Journey of adoption requires legal assistance
There is no better feeling in the practice of family law than helping a loving family happily expand through the minor miracle of adoption. It's the one time everyone in the courtroom is smiling, from the judge to the parents to the adopted child.
It takes a lot of courage for a parent to realize that giving up custody is in the best interest of the child. With this loving and generous act, the child is granted a new opportunity to grow, mature and be nurtured by caring parents, and have a solid family life and the firm foundation of a permanent home.
As an attorney at Scaringi Law, where I focus my practice on family law, divorce and child custody, assisting all those special parents willing to open their hearts and their homes to an adopted child is truly rewarding.
Adoptive families have many faces
Parents stepping up to adopt a child can come from many walks of life. My clients range from parents adopting through an agency to family members taking in a related child. I also see step-parents who wish to close the family circle and officially adopt their spouse's children. Finally, there are foster parents who wish to take the next step, making the child they have taken in officially one of their own.
In Pennsylvania, the journey of adoption begins with the filing of various reports and exhibits that detail the circumstances surrounding the adoption and describing the new home situation that the child will enter with his adoptive family.
Often, the child already is staying with his or her adoptive family. This is the case when county Children and Youth Services or a private adoption agency places a child with parents wishing to adopt. In these cases, the reports and exhibits being filed with the court will include a home study investigation and pre-placement reports conducted by the agency. The documents detail that the parents are fit and skilled as caregivers, describe the conditions of the home and note the physical and mental health needs of the child.
In such cases, much of the early legal paperwork has been completed by the agencies involved since these organizations take great pains to place children with highly qualified applicants.
Family relations make adoptions relatively easy
In cases where a family member, relative or step-parent is looking to adopt a related child, the process is even easier. Often, a close relative or family member has taken in the child, who may have been living with the adoptive relative for some time.
At this point in the process, it is time to file what is called the prospective parents' intention to adopt. This places the court on notice of the parents' intentions regarding the child, while detailing all the parties and circumstances of the case.
In cases of agency adoptions, this report must include the sum of money, if any, that the parents paid to the agency to arrange the adoption. This agency report must be filed within 30 days of the adoptive parents receiving custody of the child through the agency placement.
When dealing with adoption agencies or Children and Youth, the court can direct its own investigation into the suitability of the placement, or it can simply accept the report of the agency involved. A follow-up report, checking on the new family, is done six months after the placement.
A happy hearing
With all the placement reports completed, the consent documents signed and exhibits filed, it is time to file a petition for adoption with the court.
This is also when any name-change issues are worked out. Will the child take the new family's last name? In some cases, even the child's first and middle names are changed by the adoptive family.
In all adoption cases, the signed and dated consent of birth parents agreeing to the adoption becomes irrevocable after 30 days. However, birth relatives and the adoptive parents can enter into agreements for continuing contact between those relatives and the child. But these agreements, which specify the length and number of contacts by the child's biological relatives, must be completed on or before the day the adoption decree is issued by the court.
At this point, a hearing is held, with prior notice given to all parties. The hearing can be public or private, at the court's discretion. The adoptive parents must attend, and so must the child, although sometimes excuses are granted if the child is an infant or in school.
Typically, testimony is given by the prospective parents and other parties in support of the adoption. The court can ask for further investigation of the case, but it usually doesn't. And rare is the case in which any testimony against the adoption is heard.
Instead, the judge typically rules from the bench, finding that the physical, emotional and mental needs of the child ─ along with the child's welfare ─ will be provided for by the adoptive parents and their new home.
With this, the adoption decree is granted, and later, the official certificate of adoption making it all legal is issued.
The adoptive parents and their child leave the courtroom as a new family. A happy day, indeed.