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.  Continue Reading Child Dependency Exemptions for Adopted Children

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”Continue Reading What Does Thomas Rhett Really Know About Adoption?

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. Continue Reading Registration of Foreign Adoption Decrees – Goodbye Re-Adoption (Maybe)

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. Continue Reading Crossing The Finish Line: Adoption Finalization

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

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. Continue Reading Legalization of Same-sex Marriages in Pennsylvania Causing Adoption Reversals

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

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