Embarking Upon the Adoption Journey

October 24, 2016
By Gerri Sperling
Posted in Adoption

Growing your family through adoption is a journey through a complex legal process, but the outcome makes the trip worth every step.  However, before you embark on the journey, you need to understand the various routes that you can take.  There are many options available to individuals and couples who choose to adopt, but each option raises its own legal, practical and personal questions.  Are you only interested in adopting a newborn or very young child?  Are you willing to adopt a child of a different race?  Will  you consider international adoption?  How much risk are you willing to take regarding a potential disruption of an adoption placement?  Will you consider adopting an older child or sibling group?  Are you willing to agree to some type of openness or continuing contact with the child’s  birth family?  And how much can you afford to spend on the process?

Your answers to these questions will determine the adoption options that will work best for you and your family.  If you want to adopt a newborn, you should consider working with a licensed adoption agency which provides counseling to birth parents.  However, even that decision raises additional questions.   Should  you work with a local agency or a national adoption agency?  The advantage of working with a Pennsylvania agency is that your adoption will be compliant with Pennsylvania  law.  The Pennsylvania Adoption Code places restrictions on what adoptive parents may pay for in connection with an adoption.  For example, under Pennsylvania law, adoptive parents are not permitted to pay for any living expenses for a birth parent.  Other states permit the payment of living expenses, sometimes with a cap, or sometimes limited in time.  If you adopt a child from another state which permits the payment of expenses not permissible in Pennsylvania, and you pay for some of those expenses, you want to make sure that you can finalize the adoption in that state, because not all Pennsylvania courts will permit you to finalize the adoption in Pennsylvania.

Also, you should know that an adoption really consists of two legal proceedings; one to terminate the parental rights of the birth parents and the second to finalize the adoption.  Generally, an  adoption cannot occur until the parental rights of the birth parents have been terminated.  Every state (and country) has its own requirements for the termination of parental rights.  In voluntary terminations of parental rights proceedings Pennsylvania provides birth parents thirty days to revoke their consents to adoption and a birth mother cannot sign a consent to adoption until at least 72 hours after the birth of a child.  Other states have much shorter revocation periods.  If you are risk-averse, adopting from another state with a shorter risk period may be preferable, but then your adoption must comply with the requirements of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (“ICPC”), which governs the transfer of a child from one state to another for the purpose of an adoption.

Finally, Pennsylvania amended its adoption laws several years ago to create a process for open adoption agreements to be legally enforceable.  Some other states have similar laws, but many do not.  Now, for all adoptions finalized in Pennsylvania, birth parents and adoptive parents must receive notice that if they all agree, they can enter into a post-adoption contact agreement that must be submitted to the court finalizing the adoption for approval before the adoption becomes final.  If the court approves the agreement, that agreement is legally enforceable; that is, either the adoptive parents or the birth parents may bring an action to enforce the agreement.  However,  if there are any disputes arising under the agreement, the court is to determine and act in accordance with the best interests of the child.

The adoption process is complex, confusing and at times convoluted.  However, as a parent of an adopted child, I can say without equivocation that the end result, my daughter, was worth every twist and turn on our adoption journey.  Please contact me at (412) 281-5423 or gsperling@smgglaw.com  if you have any questions about the adoption process.