By Matthew T. Hovey, Esquire
In honor of National Adoption Month (November), I am launching this month a ten part series on Adoptions in Pennsylvania. The second piece in this series focuses on the question: what is the procedure/process for an adoption in Pennsylvania? If you are interested in an adoption, I encourage you to please return and read my articles on adoptions.
Depending on the circumstances, an adoption in Pennsylvania can be a slow process. The case can basically be broken down into three stages: (a) termination of parental rights, (b) preparation for adoption, and (c) adoption hearing. Each stage has its own “hoops to jump through” and demands from the parties. These three stages apply whether you are pursuing a step-parent adoption, adoption through an agency, adult adoption, or any other variation. Throughout this series, each segment of the process will be discussed more indepthly, but, for the moment, I will provide some background on each piece of the process to provide a basic understanding of what should be expected during an adoption.
Termination of Parental Rights: The first step in the adoption will be the termination of the biological parents’ parental rights. This can be done in one of two ways: voluntarily or involuntarily. A voluntary termination of parental rights can occur under certain circumstances when the child has been in the care of presumptive adoptive parents or an appropriate agency for three days and will require a hearing before the Court of Common Pleas. At the hearing, the signed consent of the birth parent(s) will be presented to the court. An involuntary termination can occur under certain limited circumstances and will also require a court hearing. At the hearing, the party wishing to terminate the parental rights must present sufficient evidence to satisfy one of the grounds for involuntary termination contained in 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511. Under either scenario, if the court accepts the termination it will then issue a termination decree permanently terminating the parental rights.
Preparation for Adoption: The adoptive parent(s) will be required to satisfy certain criteria to establish their fitness and appropriateness for the adoption of the child. These steps may include securing some or all of the following: home study, FBI criminal record clearance, Pennsylvania criminal record clearance, Pennsylvania child abuse database clearance, health statements of the adoptive parent(s) and child, and obtaining copies of relevant legal documents, such as marriage certificate, divorce decrees, and the like. During this phase, you will also need to secure additional consents from the relevant parties, which may include the child.
Adoption Hearing: Once the other two stages are complete, the court will schedule a hearing to take testimony and accept the compiled documents. At the hearing, the adoptive parents will testify under oath and on the record and, under certain circumstances, so will the child. At this point, the Judge will review the record, the parties testimony, and, if necessary, secure additional testimony from the parties. The biological parents do not attend, as their rights have already been terminated. If the court is satisfied that the requirements of law were met and the intentions of the parties are true, it will order the adoption of the child.
If you, a family member, friend, or coworker are considering an adoption, please call our office and setup a free initial consultation.