Chester County Adoption Lawyer
Address your questions by speaking with a member of our law office to discuss your rights to adopt, the adoption process and how our firm can help you. We are based in West Chester PA and serve adoption clients in Chester County and thorough out suburban Philadelphia. Contact us by EMAIL or call at (610 ) 692-8700 or (877) 529-2422.
Questions Involving an Adoption in Pennsylvania
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:
1. Will the prospective adoptive parents utilize the services of an adoption agency or placement through a foster care agency or is there going to be a private adoption such as when there is a step-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 which 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.
2. Probably the second question to answer when considering adoption is whether the adoption is going to be an intrastate adoption, interstate adoption or an international adoption. An intrastate adoption means the birth parents, adoptive parents, and child are all present in the same state. An interstate adoption means the parties and child reside in different states in the US, and an international adoption means that typically the child resides in a foreign country. If all parties and the child are from Pennsylvania, only PA 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) along with other documentation is first sent to the birthparent’s state for approval and, once approved, is then 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.
3. 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.
4. 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
5. 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.
6. 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. Whether “open” adoption agreements are enforceable in Pennsylvania is uncertain since there are no appellate court cases deciding the issue.
7. 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.
8. If the birthparent 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 birthparent is close to her 18th birthday.
Pennsylvania Law regarding Legal Standing to Petition to Terminate Parental Rights or 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.
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.
Who can be an adoptive parent in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, any individual can become an adopting parent. An adoption can be completed by a single person, a married couple, or an unmarried couple including gay and lesbian couples. It should be noted; however, that unmarried couples including heterosexual, homosexual, and lesbian couples may be required to participate in an additional hearing beyond the typical adoption process called a “good cause” hearing. At a ”good cause” hearing, the unmarried couple must show cause why the adoption should be granted so that the court may exercise its discretion and make its decision based on the children’s best interests. It is generally accepted amongst the local lawyers that practice adoption law that an unmarried heterosexual couple will probably not be able to meet this burden because they have chosen not to commit long term to their relationship and therefore the court will not commit the long-term placement of a child with them. A homosexual or lesbian couple will be required to present evidence of the stability of their relationship and why two parents (including two gay and lesbian parents) are better than one.
Legal Steps in the Philadelphia Adoption Process
1. Report of Intention to Adopt
This document requires information about the adoptive parents, the child, the intermediary, fees paid to the intermediary, and whether counseling was provided to the birthparents. The report is not required if the adopting parents are related by blood, marriage (step-parents), or adoption.
2. Report of Intermediary
Examples of intermediaries are adoption lawyers, doctors, adoption agencies or other third parties that act as the connection between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. If no intermediary is used such as when the birth parents and the adoptive parents find each other through private channels, the Report of Intermediary is not required. The report generally contains information about the intermediary, the child, the date of placement, whether termination of parental rights has occurred, an accounting of all moneys paid, a description of any property owned by the child, and statements regarding compliance with the Interstate Compact and medical history information.
3. Termination of Parental Rights
There are 3 methods for terminating parental rights. The first method is where the birth parent agrees to a voluntary relinquishment either to an agency or to adopting parents. This method requires that the birth parents attend the termination hearing. The second method is where the birth parents have both executed written consents to terminate their rights and the court is presented with a confirmed consent petition. Birth mothers cannot sign a consent until 72 hours after birth; however, a putative father may sign his consent prior to birth. The consents become irrevocable 30 days after they are signed. A putative father who has signed the consent prior to birth has 30 days after birth to revoke his consent otherwise it becomes irrevocable. The birth parents do not have to attend the hearing to confirm the consents of the birth parents. The third method is an involuntary termination petition. There are 9 different provisions for the involuntary termination of parental rights. The provisions include: (1) when the parent for at least 6 months prior to the filing of the petition has evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing their parental claim or has refused or failed to perform parental duties; (2) when there is repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, negligence, or refusal of the parent has caused the child to be without essential parental care, control, or subsistence and the conditions and causes of incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal cannot or will not be remedied by the parent; (3) when the parent is the presumptive but not the natural father of the child; (4) when the child was abandoned and the parents are unknown; (5) when the child has been removed by voluntary agreement for more than 6 months and the conditions that led to removal continue to exist and cannot be remedied in a reasonable period of time; (6) for newborns under 6 months of age, when a parent knows or has reason to know of the birth and for a period of time prior to the petition has failed to make reasonable efforts to maintain substantial and continuing contact with the child and has failed to provide substantial financial support for the child; (7) the parent is the father of a child conceived by rape or incest; (8) the child has been removed for a period of at least 12 months and the conditions that led to removal continue and termination would serve the needs and welfare of the child; and (9) when a parent has been convicted of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, an attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit such offenses in Pennsylvania where the victim is a child of the parent.
4. Petition for Adoption
The Petition for Adoption is the document that sets forth information about the adoptive parent and the child and attaches as exhibits the Childline Abuse and State Police clearances (dated less than 1 year prior to the hearing), any required FBI clearances, the homestudy update or post-placement reports if required, original birth certificate of the child, marriage license for the adopting parents as well as marriage and divorce decrees for any prior marriages, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children forms if applicable, INS designations for foreign adoptions, the H 105.09.1 Certificate of Adoption form for vital records purposes, certified copies of the termination decree, any consents to adoption, death certificate of former spouse or natural parent if applicable, and a certificate of counsel outlining counsel fee expenses. At the adoption petition hearing, the court will hear testimony from the social worker who conducted any homestudy and the adoptive parents. The child is generally required to also be present although generally he or she generally will not be asked any questions. As the birth parents’ rights have been previously terminated, they are not a part of this process.
Can a birth parent’s rights be terminated if an adoption by another individual is not contemplated?
The answer to the above question is, no. It is the belief of the courts that a bad parent is better than no parent and the courts generally will not terminate the rights of a birth parent (generally the question is asked regarding a birth father) if an adoption by another individual is not part of the process. Sometimes a young birth mother may consider voluntarily terminating her parental rights and seeking termination of the birthfather’s rights in connection with an adoption by the birth mother’s parents. This tactic will surely cut off the birth father’s rights, but does involve some legal risk to the birth mother.
Contact our Chester County Adoption Lawyers
Learn more by contacting an adoption lawyer at Ciccarelli Law Offices to see how we may be able to help you. We are based in West Chester PA and serve clients in Chester County and suburban Philadelphia including Center City Philadelphia, West Chester PA, Downingtown/Exton PA, Kennett Square PA, Lancaster PA, King of Prussia PA, Plymouth Meeting PA, Radnor and Springfield PA Oxford, Coatesville, Paoli and Parkesburg. Contact us by EMAIL or call at (610 ) 692-8700 or (877) 529-2422.