Home Adoption

Montgomery County Adoption Lawyer

Information About Adopting a Child in Pennsylvania

baby with toysAdoption, by definition, is "the act of establishing a person as parent to one who is not in fact or in law their child." The United States has the highest adoption rate in the world, with approximately 127,000 adoptions occurring every year, which has been a constant rate since the late 1980s.

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What Are the Different Kinds of Adoption?

There are essentially two kinds of adoption: open adoption and closed adoption. In open adoption, information can be exchanged between the biological and adopting parents. There is also the potential for contact between the adoptee and their biological kin. However, without proper paperwork, unofficial arrangements of open adoption are able to be terminated at any time by the adoptive parents as they have sole authority regarding the adoptee. Adoptive and biological parents are permitted to enter into a legally-enforceable arrangement regarding visitation and other interactions pertaining to the child in many jurisdictions. Twenty-four states in the U.S. allow legally enforceable open adoption contract agreements; however, Pennsylvania is not one of them.

In closed adoption, the identity of the biological parents is barred from disclosure to the adoptive parents and the adoptee, and vice versa. However, in some closed adoptions, non-identifying information such as ethnic background and medical history may be allowed to be transmitted.

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Who Can Adopt in Pennsylvania?

Adoptions can occur between unrelated individuals or related family members. Historically, most adoptions have occurred within a family, and recent data suggests that around half of all adoptions are between individuals that are related.

One common example of adoption between relations is "stepparent adoption," which occurs when a new partner of a parent legally adopts a child from the parent's previous marriage or relationship. Intra-family adoptions can also occur when a child is unable to care for themselves following the death of a parent and a family member agrees to adopt them. Unrelated adoptions can occur in a variety of ways.

Unrelated individuals may adopt a child in Pennsylvania through various agencies, including foster care, or private adoption agencies in both domestic and international adoption cases.

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Same-Sex Adoption in Pennsylvania

While same-sex marriage is legal in the United States, most same-sex couples are unclear about their rights to adopt in individual states. Within Pennsylvania, there is no law barring same-sex couples from adopting children. Instead, adoption laws in Pennsylvania are rather broad. The Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute Section 2311 state that:

“Any individual may be adopted, regardless of his age or residence.”

If you are a same-sex couple or a single LGBT individual and you are looking to adopt a child into your life, then there are no legal limits that bar you from going through the adoption process like any other individual. Sexual orientation will not be taken into consideration during the process and if you feel your rights are being infringed upon, please contact a knowledgeable Montgomery County LGBT adoption attorney to ensure your rights are protected.

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What Adoption Services are Available in Pennsylvania?

Parents who wish to adopt a special needs or an older child will work with a county agency or the affiliate agency Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network (SWAN). Parents who seek to adopt an infant will need the services of a private adoption agency.

In private domestic adoptions, charities and other for-profit agencies act as intermediary parties and bring people who wish to adopt together with a child who needs to be adopted. All parties are residents of the same country. Private domestic adoptions account for about 45% of adoptions in the United States. Another type of domestic adoption is foster care adoption, when a child is placed in the care of the public. About 40% of adoptions in the U.S. are through the foster care system.

Lastly, there is international adoption, which involves a child being adopted outside of their country of birth, and can occur through both private and public agencies. Since the laws vary greatly between countries in their willingness to permit international adoptions, adoptions from abroad account for less than 15% of U.S. adoptions.

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The Facts on International Adoption

It's a common misconception that you can adopt a child from another country simply by locating the child, going to the U.S. Embassy, and getting a visa. That's not enough to meet the criteria of U.S. immigration procedures. You must get a visa for the child by filing form I-600 and seeking approval from the USCIS.

First, the child must be legally recognized as an orphan. If their parent is living, certain actions must be taken to make sure the child has been legally and irrevocably released for adoption in their home country. Then, the child can be adopted in foreign court. Once foreign adoption is completed, the adoptive parents can seek an immigrant visa at a U.S. consular office abroad. The consular officer will review the approved I-600 petition and conduct a visa interview to approve the issuance of the visa.

The decision of the foreign court should transfer to the United States. But, Pennsylvania state court DOES NOT automatically have to recognize your foreign adoption decree. It may be subject to challenge in state court unless you enter an adoption decree locally.

Our law firm can help you locate foreign counsel and other service providers in that country. We understand that you are going through more than just a bureaucratic process, but also an emotional situation. We can help safeguard your family's interests by protecting you from fraud and preventing delays.

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What Is the Adoption Process in Pennsylvania?

When you have decided to adopt a child in Pennsylvania and have contacted an adoption agency, you will be required to complete seven main steps during the adoption process:

  1. Fill Out an Application: First, prospective parents will need to go through a screening process and fill out an application. Financial and medical records will need to be submitted and both prospective parents will need to go through a criminal background check as well as child abuse clearance. Personal references are also required. An adult will not be considered if it is discovered that he or she is a perpetrator of a child abuse report; has been convicted of an alcohol or drug-related felony within the past five years; or if he or she has committed any sexual or violent crimes.
  2. Home Study: Once you have submitted your application, your home will be evaluated to ensure your home is a safe environment for a child to be raised in. This requires an in-home visit where an adoption agent or social worker will interview each parent and review your home’s safety measures. These meetings also allow prospective parents an opportunity to ask any questions they may have. At least one home study meeting will need to occur at the home of the prospective parents.
  3. Placement: After you have completed all pre-adoption training programs and the home study, the agency will notify prospective parents of a waiting child who may be a good match for the family. There is an opportunity for the prospective parents to meet the child before reaching any decision. If both the child and the prospective parents are comfortable, the county agency that has custody of the child can then make arrangements to place the child in the home of the prospective parents. There will be regular visits with your adoption agent or social worker to review the relationship.
  4. Report an Intent to Adopt: If the relationship between you and the child remains positive for at least six months, your family law lawyer will need to file an intent to adopt with the court that oversees the child’s adoption. This report will include the home study report, background checks, and any additional information about you.
  5. Report of Intermediary: Three to six months after you file the intent to adopt, the adoption agency or social worker handling your case will submit a report of intermediary, which will include information about the child and their reports on your relationship based on their regular visits and observations.
  6. File a Petition for Adoption: Once all reports have been filed and legal obligations are complete, you may file a petition for adoption with the court that oversees the child’s adoption. This petition will include a request for an adoption hearing with a county judge to discuss your case.
  7. Attend an Adoption Hearing: At the hearing, the court will hear testimonies regarding the adoption. This will include you, the adoption agent or social worker overseeing the adoption, and the child, if they are 12 years of age or older. If the court approves the adoption, you will receive a certificate of adoption and a new birth certificate for the child.

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A Montgomery County Adoption Attorney You Can Count On

If you are considering adoption in Pennsylvania, family law attorney Sheryl R. Rentz can help you navigate the difficulties of the adoption process. For more information about adoption, please call us at (866) 290-9292 today.

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