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Adoption Hearing

One of the final steps in the adoption process is the adoption hearing. The hearing is often ceremonial in nature. It is common for family and friends to attend along with the prospective adoptee parents. The adoptee(s) must be present as well. At the hearing, the Petitioners should be prepared to show all legal requirements for an adoption have been met. Any documents that were attached to your original petition or subsequently filed with the court should already be in the court file (i.e. original birth certificate, background checks, home study report.) Additional requirements may include service on the opposing party in which case you should be sure to have valid proof of service with you for your hearing.

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Counseling for Adoption

Each county is responsible for keeping a list of qualified counselors who are available to assist natural parents contemplating voluntary relinquishment or facing involuntary termination of their parental rights. Prior to an adoption taking place, the rights of the natural parent(s) must be terminated. This is a permanent act and accordingly, the courts ensure that the natural parents understand and have a chance to discuss with a qualified professional. A portion of the filing fees paid to the court for adoption/termination proceedings go towards supporting that county's counseling fund which subsidizes the costs for counseling where the natural parent(s) desire to participate but are unable to afford it.

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Your Child's School District

If you are separated from your child's other parent and do not reside in the same school district, you need to have a discussion as to which school your child will attend. Selecting a school district is an example of an education decision that should be discussed in the context of shared legal custody. Custody orders address both physical custody, which is the schedule parties follow, as well as legal custody, which is who makes important decisions for the child(ren). If the parties ultimately cannot agree on a school district, the court could intervene to make the final determination. Other decisions parents should consult with one another on include healthcare and religion.

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Child Support Awareness

Child support in Pennsylvania is based on statewide guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The guidelines set support based on the combined net monthly income of the parents as well as the number of children involved. August is National Child Support Awareness Month. August has been dedicated to child support awareness since 1995 when President Clinton began it as part of his welfare reform agenda. All 50 states participate in child support awareness month. The purpose of raising awareness is to improve the collection of child support payments. The preferred method of collection is wage garnishment. Pennsylvania does use wage garnishment as a means of securing consistent payment.

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Adoption - Other adult household members

Background checks are required for all prospective parents in an adoption matter. In Pennsylvania, there are three background checks that are required: Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance through the Department of Human Services, Pennsylvania Criminal Record Checks through the State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare. These same background checks must also be completed for all other adult household members where the adoptee will reside. At this time, requests for checks for the Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance and Pennsylvania Criminal Record can be done online. The FBI Criminal Background check does require fingerprinting to complete. An appointment is recommended and can be made online. You will need to bring certain forms of ID to your appointment and should specify the check is for prospective adoption.

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Adoption Costs

There are numerous costs involved in an adoption action. The total amount of expenses will vary depending on the nature of the adoption. For example, a kinship or family adoption where the natural parent(s) are cooperating with the adoption will have different costs than a case where the adoption is contested by the natural parent(s) or if the adoption is not kinship. Prospective parents will need to have background checks done prior to the adoption. Pennsylvania presently requires three (3) different background checks. Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance through the Department of Human Services, Pennsylvania Criminal Record Checks through the State Police, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare. The costs are nominal for each of these inquiries. A home study is required for a non-kinship adoption. Due to the intensive inquiry that must be completed, this is usually a fairly substantial cost ($700+). A home study is not required for a family adoption.

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Termination and Adoption

Termination of a biological parent's rights and adoption often go hand in hand. A prospective parent cannot adopt without termination of the biological parent's rights. A biological parent cannot voluntarily terminate their rights or sign a child away without another party stepping in to adopt. The parental rights of a biological parent can be involuntarily terminated in connection with an adoption matter as well. Pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. ยง 2511, there are nine (9) grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights. 

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Consent of Adoptee

Before an adoption can be finalized, certain parties must consent to the adoption. Pursuant to 23 Pa. C.S. Section 2711, a consent must be signed by the following individuals where applicable: (1) the child(ren) being adopted if over 12 years of age; (2) the spouse of the adopting parent if that spouse is not also a petitioner; (3) the natural parent(s) of any minor child(ren) being adopted; (4) the guardian of an incapacitated child up for adoption; and (5) the guardian of a minor child or persons having custody when the adoptee has no parent whose consent is required. Only the consent of the adoptee is needed for an adult adoption. The adoptee must voluntarily consent to the adoption by the prospective parents as well as name change, if applicable.

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Finality of Adoption

Adoptions are permanent, so prospective adoptive parents should understand exactly what they are taking on before beginning the process. Adoption will establish all the legal rights, duties and responsibilities as exist for natural born children. Those rights and duties include, but are not limited to, the right of the child to inherit through you and your family, the legal obligation to financially support the child, the right of the child to seek support from you, the principle that these rights and duties would continue if you and your spouse separate or divorce as well as if the child develops any physical, psychological problems or becomes ill or disabled for any reason in the future.

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Contested Adoptions

If the natural parent(s) do not agree with the adoption, there is a hearing to determine if their rights should be involuntarily terminated. In any contested adoption, an attorney must be appointed to represent the interests of the adoptee(s). This person is often referred to as a Guardian Ad Litem. An attorney may also be appointed for the parent contesting the adoption. In addition to determining whether grounds exist to involuntarily terminate a natural parent's rights, the court must also consider the needs and welfare of the proposed adoptee(s). This is often where the role of the Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is most important.

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