Tag Archive for: adoption

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.

There are additional requirements to satisfy if you are adopting a child out of state. The Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) has existed for more than forty years and provides instructions for adoptions where a child is to be transferred across state lines. All U.S. states are members of the Compact and follow the same procedures. The state where the child presently resides or is born in must approve of the transfer across the state lines for placement or adoption. A copy of the approval is then submitted to the court for filing in the state where the adoption will ultimately take place. In order to get approval, a packet must be created with relevant information on the child or adoptee, the prospective parent(s) and the intended place of residence. ICPC-100A “Interstate Compact Placement Request” is a sample form evidencing the information to be provided.

If the sending state is satisfied with the placement request it will forward the request to the receiving state for their review as well. The receiving state would be responsible for having a home study completed for the intended residence. If the receiving state is satisfied following the home study, it notifies the sending state and sends them a copy of the home study. At that time, following approval by both states involved, the interstate adoption may be completed. The Pennsylvania office of the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children is located in Harrisburg and can be reached at (717)772-5503 for non-agency placements, or (717)772-5502 for agency placements.

Adoption records are generally sealed and not available for public inspection. In Pennsylvania, a petition must be filed with the court in order to obtain adoption records. The correct place to file a petition is the same court which handled the initial adoption matter. An adoptee over the age of 18 may file a petition or in the case of a minor adoptee, the adoptive parents or their guardian. The court, if they believe the request is warranted, will only release limited information. Specifically, they will not release information on the identity of the natural parent(s) unless the natural parent(s) are first contacted and give their consent to disclose their identity. Often, it is the county’s social service agency, such as Children and Youth, that is responsible to reach out to the natural parent(s) on the court’s behalf regarding any petition to access the identity of the natural parent(s).

If an agency was involved in the adoption, a request can also be made through the agency for information on the natural parent(s). The agencies have the same requirement as the courts in terms of getting permission of the natural parent(s) first. It is also possible for the natural parents to agree to disclosure prior to any request coming from the adoptee. At any point subsequent to their termination of parental rights, they may file a consent for the initial birth certificate to be released to adoptee over 18 or their parent or guardian if requested. This consent can subsequently be withdrawn if their decision on disclosure later changes. Consent of both natural parents is needed to see the full record. If only one parent consents, the other parent’s information would be redacted.

An adoption petition can be filed by anyone. Pursuant to 23 P.A. CS 2312, any individual may become an adopting parent. There is no requirement that a prospective parent be married or in a relationship. An adoption can take place in any county where the natural parents of the child reside. It may also take place in any county where the child to be adopted resides or in the county where the prospective parent resides. Background clearances must be obtained for the prospective parent as well as any other adult household members. If not already resolved, the rights of the natural parents of the child need to be addressed in connection with the adoption proceeding. The natural parents can cooperate in consenting to the adoption and or voluntarily relinquishing their rights. There are also circumstances in which a prospective parent can petition for the involuntary termination of the natural parents’ rights.

The first step is to file the applicable petition for adoption and/or termination with the correct court. Each county has their own local rules and forms to be used in an adoption matter. Additionally, each county sets their own fee schedule in terms of what filing fees will be due and for which pleadings. A streamlined adoption process may be available depending on the familial relationship of the prospective parent to the adoptee in that the requirement for a home study may be waived. The cost and procedure for a home study, where necessary, also varies by county. Working with an experienced adoption attorney will help you in navigating all these areas.

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. New Jersey requires state, federal and local criminal history checks. These background checks must also be completed for all other adult household members where the adoptee will reside.

If a prospective parent has lived outside of the current state in the five (5) years immediately 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 mere existence of a record does not necessarily mean you cannot successfully adopt a child. It is up to the court to look at the nature of the record and whether it poses risk to a child. If there is no substantial risk, the adoption may still proceed. Additionally, if an adult is being adopted, prior criminal background is not an issue since the adult adoptee is consenting to the adoption.

Many parties inquire as to whether they can terminate the other parent’s rights on the basis of abandonment. The answer is not a simple yes or no. Pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511, there are nine (9) grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights. Two of the grounds are as follows: (1) The parent by conduct continuing for a period of at least six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition either has evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to a child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties.

(2) The repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal of the parent has caused the child to be without essential parental care, control or subsistence necessary for his physical or mental well‑being and the conditions and causes of the incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal cannot or will not be remedied by the parent.

The party seeking termination must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s actions meet at least one of the grounds for termination as listed in the statute. After inquiry into the parents, the court shall also consider if there is an emotional bond between the parent and child and potential consequence of severing that bond. Keep in mind that termination of a biological parent’s rights and adoption often go hand in hand. A party cannot adopt without termination of the biological parent’s rights. A biological parent cannot voluntarily terminate their rights or sign a child away without another party stepping in to adopt. Similarly, a biological parent cannot have the other parent’s rights involuntarily terminated without another party stepping in to adopt.

It may be possible to remain in touch with your child subsequent to the termination of your parental rights and their adoption. Act 101, which became law in 2010, allows 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, all parties are required to be notified of the possibility of entering 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.

All interested parties, including natural parent(s), shall receive proper notice of pending termination and/or adoption proceedings. A copy of the relevant petition and subsequent hearing notice should be served on all interested parties, e.g. persons with parental rights to the minor child(ren) involved. Acceptable methods of service include personal service or certified mail, return receipt requested, restricted delivery. Proof of service should be filed with the court and/or submitted at the time of the hearing.

If you do not have a good address for an interested party, you can petition the court to permit service by an alternate method. Often, the alternate method of service permitted is publication in the newspaper where the party was last known to reside. The court would indicate for how many weeks the notice must be published in the newspaper. The newspaper provides a certification as to the publication that can be submitted to the court as verification that the required publication was completed. This adds to the costs of the termination or adoption matter as it can cost several hundred dollars to publish. You should also be careful to include all necessary information in the publication so that the court can accept the publication as acceptable service.

Termination of parental rights means the natural parent of a child forever loses or forfeits any rights as a parent. This would include the loss of any standing for future custody actions. Termination of parental rights can generally only occur in conjunction with an adoption matter or involvement by a local social services agency. Pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511, there are nine (9) grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights. Several of the grounds available relate to crimes committed by the parents. For example, rights may be terminated if the parent(s) have committed child abuse or neglect. This can result in a criminal charge of endangering the welfare of a child.

Rights may also be terminated in connection with rape. Specifically, whether the parent is the father of a child conceived as a result of a rape or incest. Either parent can lose their rights if convicted of any of the following offenses in which the victim was a child of the parent: criminal homicide, aggravated assault, a comparable crime in a different jurisdiction, or any attempt/conspiracy to commit the above. The party seeking termination must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s actions meet at least one of the grounds for termination as listed in the statute.

An agency adoption is utilized my prospective parents who do not have direct contact or a pre-existing relationship with the natural parents. When working with an adoption agency, the agency serves as an intermediary between parties looking to adopt and parties looking to relinquish their rights as a parent and place a child for adoption. There are numerous requirements and background checks for parties looking to adopt to complete to be eligible as a prospective family. Parties looking to relinquish their rights can often view the profiles of parties looking to adopt to find a good match and vice versa.

Using an agency for an adoption does come at a cost for prospective parents. Fees vary by agency and state but can be in the range of $40,000. You may be eligible for a tax credit for a portion of these costs. Below are some of the adoption agencies in the Greater Philadelphia area:

Open Arms Adoption Network

Adoption Network Associates

Adoptions From The Heart

Adoption ARC

Living Hope Adoption Agency

Haven Adoptions