Adoption and Other Family Law Issues From the Law Attorneys Serving Cranberry Township, Wexford, PA and Surrounding Areas

 
 

Adoption & Other Family Law Issues

 

Adoption

In Pennsylvania, any person can become an adopting parent, whether a single person, unmarried or married couple. Sexual orientation does not preclude a party from becoming an adoptive parent. Prior to beginning the adoption process, the party(s) should speak to an attorney so they are fully aware of the adoption process.

Legal Steps in the Adoption Process

The first step is a Report of Intention to Adopt. This is a document filed with the court in which the adopting parent(s) lists information including details about the adoptive parent(s), the child, the intermediary, monies paid to the intermediary, and counseling provided to the child's birthparents. This report is not necessary in situations in which the individuals seeking the adoption are related to the child by blood, marriage, or adoption.
 
 
Within 6 months after filing a Report of Intention to Adopt, the Report of Intermediary must be filed and notice must be given to the adopting parent(s). An intermediary is the party that facilitated the connection between the birth parents and the adoptive parents. It is possible that no intermediary is used, in which case a report is not necessary. The report contains information about the intermediary, the child, placement date, termination of parental rights, monies paid, property owned by the child, compliance with the interstate compact and medical history.

In order to adopt, there must be a Termination of Parental Rights. This can be done three ways:
  1. The first is where the birth parents voluntarily relinquish their rights to either an agency or to the adopting parent(s). The birth parents must attend the termination hearing in this option.
  2. The second method is when the adopting parent(s) obtain the written consents of the birth parents to terminate their rights. The court must be presented with a petition confirming consent. In Pennsylvania, birth mother's are not able to consent until 72 hours following birth; however birth fathers may sign his consent away prior to birth. In either case, consent does not become irrevocable until 30 days after they are signed. In the case of a father who consents prior to birth, the 30 days do not start until the birth of the child. Birth parents are not required to attend a hearing using this method.
  3. The final method is the involuntary termination petition. There are 9 grounds for involuntary termination:
  • When a parent has evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing their parental claim or has refused or failed to perform parental duties for a period of 6 months prior to filing a petition;
  • When there is repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, negligence, or refusal of the parent has caused the child to go without essential parental care, control, or subsistence and the conditions and causes of incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal cannot or will not be remedied by the parent;
  • When the parent is the presumptive but not the natural father of the child;
  • When the child is in the custody of an agency as a result of being abandoned or the whereabouts of the birth parents are unknown;
  • When the child has been removed by the court or under a voluntary agreement with an agency for at least 6 months and the conditions that lead to the removal of the child continue to exist and cannot be remedied in a reasonable period of time;
  • When, at the birth of a newborn child, the parent knows or has reason to know of the child's birth, does not reside with the child, is not married to the other parent, has failed to make reasonable efforts to maintain contact and substantial financial support of the child for a period of 4 months prior to filing a petition;
  • When the parent is the father of a child conceived due to rape or incest;
  • When the child is removed due to court order or voluntary agreement with an agency for at least 12 months and the conditions which led to the removal are still present and termination of parental rights would be in the best interest of the child; or
  • When a birth parent has been convicted of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, an attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit such offenses in Pennsylvania where the victim is a child of the parent.
Finally, a Petition for Adoption must be filed with the court. The Petition is a legal document that must contain information about the adopting parent(s), the child, and the intermediary. In addition exhibits must be attached including Childline Abuse and State Police clearances, FBI clearances, home study update or post-placement reports if required, original birth certificate of the child, marriage license for the adopting parents as well as marriage and divorce decrees for any prior marriages, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children forms if applicable, INS designations for foreign adoptions, the Certificate of Adoption form, certified copies of the termination decree, any consents to adoption, death, certificate of former spouse or natural parent if applicable, and a certificate of counsel outlining counsel fee expenses. The Petition must be presented at which time he court will hear testimony for the social worker who completed the home study and the adoptive parents. The child is usually required to be present, although the child will generally not be asked any questions. At this point the rights of the birth parents have been terminated; therefore, they are not a part of the hearing.

Grandparents Custody

Pennsylvania recognizes Grandparents custody rights, if the parents are not a married unit and in several other specific circumstances. The statute provides certain circumstances for a grandparent to enter into a custody case and obtain partial or primary custody of their grandchildren. Doing so is not always easy and it is essential to speak to an attorney prior to attempting to do so.

Grandparents, just by the nature of being grandparents have a right to file for partial custody of their grandchild so long as the parents are not married or have been separated for 6 months. Grandparents are permitted to file for primary custody assuming the following is true: the relationship with their grandchild started upon the consent of a parent or under a court order; Grandparent assumes or is willing to assume responsibility for the child and one of the following conditions is met: The child has been determined to be a dependent child under the appropriate statute; the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity; or the child has lived with the grandparent for a consecutive 12 months and is removed from the home by the parents. If the last circumstance is true, the grandparent has 6 months to file an action.

Some Grandparents may be “in loco parentis”, meaning they are standing in for a parent. If that is the case, the usual grandparent's custody statute is not followed and the matter proceeds through regular custodial proceedings once it has been established that the grandparent is in fact in loco parentis.

This area of law is very common in recent years and can be difficult, especially if there is already a custody matter pending between the parents. If you have a grandparents custody matter or aren't sure how to establish your custodial rights as a grandparent, reach out to the Myers Law Group, LLC.

Pre-Nuptial Agreements

The most common client who is considering a prenuptial agreement is either on their second marriage or has property or other assets that they have acquired prior to the marriage that they are looking to protect. The pre-nuptial agreement is a binding contract between the parties in consideration of an impending marriage. It is important to handle this matter early and give yourself plenty of time for revisions prior to the wedding so that you are not signing the night before. If you think you may need a pre-nuptial agreement, contact the experienced attorneys at Myers Law Group, LLC.

Post-Nuptial Agreements

Although much more rare than their counterparts, pre-nuptial agreements, a post-nuptial agreement functions much in the same way as it outlines expectations, with one important difference, it is entered into following a marriage. These documents are frequently drafted as a result of some life event in which one party wants to ensure that they retain their asset should a divorce happen in the future. One such example could be a property that is purchased during the marriage with funds from an inheritance and the purchasing party wants to ensure that in the event of a divorce they retain all interest in that property. Post-nuptial agreements can be difficult to draft to ensure that they remain a binding contract; therefore, if you are considering one, you should reach out to one of our skilled attorneys at Myers Law Group, LLC.
If you have additional questions or would like to set up an initial consultation at the Myers Law Group, LLC, call 724-778-8800 or email info@jpmyerslaw.com.