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Pennsylvania removed the restrictions on legally enforceable open adoptions via legislation referred to as Act 101. As many adoptive families and individuals know, Act 101 provided for Post-Adoption Contact Agreements, known as PACAs. These Agreements essentially established legally enforceable open adoptions in Pennsylvania. Under certain circumstances, adoptive parents and certain categories of birth relatives could enter into a PACA and allow for contact between adoptees and certain birth relatives post-adoption. PACAs could provide for any type of contact that was agreed upon by the parties.

Act 101 was welcomed with open arms by many families involved in relative adoptions, private agency adoptions where birth parents had indicated their preference to allow their child to be adopted by a family who would agree to contact with the birth family post-adoption, and even step-parent adoptions. However, the application to and effect of Act 101 on adoptions through the foster care system was not so great.  Children in the foster care system had often already suffered significant loss as a result of the circumstances under which they entered the system.  With the implementation of Act 101, these children’s adoptive parents often had to reiterate to their adopted child that it was not a good idea to have contact with their birth family. Or, in other cases, adoptive parents had to determine what type of contact would be appropriate with birth family members while still protecting their adopted child from the potential additional trauma of having contact with some birth family members, but not the biological parents. Continue Reading Pennsylvania’s Expansion of Open Adoption Post-Act 101 – Good or Bad, Right or Wrong, It’s Here

November is National Adoption Month in the United States and has been so since 1995 when President Clinton expanded what had been a National Adoption Week initiated by President Reagan in 1984. Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas Orphans’ Court judge, the Honorable Jay J. Hoberg, has celebrated National Adoption Month each year by establishing a full day of adoptions in November. While Judge Hoberg finalizes many adoptions every month, the November Adoption Day is an extra special day in his courtroom. The day is typically reserved for children being adopted through the foster care system and often includes balloons and celebrations in what is often referred to as “Happy Court.”

The Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon is an excellent resource for anyone who is interested in learning the history of adoption in the United States.  I will try to summarize some of the information they have compiled but please visit their website to learn more about important people, organizations and events that have influenced the history of adoption.  Continue Reading November is National Adoption Month

During the holidays, we all become nostalgic about the things in our lives that have touched us, have changed us in some way or has simply been a blessing.  When I think of those things at this time of year, I immediately go to the blessings of my family and dear friends.  For so many of us family is the most important part of our lives, and I have been so lucky to have had the pleasure of being part of adding to many of my clients’ families over the last 20 years.  Continue Reading Adoption The Greatest Gift of All

Like most married couples, my husband and I argue occasionally.  Fortunately, we don’t have the knockdown, drag out, name calling kind of arguments, and we try not to argue in front of our kids.  However, we are not perfect parents, and at times, tempers will flare, patience will be lost, and we will have an argument in front of our kids.  Recently, one such argument occurred in front of my eight-year old son. Continue Reading Divorce: An Eight-Year Old’s Perspective

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a writer for Central Penn Parent magazine about what has been referred to as foster-to-adopt or legal risk adoption. Lisa Buffington posted Foster care, adoption and forever families in July.  While I agree that adoptions of children who are involved in the foster care system can be lengthy and at times, an emotional roller coaster, I think foster care adoptions are often given a bad rap so I was pleased to have the opportunity to help dispel some of the myths surrounding these adoptions.

All adoptions have legal risks associated with them and they can all be lengthy. In private adoptions, it is true that prospective adoptive parents do not have to wait through reunification efforts, but they do have to wait to be chosen.  In some cases, this can take years.  Birth parents can also change their minds for a period of time even after the child has been placed with a prospective adoptive family. In step-parent adoptions, the law imposes certain time periods that must expire and proceedings that must be completed before an adoption can be finalized. In short, all children to be adopted have to actually be available for adoption. So, whether that is through a private adoption where birth parents have chosen to voluntarily relinquish their rights, a step-parent adoption where the adopting parent must wait until a mandatory waiting period has expired, or a foster-to-adopt situation where parental rights have to be terminated involuntarily or otherwise, all of these legal proceedings take time.

There are pros and cons to all of the adoption options available to parents who wish to adopt. Prospective adoptive parents should not rule out any options until they have spoken with experienced and qualified adoption professionals. We are so blessed to have so many amazing adoption resources in Central Pennsylvania and prospective adoptive parents may be surprised to learn that some of the information they have heard about adopting through the foster care system is just not true.

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.  Each Thursday that includes at least one adoption at the Lancaster County Courthouse is the highlight of her week.

