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. § 2511, there are nine (9) grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights.
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.
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.
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.
It is always necessary to give all interested parties proper notice of pending adoption proceedings. A copy of the adoption petition should be served on all interested parties, e.g. persons with parental rights to the minor child(ren) involved. Acceptable methods of service include personal service or certified mail, return receipt requested, restricted delivery. Proof of service should be filed with the court and/or submitted at the time of the hearing. If you do not have a good address for an interested party you can petition the court to permit service by an alternate method, such as publication in the newspaper where the party was last known to reside.
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 background checks must also be completed for all other adult household members where the adoptee will reside. At this time, requests for all three background checks can be done online. The cost for each background check is nominal. Fingerprinting is required for the FBI Criminal Background Check.
If the natural parent(s) agree to the adoption and are signing off on their rights, prospective parents may file a petition to confirm their consent to finalize the voluntary termination of their parental rights. In this scenario, the child is usually already in the care of the prospective parent(s). The prospective parent must consent to accept custody of the child until such time as the child is adopted. The prospective parent(s) would also need to file a report of intention to adopt with the court.
If you have adopted a child from abroad, there are several steps to take to finalize the adoption domestically. A re-adoption being filed in the United States can serve a few purposes. It can allow for an adoption decree that is in English. It can be required for immigration purposes. It may also be helpful for effectuating a name change of the child if not already completed.
Pennsylvania does recognize agreements that permit post-adoption contact with the natural parents so long as all parties consent to the contact. Act 101 was signed into law in 2010 to allow certain post-adoption contact by agreement of the parties. Specifically, a birth relative by blood, marriage or adoption can contract with the new adoptive parents in terms of continued contact with the adoptee. In each adoption case, the parties should sign to acknowledge they received notice of the options available under Act 101. If the parties do not sign an acknowledgement, then proof that they were served with the notice should be provided to the court. A sample of the Act 101 notice is included below. New parents are not required to allow to post-adoption contact if they do not desire to do so.
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. Consents of the natural parents should include the date, full address of place of execution, and be witnessed by two adults whose name, address and relationship to the person executing the consent are provided.