Pennsylvania Adoption Laws
Any person who wishes to adopt should be aware that there are a number pre-placement issues that must be considered prior to the placement of a child. These pre-placement issues include:
One of the first questions to be answered is whether the prospective adoptive parents are going to utilize the services of an adoption agency or placement through a foster care agency (also known as agency adoptions) or whether there is going to be a private adoption such as when there is a step-parent adoption, second parent adoption, or an independent adoption. If the adoption has been arranged through an intermediary such as an adoption agency, pre-placement reports and a home study must be conducted prior to the placement of a child with a family. Pre-placement home studies and reports are usually done by a licensed adoption agency with the fees and procedures varying by different agencies. Part of the pre-placement study will include criminal and child abuse clearances. If the home study is in process, but not completed by the date of placement, the agency performing the home study can provide interim approval for the placement except in interstate adoptions which must be completed prior to interstate approval.
Probably the second question to answer when considering adoption is whether the adoption is going to be an intrastate adoption (birth parents, adoptive parents, and child are all present in the same state), an interstate adoption (the parties and child reside in different states in the US), or an international adoption (typically where the child resides in a foreign country). If all parties and the child are from Pennsylvania, only Pennsylvania laws apply to the adoption case.
If the adoption is an interstate case, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) is applicable. The ICPC is an agreement between the states that prohibits the taking of a child into the another state unless the sending agency has complied with the ICPC provisions and the laws of the receiving state. The ICPC requires that a form (ICPC Form 100A) first be sent to the birth parent's state for approval, then, once approved, be sent to the receiving state's ICPC office for approval. The required documents should be gathered together as soon as possible so that they may be sent to both state ICPC offices since, once again, the child cannot be relocated to another state until all approvals are met.
International adoptions have many advantages to intrastate or interstate adoptions; however, additional procedures are required. Some of the advantages are a greater availability of adoptive children, a more predictable waiting period of the completion of the adoption process, no or little interaction between the birth parents and the adoptive parents, a minimization of the risk that the birth parent will change their mind as most parents' rights are terminated prior to the referral of the child to an adoptive family, and younger children are more readily available for adoption. Some disadvantages may be the increased costs for international adoption and whether there is reliable health and medical information regarding the birthparent and adoptive child. Generally, the process for an international adoption includes: completing the child placing agency application; completion and submission of the I-600A and supporting documents, US Citizenship and Immigration Services Application for Advance Processing; completion of a home study from the adoptive family's state of residence; completion of a "dossier" packet of information for the application; approval by the foreign country of the adoption application; offer of a child to the adoptive family for consideration; adoptive family's travel to the foreign country to finalize the adoption; submission of the child's documents to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services; obtain an immigrant Visa for the child; return home with adoptive child. Once the adoptive child is in the US, the adoptive parents must complete any post-placement supervisory requirements with the child's placing agency and the foreign country, complete the legalization of he adoption in the US, and finalize citizenship for the child. In countries that have agreed to comply with the Hague Convention, the country of the child's origin will determine which children are eligible for adoption and the country of the adoptive parents will determine eligibility.
Birth Parent Counseling and Expenses
Birthparent counseling is not required for Pennsylvania adoptions; however, it is highly recommended. If a birthparent appears at the termination hearing, the court must inquire whether the birthparent has had counseling. If the birthparent has not had counseling and requests it, the court can delay a termination hearing for up to 15 days. If an adoption agency is being utilized, they will generally have qualified counselors on staff. If an adoption agency is not being utilized, the court will have a list of qualified birthparent counselors.
Prospective adoptive parents and birth parents must consider what expenses the court will permit the adoptive parents to pay and whether the birth parent has medical coverage for herself and the baby. Expenses that the court will permit the adoptive parents to pay include medical and hospital expenses for prenatal care which are incident to the birth; medical, hospital and foster care expenses for the child prior to the adoption decree; reasonable expenses incurred by the adoption agency or third party for adjustment counseling, training provided to adoptive parents, and for home studies; and reasonable administrative expenses incurred by the agency to include overhead and attorney fees. Legal fees and costs for legal work performed in connection with the adoption are also permissible. Expenses which are not allowed include birth parent attorney fees and birth parent living expenses.