The other night I found myself sitting with my children watching America’s Got Talent. While America’s Got Talent is clearly a popular show, it is not one which I have seen before. That being said, my children and I became engrossed in the wonder of this all-American talent show where some acts were silly, others dangerous and some downright amazing. What struck me most of all however, was a young man named Jacob, who at just eighteen years old sang a moving rendition of John Mayer’s “Waiting”. It wasn’t so much that he was young, handsome and extremely talented, but it was his back story that touched my heart. You see, Jacob shared with the world that he had been the child of neglectful parents who are addicted to drugs and ultimately, their inability to care for him and his sister caused them to be placed in foster care.  At the time, Jacob was only five years old and spent several years bouncing from foster home to foster home. He described this experience as being like someone’s luggage, never knowing where you would end up. Clearly what he wanted most was a family that loved him and the stability of knowing where he would end up.

Fortunately for Jacob, he and his sister were adopted, and before he took the stage that night his adoptive mother shared words of encouragement and gave him a big hug. Jacob walked confidently out on to the stage and delivered an extraordinary performance. But again, even then, it was not the performance that struck me, but instead, the words of his mother after hearing Jacob’s backstory as portrayed by NBC.  She said without hesitation, “That is my son, and I am his mother.” Those simple but impactful words are the epitome of what adoption means to me and my law practice. The thousands of children that are adopted every day are impacted by the generosity and compassion of the families that add them to their home. That addition is not done for fame or fortune, it is not to gloat or to be perceived as a good person.  Instead, it is a simple, yet profound relationship just as Jacob’s mom suggested, “That is my son, and I am his mother”.

For families who open their homes and their hearts to children awaiting adoption, the impact of the decision to include a child as part of a family will change that child’s life forever. Jacob is a perfect example of that. At five years old he was trapped in a neglectful home and then removed to the instability and uncertainty of the foster care system. Jacob’s parents’ decision to adopt him, changed his life forever and allowed him to be a strong confident eighteen year old, standing on a stage in New York City, singing a song for hundreds of thousands of people in that theater and watching across the country.  How could anyone ever question the impact of adoption?

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

I often hear people saying I’m young, I have no assets, why would I need a Will or other estate planning documents? It is a general misconception that only people who are wealthy and have accumulated significant assets need estate planning documents. When I am talking with a client who is unmarried and just starting out, I will ask them if they have a Will or other estate planning documents. Inevitably their response is why would I need a Will, I have nothing, I’m not married, what do I need to worry about?  Even young individuals starting out often have a bank account, personal property, perhaps a vehicle and/or a small retirement account. They may have debt and they may even have a child. In this situation, if they would pass away, their loved ones would be responsible for initiating court action on their behalf in order to deal with those assets and custody issues. Additionally, a Power of Attorney and Living Will, documents which are utilized when an individual becomes incapacitated or finds themselves with an end stage illness, may be even more important than a Will.

Will

If you are unmarried with few assets but have a child, the need for a Will is imperative regardless of the financial circumstances. A Will allows you to choose the person who will care for your child in the event of your death. Many clients say, "Well, that would be the other parent."  In situations where the other parent is an appropriate individual and the individual who the client wishes to raise their child, then this assumption may be just fine. However, consider the circumstances in which the other parent is uninvolved in the child’s life or is not an appropriate individual to care for the child. In those circumstances, a Will is a way in which the deceased parent can communicate to the court what their wishes are with regard to their child after they have died. While that specification in a Will is not binding upon the court, it is persuasive and helpful to the court when evaluating a custody or guardianship award after a parent has passed. 

You should also consider the fact that, upon your death, your friends and family members are mourning your loss. It is a difficult and emotional time and having to determine which friends or family members will be responsible for taking care of the decedent’s financial affairs and perhaps even custody issues can be stressful, emotional and financially taxing on the friends and family who are left behind. If a Will has established specific individuals to take care of these responsibilities upon death, friends and family members have been saved some additional emotional and financial strain that would not have been avoided had a Will not been prepared.  

Continue Reading I’m Young and Have Nothing, Why Do I Need a Will?

In a recent article about the top 10 custody myths in Lancaster County, Julie Miller touched upon one of the most popular myths – that a parent can relocate without the other parent’s permission. In reality, the relocation procedure that was in place for many years in Pennsylvania required any individual who wanted to relocate to meet the legal standard quantified in the case of Gruber v. Gruber. In 2011, the Gruber requirements were superseded by a new statutory provision, 23 Pa. C.S.A. § 5337, which required that no relocation could occur unless every individual who has custody rights to a child consents to the proposed relocation or the court approves the proposed relocation. As a parent, you must take all the proper steps before you may relocate, or conversely, in order to stop a relocation if you disapprove of it.

What do I have to do to relocate?

