What Are The Differences Between Open and Closed Adoptions In Pennsylvania?

Under Pennsylvania’s law on adoption, the adoption process cannot begin until the rights of the natural or birth parents have been terminated, either by the consent of the parent, or involuntarily. Therefore, a petition for the termination of parental rights is the first step in any adoption. In most adoptions, the biological mother has sought to have her child adopted, so the termination of her rights is usually voluntary. The biological father’s rights are often terminated involuntarily, or without his knowledge when his identity or whereabouts are unknown. The Court will involuntarily terminate a parent’s rights if it is shown that the parent has, “… evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to the child and has… refused and failed to perform any parental duties for the child. 23 Pa.C.S. ‘ 2511(a)(1).

The biological parents’ consent to the adoption must be in writing and must be dated at least 72 hours after the child’s birth. According to Pennsylvania laws on adoptions, such consents become irrevocable thirty days after signing.

Once the rights of the biological parents have been terminated, the adoption process may begin. The adopting parents must obtain federal (FBI) and state (PA State Police) clearances, and must also be cleared from the Child Abuse Registry. In addition, they must submit to a home study conducted by a licensed agency, which will recommend to the Court that the adopting parents will be able to provide a healthy and happy home for the child.

There are two types of adoptions: open adoptions and closed adoptions. The most common of the two is a “closed” adoption, where all adoption records are sealed by the Court and, thereby, unavailable to public scrutiny. Once sealed, the records can only be by Court Order. Although, certain non-identifying information, such as the medical history of the biological family, must be made available to the adoptive parents at the time of the adoption, names and contact information of birth parents, adoptive parents and the child are typically not shared among the parties.

Once the adoptions are finalized, the birth parents have no right to contact the child and cannot obtain information about the child while he or she is growing up. The biological parent likewise has no obligation to support the child.

The adopted child is issued a new birth certificate that names the adoptive parents as the child’s parents. The child’s name and birthplace are typically changed to reflect the surname and location of the adoptive parents.

Open adoptions, although less common, are available in Pennsylvania. In an open adoption the adopting parent(s) and the birth parent(s) agree to share certain information about the child (pictures most typically), usually on an annual basis. An open adoption is sometimes in the best interests of the child, especially where he is old enough to know his birth parents. Until recently, such arrangements have been informal. However, the Pennsylvania adoption laws now provide for a written agreement between the birth and adopting parents which is enforceable by the Court. The adopting parents are now required by law to inform the adopting parents of that such an agreement is now available, and such notice must be given prior to the termination of their parental rights.

The open adoption agreement might include the birth parent a right to contact the child or birth parents periodically, as well as the disclosure of information, such as:

• Sharing of first names
• Sharing of first names, last names and contact information
• Sharing of letters, e-mails and phone calls
• Sharing of information about the child between the adoptive parents and the birth parents

Much like in a custody agreement, the agreement may also include a schedule of visits with the child, either annually or upon certain life events, such as birthdays or graduations.

Whether the adoption itself is “open” or “closed”, the adopting parents and the adopted child have the same rights and obligations toward each other as if they were biologically related. They can inherit from one another, they have a duty of financial support and, should an illness befall the child, the parents are legally obligated to care for them. There is no provision in Pennsylvania law to unadopt a child.

Adoption is a complicated procedure that requires the advice and assistance of an attorney well versed in the applicable law.

The attorneys at Knight & Moskow, P.C. have extensive experience in this area. If you are seeking to expand your family through adoption, or is a pregnant woman looking for a good home for your expected child, call us at (610) 565-8210, or e-mail us at inquiries@knightandmoskow.com to schedule an appointment.