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An adoption petition can be filed in a number of places depending on the circumstances of your case. Pursuant to 23 P.A. CS 2302, an adoption may be brought in the county where the parent(s) reside, where the adoptee resides, where an office is located for an agency having custody of the adoptee, or with leave of court, where the adoptee formerly resided. Section 2301 dictates that each county shall exercise jurisdiction through the appropriate division for adoption matters. In Pennsylvania, it is the Orphans’ Court that regularly handles adoption matters. In New Jersey, it is the Surrogates’ office.

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. The cost and procedure for a home study, where necessary, also varies by county. Finally, the wait for a hearing is longer in some counties than others based on the overall volume of cases to be heard and the number of sitting Judges. All of the above may be reasons to consider in determining where to file an adoption petition.

Jurisdiction grants a court the authority to make legal decisions and judgments. Jurisdiction is most frequently obtained by residency. Residency is required to file a divorce in Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania law, specifically 23 Pa. C.S. 3104(b), one of the parties to the divorce action must have been a bona fide resident of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to the commencement of the divorce. Bona fide residence is defined as actual residence with domiciliary intent. Domicile denotes the place where a person has his or her true, fixed, permanent home with the intention of returning after any absence. In other words, where an individual sleeps, takes their meals, receives mail, and stores personal possession. Members of the military are considered to be residents of their home state even if they are stationed elsewhere at the time a divorce is commenced. The home state would be the state where they intend to return to and reside in following any term of active duty.

Jurisdiction for custody matters in Pennsylvania also has a six (6) month residency requirement. Per the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, jurisdiction is proper in the home county of the child which is where the child has resided for at least six months prior to commencement of the action. Temporary absences from the county do not negate residency for the purposes of jurisdiction. In emergency situations, the six (6) month residency requirement may be set aside. Temporary emergency jurisdiction may be exercised if the child is in the jurisdiction at the time and it is necessary to make an immediate determination to ensure the child’s safety. For example, an emergency order may be entered if a child has been abandoned, or is subject to mistreatment or abuse. An emergency order would only be valid until a court with jurisdiction as the home state of the child makes a determination.

Pennsylvania abides by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) in terms of determining where a custody case should be handled. The preferred method for establishing jurisdiction is based on the home state of the child. The homes state is defined as the state where the child had been living for at least six (6) months prior to the custody action or since birth if the child is less than six months old. If jurisdiction is not clear based on an analysis of the home state, the courts then look to see where there are significant connections and substantial evidence relevant to the custody action. Significant connections is more than just mere presence in any state.

Once a court obtains jurisdiction under one of guidelines above, that court continues to have exclusive jurisdiction until it is established that another court has become more suitable for jurisdiction. Accordingly, any modifications of custody must go through the court that made the initial or prior determination. If all parties and the child have moved from the jurisdiction where the initial custody order was established, there is a good chance the jurisdiction for the custody matter should change as well to the new home state of the child. There is an exception to the rules on jurisdiction in the event of an emergency. If a child is in danger and there is a need for immediate action, the jurisdiction where the child is located at that time can enter a temporary emergency order. The UCCJEA also provides a procedure for registration and enforcement of custody orders across state lines.

The Pennsylvania Adoption Act is fairly liberal in terms of where an adoption can take place. An adoption can take place in any county where the natural parents of the child occur. It may also take place in any county where the child to be adopted resides. Additionally, an action for adoption can be initiated in the county where the parties looking to adopt reside. Outside of any county where a party of an adoption matter may reside, an agency adoption can be brought in any county where that agency has an office. The final option as to where you may file is where the child to be adopted previously resided with leave of court. This means a court must make a determination as to whether filing in a county where the child used to live or was born is appropriate.

The third factor is most often seen in the context of family law matters. Often, parties will want to obtain medical information of the other party to present as evidence to the court. This may be in the context of a custody matter if a party is alleging the other party does not have the physical fitness or mental well-being to parent. It may also arise in a support matter where there is an assertion regarding an ability or inability to work because of a health issue. Essentially, a party must give written consent to their provider prior to the release of any of their medical information. Entities that must follow HIPAA include insurance companies and health care providers. In some circumstances it is possible to obtain records without the patient’s written consent by subpoena or court order.

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Jurisdiction for child custody is wherever the child has lived for the past six months. If, however, you already have a court order, the court may have retained jurisdiction of the custody order if one of the parties still lives in that jurisdiction. If no party has lived in any jurisdiction for at least six months, you must look at the state that has the closest ties to the child and see if that Court will exercise jurisdiction. The reason a court exercises jurisdiction where the child resides is because that state and county will have the best available information regarding the child, including education, living conditions, etc. all of which are relevant in determining custody of the child. Within a state, you should file in the county where the child resides.

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) clarified an uniform approach to dealing with child custody matters nationwide. Since its inception in 1997, 49 states as well as the District of Columbia have adopted the Act. One of the goals achieved through the UCCJEA is clear guidance on who should exercise jurisdiction over a custody matter. The preferred method for establishing jurisdiction is based on the home state of the child. The homes state is defined as the state where the child had been living for at least six (6) months prior to the custody action or since birth if the child is less than six months old. If jurisdiction is not clear based on an analysis of the home state, the courts should then look to see where there are significant connections and substantial evidence relevant to the custody action. Significant connections is more than just mere presence in any state.

Once a court obtains jurisdiction under one of guidelines above, that court continues to have exclusive jurisdiction until it is established that another court has become more suitable for jurisdiction. Accordingly, any modifications of custody must go through the court that made the initial or prior determination. There is an exception to the rules on jurisdiction in the event of an emergency. If a child is in danger and there is a need for immediate action, the jurisdiction where the child is located at that time can enter a temporary emergency order. The UCCJEA also provides a procedure for registration and enforcement of custody orders across state lines.

Click here to read more on custody.

Under Pennsylvania law, specifically 23 Pa. C.S. 3104(b), one of the parties to the divorce action must have been a bona fide resident of Pennsylvania for at least six months prior to the commencement of the divorce. Bona fide residence is defined as actual residence with domiciliary intent. Domicile denotes the place where a person has his or her true, fixed, permanent home with the intention of returning after any absence. In other words, where an individual sleeps, takes her meals, receives mail, and stores personal possession. Members of the military are considered to be residents of their home state even if they are stationed elsewhere at the time a divorce is commenced. The home state would be the state where they intend to return to and reside in following any term of active duty.

Jurisdiction for custody matters is usually also based on a six month time frame. Jurisdiction is proper in the home county of the child which is where the child has resided for at least six months prior to commencement of the action. Temporary absences from the county do not negate residency for the purposes of jurisdiction. Further, in emergency situations, the six month residence requirement may be set aside. Temporary emergency jurisdiction may be exercised if the child is in the jurisdiction at the time and it is necessary to make an immediate determination to ensure the child’s safety. For example, an emergency order may be entered if a child has been abandoned, or is subject to mistreatment or abuse. An emergency order would only be valid until a court with jurisdiction as the home state of the child makes a determination.

Click here to read more on divorce.