If you are the moving parent, the statute requires you to give notice to every individual who has custody rights by certified mail, return receipt requested, within 60 days before the proposed moving date. If you do not reasonably know of the relocation in time to comply with the 60-day notice requirement and it is not possible to delay the date, you must provide notice to all parties no later than the tenth day after the date that you know about the relocation. The second scenario would apply in situations such as a short-notice job relocation or an emergency relocation with limited date flexibility.

Whether providing the 60 days’ notice or a shorter period of time as allowed by the statute, you must provide the following information to any individual who has custody rights to the child:

1. The address of your intended new residence, including the mailing address if it is different than the physical address;

2. The names and ages of the individuals who will be living with you;

3. The home telephone number of your new residence;

4. The name of the new school district and specific school your child will be attending;

5. The date of the proposed relocation;

6. The reasons for the proposed relocation; and

7. A revised custody schedule.

Counter-affidavit regarding relocation

In addition to the above information, a counter-affidavit must be provided with the notice allowing the other party to indicate their position with regard to your relocation. The counter-affidavit must include a warning that if the other party does not file an objection with the court objecting to the relocation within 30 days of receiving notice of the proposed relocation, the non-relocating party cannot object to the relocation.

If no objection is made to a relocation, you must file an affidavit stating that you have provided notice to every individual entitled to notice of the relocation, that the time to file an objection to the proposed relocation has passed, and that no one entitled to receive notice of the relocation has filed an objection to the relocation. You must also file proof that proper notice of the relocation was given and then file a petition to confirm the relocation and modify any existing custody order, along with a proposed order containing the information delineated by the relocation statute. The court then has the ability to modify the order based on the non-relocating party’s lack of objection to the relocation.
 

Continue Reading Child Custody and Relocation in Pennsylvania

During my years of practice as a family law attorney, I have met with hundreds of clients who asked me the question, What do I do before I separate from my spouse? In the alternative, I have also been asked, What should I have done? For those clients who have asked me after the fact, close to 50% of them would have fared much better had they come to see me prior to separating from their spouse.

See an attorney first.  My first recommendation to someone who is considering separating from their spouse would be to see an attorney right away. There are many misconceptions about what happens in a divorce matter, and everyone seems to have a friend, relative or co-worker who has had some terrible experience, which most likely was innocently exaggerated for effect. That being said, in order to avoid the fear and speculation of inaccurate, anecdotal advice, it is always best to see an attorney first and learn your true rights and responsibilities in a divorce situation. 

In addition to simply talking to a lawyer before you separate from your spouse, you can also do the following things to save significant attorneys’ fees, delay in your divorce proceedings and quite frankly, some emotional distress. 

Make copies of all financial records, including, but not limited to:

  • five years of all personal and business tax returns, supporting schedules and documentation
  • current pay stubs
  • car titles and loan payoffs
  • mortgage statements for all real estate and copies of appraisals if they are less than three years old and settlement sheets for all real estate purchases and refinances
  • three months of bank statements for all checking, savings, money markets, mutual funds, retirement and investment accounts
  • life insurance premium notices and cash value statements
  • certificates of deposit, stocks and bonds, safe deposit entry logs and loan documentation
  • credit card statements for three months and any other financial documentation relating to any asset or debt

Obtaining copies of this information at the outset can save you significant attorneys’ fees by possibly avoiding formal discovery and also identifying the assets and debts contained within your marital estate preliminarily.

Take an inventory of your personal property.  You do not need to inventory every fork, spoon or towel, but try to account for all items of furniture and furnishings, as well as household items of value. A written list is helpful, although pictures and/or videotape is better, particularly if they are date-stamped to identify what items of personalty (personal property) existed at a particular time.

Understand your debt position.  You should know what obligations exist at or around separation, including the type of debt, the account number, the contact information for the lender, and most importantly, how the debt is titled. Just because an account is in your spouse’s name alone does not mean that you are not obligated to pay for it. Many credit cards that are individually titled include a spouse as an authorized user, which for many creditors is the same as being the account holder. It is important to know how an account is titled so that it may be dealt with post-separation with regard to limiting your liability.

Continue Reading What Should I Do Before I Separate From My Spouse?

Recently, WITF aired a three part series on adoption which highlighted how important permanency is for children, particularly those children who are often perceived to be unadoptable because of their age, physical disabilities or mental health issues. I have had the pleasure of working with many families during the last 12 years that have adopted children regardless of any challenges the children may face. These families simply opened their heart to a child in need and never looked back. 

In the last several years I have become more involved in contested adoptions. While I have always handled contested adoptions, I have come to realize that the legal risk to adopting families is not always clear when a child is placed.

Continue Reading Legal Risk in Adoption