Pennsylvania Open Adoption Update

By Casey Johnson-Welsh, Family Law Attorney

In the last few decades, the trend toward open adoptions has risen dramatically, with nearly 70 percent of all domestic adoptions now providing for some contact between the child and his or her birth parents throughout the child’s lifetime.

In preparing open adoption documents, the birth and adoptive parents, working with their respective attorneys or family mediation services, can set forth language that spells out things such as frequency of visits or interactions with the child, ability to give gifts, etc. In the past, however, there was no way to enforce those provisions. Essentially, this meant that each party could state their intent but there was no way to ensure compliance with that intent.

But a law passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in 2010 (and enacted in 2011) now allows either party to seek a hearing in front of a judge should the provisions spelled out in the open adoption agreement be violated in any way. Should this fail, couples may have to employ the services of PA divorce lawyers to handle their case.

For those considering open public or private adoption, please keep in mind that it can take up to a year or more (depending on the specifics) to complete all the necessary steps to complete an open adoption, including:

• Termination of parental rights (including a hearing on the termination)
• Home studies to determine the suitability of the adoptive home environment
• “Intent to Adopt” report to inform the courts of the parents’ plans.

This does not take into consideration waiting lists which are often prevalent for couples who wish to do private adoptions. Additionally, those considering adopting older children should know that the courts require children over the age of 12 to give their consent to the open adoption.

Every adoption and every family is different. Although open adoption may not be the best case scenario for everyone, where it is right, it can be a very good thing. In the end, the courts will always consider the best interests of the child. But if you are considering an open adoption—either as a birth parent or as an adoptive parent—please contact us. We’ve handled many complex arrangements and are happy to discuss the unique circumstances of your case with you.

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