If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on adoption, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral & Information Service.
Adoption is the legal creation of a parent-child relationship. Adoption usually occurs with minors; however, Pennsylvania law places no restrictions on the age of the person to be adopted. An adoption may be facilitated by an adoption agency or can be arranged privately. In order for an adoption to take place, the birth parents’ rights must be terminated. Pennsylvania law provides for different methods for terminating parental rights, including procedures for the birth parents to consent to the adoption and voluntarily relinquish their parents rights, as well as procedures for involuntarily terminating parental rights.
In Pennsylvania, if a birth parent agrees to place his/her child for adoption, the birth parent may sign Consent to Adoption. A birth father can sign the Consent form at any time, even before the birth of the child, but a birth mother cannot sign the Consent form until at least 72 hours after the birth of the child.
If a birth parent will not sign a Consent to Adoption to voluntarily give up his or her rights, the potential adopting parents may be able to file a Petition to Involuntary Terminate the rights of the birth parent. For example, if a birth mother signs a Consent but the birth father does not, perhaps because he cannot be found or for other reasons, the potential adoptive parents may be able to terminate his parental rights involuntarily. A common situation in which a parent’s rights can be terminated involuntarily is when a birth parent, for a period of at least six (6) months, has evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to the child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties.
Within thirty (30) days of the placement of a child for adoption, the agency or the potential adopting parents must file with the Court a Report of Intention to Adopt. In some situations, the prospective adoptive parents must obtain a positive pre-placement home study report prior to the child being placed with them for adoption by an agency or other intermediary.
The court will hold hearings regarding the termination of the rights of the birth parents, either through the consent process or involuntarily. Following the hearings to terminate the birth parent’s rights, a final hearing will be held where the Court will be requested to grant the Petition for Adoption filed by the prospective adopting parents. In most situations, the adopting parents will need to present the court with a positive home study, which is a detailed written report generally prepared by a social worker. The adopting parents must also provide the court with child abuse and criminal record histories issued with one year of the final adoption hearing. Beginning in 2008, adopting parents must also provide an FBI fingerprint-based record check.
Adoption may also be requested by a parent who would like his or her new spouse to become the parent of a child by a prior relationship. In these step-parent adoptions, the other birth parent’s rights must also be terminated, either through the consent process or the involuntary termination process. In step-parent adoptions, a home study is not required.
Pursuant to a decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2002, Pennsylvania also permits adoption in same-sex relationships.
In 2010, Pennsylvania adoption law was amended to provide that adoptive parents and certain birth relatives can enter into agreements for continuing contact or communication between the birth parents and the child after the adoption and that these agreements are enforceable by the court.
Pennsylvania does not allow the payment of any money by the adopting parents to the birth parents for the ability to adopt the child. Payments for medical bills and legal fees are allowed in certain instances, however, they must be authorized by the court during the adoption process.
It is possible for individuals to adopt a child from another state or country. The adopting parents should be aware that there are special laws governing interstate adoptions and international adoption.
In any type of adoption, prospective adoptive parents are strongly encouraged to seek an attorney to assist them in the adoption process to ensure compliance with Pennsylvania law and other relevant laws.
Information is current as of 2/2019.