In my previous post I discussed the steps leading up to the adoption hearing.  In this post I will talk about your testimony and completing the finalization of your adoption.

Adoptive parents testimony is typically a recitation of the information contained in an Adoption Petition, and is simply comprised of each parties’ own biographical information, including your name, address, date of birth, age, place of birth, occupation, religious affiliation, racial background, date of marriage, and the first names and ages of any other biological or adoptive children.  The adoption then requires confirmation of additional information, which I always refer to as “the silly questions.”  They are silly because they are obvious, but the law requires that they are affirmed on the record. Those questions include the following:

  1. Have you received the medical history information with regard to your adoptive child, and is there anything in that information that would cause you to not proceed with this adoption?
  2. Does the proposed adoptee own any property of value? (toys don’t count)
  3. Is it your desire to continue the parent-child relationship you have established with the proposed adoptee, and if so, are you willing to assume the parental duties with regard to this child?
  4. Do you understand that if the Court grants your Petition today, the proposed adoptee will have all the rights and obligations as if they were your biological child? (duh – everyone knows that there is no distinction in the law between adoptive children and biological children)
  5. Have you had any out-of-pocket expenses related to this adoption that would not be reimbursed to you?
  6. This one is my favorite – What name would you like the proposed adoptee to assume?


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Many of my families who are fostering to adopt children through the Dependency System spend months to years waiting for the day when their foster child is legally free for adoption. Many of those families have experienced pain, turmoil, disappointment, frustration, and always, the joy of raising a beautiful child. However, when they meet with me to move forward with the finalization of their adoption, they simply cannot believe that the process of doing so is as easy as I tell them that it is.

So, when you finally get to that magic moment when your foster child is legally free for adoption and your caseworker says now it is time to proceed to a finalization hearing, here’s what you can expect:

Many County adoption workers will provide the information necessary for me to prepare your Adoption Petition. Each County varies a bit, and when a County Agency and an affiliated Agency are involved, we all work as a team to get the information necessary to prepare your Petition. That can include information provided from your County caseworker, from your affiliated Agency caseworker,  and directly from you.  Once all the information I need to prepare the Adoption Petition has been provided, I prepare the Petition and schedule a time to meet with you to review the Petition and discuss the finalization process.  Fortunately, that process is relatively simple when considering what many families have already been through to get to the place where they are sitting down with me to review and sign their Adoption Petition.
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November is National Adoption Awareness Month. Any month is a good time to recognize the life-changing impact of adoption and the love and support given by adoptive families.  I have worked with countless families throughout the years and they are among the most loving and generous people I know.

For many families, fostering children is their calling. Those families will foster many children for a period of time before those children return to the custody of a biological parent or other family member. Other families foster for the purpose of adopting children themselves. Families interested in fostering in order to be an adoptive resource in the future for their foster child  should always understand as much about the process as possible.  Start by asking the caseworker   questions.  Here are my top ten:
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As we move through the last quarter of 2018 and approach the end of the tax year, many families begin to gather necessary information for tax filings.  For adoptive parents, the process of claiming their adopted child as a dependent on their annual income tax returns can be somewhat confusing when the adoption occurs later in a tax year and certain information and documentation cannot be obtained prior to tax filing deadlines.

When children are adopted, their legal status as dependents and their change of name are completed the day of their adoption finalization hearing.  Typically immediately following the adoption finalization hearing, the judge overseeing the hearing will execute an Adoption Decree and shortly thereafter, the County court office which is responsible for processing adoption paperwork will issue a Certificate of Adoption.  Those documents evidence an adoptive child’s new name and identify their legal parents.  That information should be sufficient to claim a child dependency exemption for an adopted child.  However, additional details are required in order to actually take an appropriate child dependency exemption for an adopted child. 
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Admittedly, I was not always a country music fan but over the years my tastes in music have changed and, with the crossover of country music into more mainstream popular music, I find myself liking country music more and more.  There is something enjoyable and uplifting about the relatively wholesome lyrics. Let’s face it, if I have to ask my kids to make sure they are listening to a “clean” version of a song one more time, my head may explode.  In addition to my growing love for country music, I love being an adoption attorney.  It is one of the few areas of law in which I practice that almost always brings me joy and a true sense of accomplishment. So, imagine the overwhelming happiness I felt when driving with my son in the car and he played Thomas Rhett’s song “Life Changes”
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Fortunately, the Child and Citizenship Act of 2000, which became effective February 27, 2001, streamlined the process of foreign born children being adopted by American citizens securing Pennsylvania birth certificates. This Act allows for adoptees in some cases to register their Foreign Adoption Decrees and then secure a Pennsylvania birth certificate rather than the prior requirement of a second or re-adoption in the United States after their adoption in their country of origin.

There are no definitive answers on what makes a foreign adoption able to be registered, but the language in the Act provides a Court “determines if it can be registered.” The requirements of a Petition to Register a Foreign Adoption Decree sets out criteria for the Petition which essentially defines which Foreign Adoption Decrees can be registered and which cannot.
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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.
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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.
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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. 
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In a historic 2014 ruling, the U.S. District Court in Whitewood v. Wolf made same-sex marriage legal in Pennsylvania. This ruling, while finally allowing a sizable segment of the population the same legal freedoms heterosexual couples have always enjoyed created problems for some same-sex couples that had done their best to take care of one another in a pre-Whitewood world.

Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, it was not uncommon for same-sex couples to go through an adult adoption. This was the only method available to them to create a legal family unit. By one partner adopting the other, couples were able to enjoy some of the protections and benefits only available to families. One of those benefits was a reduction of inheritance taxes. Prior to the Whitewood ruling, when one partner of a same-sex couple died, the other partner would have to pay 15% inheritance tax because the surviving partner was simply viewed as “other heir” under the tax code. Imagine paying 15% tax on assets you helped acquire during your relationship, while married heterosexual couples were taxed at 0% on the same inheritance. By adopting one’s partner, same-sex couples created a legally recognized family unit and reduced inheritance to the 4.5% of lineal heirs. While a vast improvement, the solution was far from perfect.
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