If you are considering adoption and reside in Pennsylvania, you are probably wondering if there are any laws or requirements you should be aware of. Adoption in PA has its own set of laws, as every state does. Each state has its own unique laws and requirements surrounding the adoption process, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the adoption laws of any state in which you reside or from which you might be considering adopting. With laws regarding adoption in PA and elsewhere, you can generally classify the laws into three categories: the laws and requirements for adoptive parents to be eligible to adopt, the laws that involve birthparents placing their child for adoption, and the laws that dictate when and how an adoption can be finalized. Let’s take a look at some of the laws and requirements relevant to adoption in PA.
Adoptive Parent Requirements
Pennsylvania is considered to be one of the least restrictive states concerning who may adopt a child. There is no minimum age to adopt specified in PA adoption laws, nor is there any legal adoption age limit enforced. However, PA foster care agencies require foster and adoptive parents to be at least 21 years old. You do not have to be married to adopt in PA. Additionally, there are no laws in PA about same-sex couples adopting.
One requirement all adoptive parents must complete is a home study. The home study is one portion of the adoption process that many new prospective adoptive parents fear. They worry that in order to pass the home study, their home needs to be spotless and extravagant, but this isn’t the case at all. The home study’s primary purpose is to make sure, first and foremost, that your home is safe for any child you might adopt or foster. The social worker will ask you and your family members questions to help to get to know you better and understand your family dynamic. Your home study social worker should be viewed as your ally in this process, not the enemy. They want to see you adopt successfully and are not going to disqualify you on a whim. In fact, they can be a great source of support and knowledge throughout your adoption process.
In addition to the interview portion of the home study, which takes place in your home, you will have to pass a background check. The background check is required for anyone in your home over the age of 18, including children, relatives, or renters. For the background check, you will have to have a series of fingerprints taken. These fingerprints are then checked a gainst national, state and local databases to ensure you have not committed any crimes that might make you an unsafe choice as an adoptive parent. The types of crimes that tend to disqualify individuals are felonies, particularly violent crimes or crimes involving children.
Many people have made mistakes in their past, particularly in their youth. If you know you have any sort of criminal record, even just a misdemeanor, your best bet is to disclose this to your home study provider at the beginning of the home study process, and demonstrate to your social worker how you learned from this mistake and how you have worked to overcome that situation. In general, honesty is the best policy when it comes to any of the questions a social worker will ask you during a home study.
In addition to checking for a criminal background, the social worker will be asking questions to determine if you are emotionally ready to adopt, especially if you are coming to adoption after dealing with infertility. Some questions to ask yourself before adopting include:
- Have you truly and fully moved past the dream of having a baby biologically and refocused on your new dream of having a baby through adoption?
- What steps have you taken to address any infertility grief you may have?
- Have you educated yourself about the emotional steps of the process for adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoptees?
- Are you and your spouse on the same page about your feelings towards adoption and parenthood?
- Have you educated yourself on how to maintain a positive relationship with your child’s birth family?
- Are you committed to the adoption process even through challenges and setbacks?
- Are your expectations of how long the process will take and how difficult it might be realistic?
Laws Pertaining to Birth Family and Finalization
Once you have cleared the hurdles for becoming qualified to adopt, if you are pursuing a domestic infant adoption, you will contract with an agency or lawyer familiar and experienced with adoption in PA. In domestic infant adoption, there are some laws that govern when and how birth parents can give their consent to place their child and also how long it takes and what steps are required to then finalize an adoption. In Pennsylvania, a birth mother must wait until 72 hours after birth to give her consent to place her child for adoption. She does this by signing a document know as termination of parental rights, often referred to by the acronym TPR. The birth father, if he is known, can consent to the placement anytime prior to the birth or after.
Once TPR has been executed, there is a revocation period of 30 days. This means that if at any point during the 30 days after TPR, either birth parent has a change of heart and wishes to parent their child, they can revoke their consent for placement and the child can be removed from the home of the adoptive parents. In many states, TPR is irrevocable, and other states have a short revocation period. A 30-day revocation period can be difficult for parents seeking to complete an adoption in PA, as they can spend an entire month parenting this child and still have the child returned to their birth parents.
Once the revocation period is cleared, the adoptive parents can look towards finalization of the child’s adoption. The finalization requirements for adoption in PA are that there must be three post-placement visits completed, with the first occurring no later than 14 days after placement. The post-placement visits occur in the adoptive family’s home and are most often done by the social worker who completed your adoption home study. These visits exist to ensure that everyone is adjusting well to the new addition to the family. The home study worker can provide the family with information and resources that can be helpful to them in parenting this specific child. Once the three post-placement visits have been completed, the adoption finalization date can be set. Most adoptions in PA are finalized within three to twelve months. This all depends on how busy the docket of the local judge is; in some counties, you will have a longer wait to obtain a court date. For adoptive parents considering adoption in PA, most of the laws are favorable. There are no discriminatory laws regarding age, marital status, or sexual orientation. The 30-day revocation period can be daunting for many PA residents. Many PA residents, because of this law, seek to adopt in neighboring states with no revocation period. Whatever type of adoption you pursue in PA, it is imperative you work with adoption professionals who are well versed in PA adoption law and have a good track record of completing adoptions efficiently and ethically.