I have been fortunate to finalize many adoptions for amazing adoptive families over the years and I always tell them that I get to do the fun part. In the wonderful and sometimes crazy world of adoption, getting to the finish line to finalize an adoption can be a long, difficult, and often emotionally draining experience. Families who adopt children through the foster care system have varying experiences relating to legal risk, the length of time a child remains in the system attempting reunification, and for some, appeals to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. But when all of that is said and done, I am lucky enough to sit down with families and tell them the finish line is near.
Adoption finalization is a relatively simple process when you are working with experienced caseworkers and knowledgeable attorneys. The coordination between the placing agency, the families, and the adoption attorney allows families to finalize their adoptions with the completion of certain documentation. For families who have been through a long adoption process, it is difficult for them to believe that once they meet with me, the majority of the work is done and in most cases, their adoption will be finalized in a few weeks. Agency caseworkers ensure that all of their legal requirements are complete and they work with the adoption attorney to ensure that the legal requirements of the family are completed, including such things as State Police Criminal Background Checks, Childline Clearances, and in some cases, FBI Checks. The agency adoption workers then provide me with the information necessary to prepare an Adoption Petition. I prepare the Petition and meet the families (hopefully including the adoptee). That is the best part of my meeting, when I get to meet the children who are receiving permanency and witness their interaction with their forever family.
Once the Petition for Adoption is filed, I then prepare additional documentation legally required to finalize the adoption, as does the adoption worker. All of those documents are either filed or presented to the Court at the time of the finalization hearing. Now that I think about it, the hearing may be the best part. Adoption hearings are short and to the point in Lancaster County, but should be a celebration of the journey that an adoptee and their adoptive family have taken together. For many years, our sitting adoption Judge, the Honorable Jay J. Hoberg, directed counsel before him to provide basic information at the hearing because he had access to the full dependency record and the information necessary to make a determination with regard to granting an adoption decree before the actual hearing. He wants the hearings to be a joyful celebration for the children and the families. That is exactly what they are. After what is typically a 15 minute hearing, applause erupt in the courtroom and many times the celebration afterwards and pictures with the Judge and guests take longer than the hearing itself.
Many of my friends, family, and colleagues have often heard me say, “If I could do adoptions all day long, I would.” Even in contested adoption matters, the joy and professional satisfaction I get from getting families to the finish line is the best part of my practice. If you are reading this post and think that the finish line is just too far away, don’t worry. Before you know it, you will be sitting with me talking about how you can’t believe that it took so long to get here and now you are finally crossing the finish line.
p.s. To all of my wonderful adoption families, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Your families’ dedication to your adoptive children reminds us what the joy of the season is all about.
Holly Filius is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Adoption.