Adoption is a wonderful thing. It helps children who otherwise have no home find a family that will treat them as one of their own. Before Pennsylvania law lets you adopt, there are a few requirements that must be met. Whether you are adopting from an orphanage in Pennsylvania, another state, another country, or adopting a child through an agency or a private person, these requirements need to be met.
The Pennsylvania adoption lawyers at the Sadek and Cooper Law Offices can help make sure that your adoption goes smoothly. Our lawyers can help you meet these requirements, file the proper paperwork, and get your adoption finalized so you can bring the newest member of your family home.
Basic Requirements for PA Adoptions
Pennsylvania’s Adoption Act, codified under 23 Pa.C.S. § 2101 and the following sections, creates the rules and requirements for adoption in the Commonwealth. The first requirements may seem obvious, but in order to adopt someone they must be eligible for adoption, and you must be eligible to adopt them. Simply put, PA law puts no general requirements on who may adopt and who may be adopted. There isn’t even an age requirement for adoptees – even adults can be adopted.
However, before someone can be adopted, they must sever the ties with their former parents. Whether these are their birth parents, foster parents, or any other parents, this rule must be followed These parental rights and child custody can be severed in several ways:
- The prior parents can relinquish their parental rights to an agency, who then puts the child up for adoption;
- The prior parents can relinquish their parental rights to the new parents;
- The court can hold a hearing to confirm previous consents to adoption; or
- The court can sever the parents’ rights involuntarily.
The process is simple enough for voluntary relinquishment; the parents simply go to court and have their lawyers file the proper paperwork. The court may hold a hearing to make sure everything is correct, especially if the father is hesitant to relinquish custody. Because paternity is more often disputed than maternity, there are special rules for notifying the father and making sure their consent (or silence) is registered with the court.
To terminate the other parents’ rights, the process is more complicated. In order to terminate a parents’ rights, there must be one of the following “grounds” for termination:
- The parent acted as though they were relinquishing custody or refused parental duties;
- Abuse, neglect, or other behaviors left the child “without essential parental care”;
- The parent is the “presumptive but not the natural father of the child” (i.e. the mother’s boyfriend, who cares for the child);
- The child is under the custody of an agency and the parents’ “identity or whereabouts” are unknown;
- The court previously removed the child from their parents’ custody at least six months ago, and the circumstances seem unlikely to change;
- The parent of a newborn has not kept contact or provided “substantial financial support” for four months;
- The father can lose custody if the child was conceived through rape or incest;
- The child was removed from the parents’ custody, and lived with an agency for 12 months;
- The parent committed a crime against the child;
- The parents sexually abused this or another child; or
- The parent is a registered sex offender.
If any of these are present, the court can terminate their custody and parental rights, leaving room for adoption. Many of these grounds are excellent opportunities for a child to be taken away from an abusive or broken home and placed with new parents, grandparents, or other relatives who truly care.
Proving these conditions might require hearings and investigations. Once the final “decree of termination” is granted, you may adopt.
Other Adoption Requirements
Adoption is far more complicated than severing the former parental ties and simply creating new ones. Many of the requirements are slow, complicated hearings and certifications.
First, if you are adopting from an adoption agency, orphanage, or another body, they might have their own requirements. These agencies could run background checks, check your criminal record, run credit checks, and otherwise determine your fitness as a parent. If they refuse you, they will not turn over custody, and you may be unable to adopt.
Courts may hold hearings to determine the “desirability of the proposed adoption.” These may include investigations into the proposed parents’ life and home. Courts may consider these factors for the proposed parents, but they cannot be the sole factor in rejecting an adoption:
- Social and economic status,
- Ethnicity, or
Courts may also consider voluntary agreements that the former and new parents work out between themselves. A lawyer can help you discuss these with the former parents’ attorneys, which may make this process simpler.
Philadelphia Adoption Attorneys
The Philadelphia family lawyers at the Sadek and Cooper Law Offices may be able to help you with your adoption. For a free consultation on the requirements and legal processes associated with adding a new member to your family, call our attorneys today at 215-626-0851.