GUIDING FAMILIES THROUGH THE ADOPTION PROCESS
Adoption matters are governed by statute and overseen by the Orphan’s Court in Pennsylvania. Any individual may be adopted and any individual may adopt. 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. Additionally, an action for adoption can be initiated in the county where the parties looking to adopt reside. A streamlined adoption process is available depending on the relationship of the prospective adoptive parents and the adoptee. Specifically, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, step-parents and grandparents qualify as a kinship adoption. The process is simpler in that a home study is not required in a kinship adoption, however background checks must still be completed as it relates to the adopting parent(s). 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.
Kinship adoptions are also more efficient in terms of being able to file to terminate parental right(s) simultaneously with filing the petition for adoption. If the natural parents are consenting to the adoption, their consents can be attached to the Petition for Adoption. A consent to adoption cannot be signed by a natural mother within 72 hours, or three days, after the birth of a child. A consent can be signed by a natural father at any time after he has been notified the child is expected to be born or has been born. Executed consents become irrevocable after 30 days. They can be revoked on the basis of fraud or duress within 60 days. Without either proper consent or termination of parental rights, an adoption cannot proceed.
TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS
If unable to obtain consent for parental termination, you can request the rights of the natural parent(s) be involuntarily terminated within the adoption petition by pleading the relevant grounds for involuntary termination. There are nine (9) grounds available for involuntary termination of parental rights. Often, involuntary termination is successful on the grounds that the natural parent has for a period of at least six months immediately preceding the petition for adoption has refused or failed to perform parental duties.
ADOPTION OF UNRELATED INDIVIDUALS
If you are adopting an individual that is not related to you or does not fit the listed relationships for kinship adoptions, a home study will be necessary. A social worker would make a number of visits to your home and prepare a report as to whether they recommend the adoption proceed. You will need to file a Report of Intent to Adopt and Request for Home Study in addition to a Petition to Terminate the Rights of the Natural Parent(s), and the Petition for Adoption. Often times an adoption agency is involved with non-kinship adoptions however, it is not a legal requirement to work with an adoption agency.
It is always necessary to give all interested parties proper notice of the adoption proceedings. A copy of the adoption petition should be served on all interested parties. Additionally, at least ten days’ notice of any hearing must be served by personal service or registered mail to the parties’ last known address. If the rights of the natural parents have already been terminated you are not required to give them notice of the subsequent adoption hearing date. The adopting parent(s) and the adoptee must appear for the adoption hearing. Following adoption, a new birth certificate will be issued upon receipt of the Certificate of Adoption certified by the local Orphan’s Court and then submitted to the Department of Vital Records. A certified Decree of Adoption will also be forwarded to the adoptive parents from the court.