In Part 1 of “Adoption 101: What To Know When Considering Adoption series,” we discussed the home study report or family profile and deciding what type of adoption is best for your family. This second part of the series explains the legal components of the adoption process in Pennsylvania.
Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children
If you decide to adopt domestically, you may still have another legal aspect to your adoption if you adopt across state lines. Adoption law is state-by-state, and any placement of a child across state lines is governed by the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC). When a child is moved from the sending state where they are born to the receiving state where the adoptive parents reside, a packet of information must be submitted to the ICPC offices in both states. The family cannot travel to their home state until the ICPC packet clears and approves the placement. Specifics on each state can be found not the ICPC State Pages and you can find a trusted attorney that understands ICPC through the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproductive Attorneys.
Termination of Parental Rights & Adoption Finalization
In adoption in Pennsylvania, there are two main legal aspects that must occur – (1) termination or relinquishment of parental rights of the biological parents and (2) finalization of the adoption of the adoptive parents to become the legal parents. Procedures vary as adoption law is state-by-state. In addition, if you are completing an interstate adoption, you may have Choice of Law where you can review both state’s law options for your family and make a decision on what law works best.
Termination or relinquishment of parental rights of the biological parents – This may be referred as Consents, Relinquishments, Extinguishing, or Surrendering rights. In some states this is done outside a courtroom, extrajudicially by signing paperwork, in other states, it is required for the biological parents to testify in court or for the attorney and/or agency to confirm the consents in court to receive a termination decree. Whatever the mechanism, this must be done prior to moving toward the finalization of the adoption.
Finalization – A Finalization hearing is where a judge orders the child to be the legal child of the adoptive parents. This occurs after the biological parental rights have been terminated and the adoptive parents have completed their post-placement requirements. If an adoption agency is involved they must consent to the adoption as well.
After the Finalization, the adoptee will be a natural child to the adoptive and now legal parents in every way. It is important to complete additional steps after this hearing, such as applying for an amended birth certificate and a social security number, and gathering appropriate documents to apply for the adoption tax credit. If you need a temporary number for the child before you get a social security number, you can apply for an Adoption Taxpayer Identification Number.
When going through the adoption process, there may be other aspects to consider that may influence your decision in the process.
Openness – Most domestic adoptions today are open adoptions, where the biological parents and adoptive parents are aware of each other’s identities and have formed some level of relationship and communication moving forward. Many states have Post Adoption Contact Agreements, including Pennsylvania, and requirements for the court to maintain biological family information for the adoptee.
Counseling – The adoption process is emotional for all parties and it is important to take care of your mental health throughout the process and in the future. You can find an Adoption Competent Therapist here.
Type of Family – Depending on the type of family you are or are looking to building, you may run into obstacles depending on the state and agencies you encounter. It is recommended if you identify as an LGBTQI family, single parent, or large family, that you seek sound guidance from professionals in your state that have worked with your type of family before.
Health Concerns – When adopting or fostering a child there are known and unknown health concerns, ranging from behavioral concerns, drug exposure, premature delivery, genetic aspects, or other health concerns. It is important to educate yourself on the medical aspects of your adoption plan and work with experts, such as adoption medical clinics, to know how to best care for your child.
Birth Certificate – In the adoption process, the birth certificate is usually not amended until after the finalization is complete. This could be several months or years after the child is placed with you. Once the adoption is finalized you will submit for an amended birth certificate with the child’s new name and your name(s) as parents. In Pennsylvania, you can learn more about applying for a birth certificate here.
Where do I go next?
You can start by contacting an attorney, agency, or local organization in your home state. Here are some resources to get you started.
National Council for Adoption – Adoption Advocacy and Awareness to meet the diverse needs of children, birth parents, adopted individuals, adoptive families, and all those touched by adoption through global advocacy, education, research, legislative action, and collaboration.