Obtaining the social and medical history of the birth parents and prenatal medical records of the birth mother are also part of the pre-placement process. The identifying information of the birth parent and baby can be deleted prior to providing the information to the adoptive parents.
Open versus Closed Adoptions in PA
The issue of whether the option with be completely confidential with neither the birth parents nor the adoptive parents having any identifying information about the other (also called a "closed" adoption), or whether there will be an exchange of personal information or contact by birth parents after the adoption (also called an "open" adoption) must be considered in the pre-placement phase.
If an adoptive parent is seeking to adopt a "special needs" child or children, the adoptive parent may be entitled to a monthly stipend which is called an adoption subsidy. The county agency must approve the child or children as "special needs" and must approve the amount of the subsidy prior to placement.
If the birth parent is under 18 years old, notice of the adoption must be provided to both of her parents. Consideration should be given of delaying the adoption proceedings if the birth parent is close to her 18th birthday.
Legal Standing to Petition to Terminate Parental Rights or to file a Petition to Adopt
If there is not an intermediary that has arranged the adoption, the adoptive parents may petition the court to confirm the birth parents' consents to adoption. However, if an intermediary is involved, the intermediary must petition the court to confirm the consents to adoption. In cases of involuntary termination of parental rights, prospective adoptive parents who have custody, who stand in loco parentis (acting like a parent), or who have filed a report of intention to adopt, have standing to file the involuntary termination of rights petition.
If a child has been adjudicated dependent and is in the care of a state agency, foster parents do not stand in loco parentis to the child and therefore do not have standing to seek either adoption or custody. An exception to this rule may be argued if there is an actual court order granting the foster parent legal custody.
Grandparents and other family members may be granted standing to intervene in adoption cases because of their family relationship. The Pennsylvania Superior Court has held that the approval from the child welfare agency is not required for a family member to seek to adopt a minor child. This line of appellate cases allow a grandparent to attempt to stop or block an adoption by a third party and request that the grandparent be permitted to adopt a child. These cases generally involve cases when both biological parents are deceased or when the parent's rights have been terminated because of abuse or other reasons. Generally, a grandparent will be unable to intervene in a step-parent adoption case.
Jurisdiction and Venue for Pennsylvania Adoption Proceedings
Legal proceedings for voluntary relinquishment of parental rights, involuntary termination of parental rights, and adoption may be brought in the Pennsylvania court of the county where the agency having custody of the adoptee is located or in the county where the agency having placed he adoptee is located; the county where the adoptive parents reside; the county where the birth parents reside; or the county in which the adoptee formerly resided if leave of court is granted.
Contact Our Pittsburgh Adoption Attorneys Today
Contact our Pittsburgh adoption lawyers to speak with one of our experienced Allegheny County adoption lawyers and learn how we can help you build your family through adoption. You may also telephone our PA adoption law firm in Pittsburgh at 412-281-9906, Southpointe (Canonsburg, Washington County) at 724-436-5500, Cranberry Township (Butler County, PA) at 724-776-9906 or toll-free at 1-855-VARI-LAW (1-855-827-4529). Our Pittsburgh and Southpointe law offices are open Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. and evenings by appointment. Our Cranberry Township office is open by appointment only. We're different from many other Pittsburgh adoption lawyers, click here to learn why.
Appointments may also be available in other meeting locations throughout Western Pennsylvania upon advance arrangements with our office. Ask the secretary scheduling your appointment for details including appointment locations.
Our Western PA family law office routinely accepts adoption cases in Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Lawrence County, Mercer County, Washington County, and Westmoreland County. Our Pittsburgh adoption attorneys accept adoption cases in other Western PA counties such as Armstrong County, Erie County, Fayette County, Greene County, Somerset County and Venango County on a case-by-case basis.