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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When it comes to seeking custody of their grandchildren, grandparents face many challenges. Between navigating the impact such an effort has on a grandparent’s relationship with their own child against whom they are filing for custody and establishing standing to file for custody, grandparents in this situation face a difficult path.

Grandparents can attempt to obtain standing in any of the following three ways:

  • the grandparents stand in loco parentis to the child, meaning that they are acting in place of the parents;
  • the grandparents do not stand in loco parentis, but they have a prior relationship with the child and either the child has been deemed dependent by the court; the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity; or the child has resided with the grandparents for at least 12 months and has been recently removed from the grandparents’ home by a parent; or
  • the grandparents have a sustained, substantial and sincere interest in the child and neither parent has any form of care and control of the child.

You can read a more in-depth analysis on the third form of standing in my previous post, which can be found here.

In some cases, the path is made more difficult where two sets of grandparents are attempting to gain custody of their grandchild(ren) at the same time. Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued an opinion clarifying the provision of the custody statute that allows grandparents to seek custody when the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity and two sets of grandparents are seeking custody of a child.
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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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This post is part of our ongoing series exploring the impact of technology on legal issues.  For an introduction to the series and a collection of the posts in the series, check out this post.

Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing.  That would be the sound of a text message showing up on my phone, watch, iPad, and computer all at the same time.  Don’t worry, I actually have the sound turned off on all but one of those devices, so I don’t drive myself and everyone around me insane.  I love the convenience of it.  No matter which device I am using, I can easily respond to a text or call without having to figure out where the heck I left my phone. And because my fiancé has sworn off all things Apple, I never have to worry about him seeing any surprises I’m planning.

But we’re not like most couples.  Most couples I know have the same type of phone and if it is an iPhone, they often share the same Apple ID.  Sure, this is convenient for a number of reasons.  But what happens when a couple decides to separate and forgets that their ex has access to all of their text messages?  Or can see their emails?  Sadly, I’ve had more than one client who discovered their spouse was unfaithful because the spouse forgot their devices were linked.  I’ve had clients who can’t figure out how their ex found out about someone they were talking to months after separating even though they were never seen together publicly and most communication was limited to texting.  If you shared an account or had your texts or calls going to another device that you do not have exclusive control over, you need to be mindful that your ex may still have access to what you assume are private calls or text messages.
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On December 5, 2016, the law in Pennsylvania as it relates to the required length of separation in order to establish grounds for divorce reduced from two years to one year.  This reduction was highly contested for many years in our legislature and had been proposed on multiple occasions during the last decade.  While the pros and cons of the reduction in the length of separation were argued multiple times, the legislature finally determined that the reduction was appropriate.

The reduction of the two-year waiting period means that any spouses who physically or legally separate after December 5, 2016 now will only have to wait one year before they have established grounds for divorce unless otherwise established.  In no-fault divorces, there are only two ways to establish grounds for divorce.  The parties consent to the divorce, or complete a separation period which has now been shortened to one year. 
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Years of effort led by the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law community paid off on June 28, 2018, when Governor Wolf signed into law the Pennsylvania Collaborative Law Act.  The new law creates a uniform standard of procedure and practice in Pennsylvania for parties opting to proceed with collaborative divorces.  The purpose of the law is to make the legal process of collaborative divorce more uniform across Pennsylvania.

Collaborative Law is a method of dispute resolution which some divorcing parties opt to engage in, requiring both of them to sign a participation agreement to stay out of court.  The process  was created by Stuart Webb, a Minnesota attorney who sought a method that would permit divorcing parties to retain decision-making and control over the complex yet often emotional decisions regarding their divorce, including separation of assets, custody of their children and financial support.
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When we think of grandparents, we often think of sweet older men and women who sneak candy from their purse to their grandsons or pull quarters out from behind the ears of the granddaughters. As a new parent, I know better than to call my mother “older,” but I am sure she will be sneaking my son candy from her purse as soon as he learns how to chew. In fact, she has already called dibs on giving him his first French fry!

Throughout our lives, many of us have been fortunate to enjoy traditional grandparent/grandchild relationships either as children running to the door when Pop Pop comes for a visit, as parents who are relieved when Nana volunteers to play with the baby to allow mom and dad to catch up on sleep, or as grandparents who look forward to spoiling their grandchildren and letting them do things Mom and Dad won’t.

However, it is becoming more and more common for grandparents to take on the non-traditional role of sole caregiver for their grandchildren. It is estimated that in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, there are 82,000 grandparents who act as “parent” to nearly 89,000 grandchildren. These numbers continue to increase as the opioid and heroin epidemic spreads and claims the competencies and lives of the parents who would otherwise be caring for their children. 
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