsend