To help you on your way there are a few people you will be in contact with. Here we will describe the roles some of these people play. To adopt a waiting child or teenager, you will work primarily with an adoption agency. It is only at the end of the process that you will need an adoption attorney / lawyer, who will prepare the paperwork to be filed and represent you in court.
You mentioned PA... so Im guessing thats where you are (Im in PA as well). We are adopting a child from foster care and recently went to the lawyer's office. The first step the lawyer told us about the process was to file an "intent to adopt" letter with the court. It was a formal letter that had detailed information about the child, us, bios, etc. Additionally, attached to the letter of intent had to be a copy of our child abuse clearances and a homestudy. Based on how the lawyer walked us through the paperwork, the clearances and homestudy was a must (not just b/c of foster care). He did explain all the law references to us that were in the letter, but I don't have a copy of the intent letter yet that he was filing. (It was a rough draft that we were going over). I really think you will need a lawyer. If you still want to try to do it without one, call the local court and find out what papers you need to submit to request an adoption.
The laws of the state in which the child was adopted determine who has access to the original birth certificate or other adoption records, and whether those records are sealed (unavailable). For information about the law in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, see the: http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/. This links to the Child Welfare Information League’s numerous publications on the legal aspects of adoption.
Private Adoption – We assist aspiring parents in adoptions involving relatives, surrogates, and other private channels, and can provide the counsel needed to navigate the process and protect their rights when it comes to filing adoption petitions, surrogacy agreements, termination of parental rights, and compliance matters involving the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) with out-of-state adoptions.
Decide who you want to handle the legal side of your adoption. In a private adoption, the birth parents transfer their rights directly to the adoptive parents rather than the state or an adoption agency. However, the adoption is still governed by state law and there are many legal procedures and requirements you must meet for the adoption to be granted. Most adoptive parents work with an attorney to guide them through the process.
In MO, where I live the legal age of adulthood is 17. Some states it is 17, some 18. If I were you I would check into that. If legal age in your state is 17, I would just wait a few months and do an adult adoption. Then you would not need anyone's consent other than yours, your husband's and your (now adult) daughter. Then you could complete your adoption without stirring up a hornets nest, although if your daughter is interested in meeting her birthparents....this would be the perfect opportunity to make that happen.
A child is not an asset like a house that gets willed to whoever you choose. In these situations, a court and/or child services will protect the child's rights and well being, if there are no legal guardians. If the child's mother has died, you are still one of the two legal guardians. If your mother becomes the second, that doesn't mean you stop being a legal guardian. If your mother then dies, you are still a legal guardian. The two slots do not have to be filled, one is enough. If you are stripped from your parental rights, your mother adopts, then dies, then the court will decide. If she wills that you again become a legal guardian, that does not undo the stripping of your rights.
The law limits the amount of time a child may stay in foster care by establishing shorter timelines for determining when she or he must have a plan for permanency. The law states that permanency court hearings must be held for children no later than 12 months after they enter foster care and the law also states that termination of parental rights proceedings must begin for any child who has been in the care of a state agency for 15 out of the most recent 22 months. Exceptions may be made to this requirement if the child is in the care of a relative or for other compelling reasons.

Stepparent Adoption – Stepparents who adopt a spouse’s child often solidify pre-existing bonds, and engage in a legal process that provides them and the child with legal rights, including the same parental rights as if they were the child’s biological parent and the child’s right to inherit from the stepparent, among others. Our legal team can assist stepparents looking to adopt a child with only one living biological parent, or when the other biological parent consents or objects to the adoption.
3. PROFESSIONAL LICENSING AND CONSUMER RATING – Check if they are licensed in your state. You can also look at www.adoptionattorneys.org which lists attorneys who have been vetted by the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and have a minimum amount of related adoption experience. Find a local adoptive parent group and talk to adoptive parents about whom they used and if they were satisfied with the legal services they received.
Training: Texas provides a 35-hour Parent Resource Information Development Education (PRIDE) course providing instruction regarding basic child care, along with specific considerations that for each prospective adoptive parent. Prospective adoptive parents will also participate in three additional training and certification programs outside of the PRIDE program, each designed to further educate the adoptive parents regarding meeting the needs of their adoptive child.
You need to have a lawyer. You can't involuntarily reliquish. Relinquish means your are voluntarily giving up the child. Both parents have to voluntarily relinquish or have involuntary TPR done by a judge in court. The birthparents rights have to be terminated by a judge before you can begin the process to adopt. Usually an adoption agency handles the TPR signing. With an independent adoption, you have to have an attorney. First they will locate the birthmom & have her sign consent. Then they will attempt to locate the birthfather. If they don't know the whereabouts of the birthparents, they will have to make some kind of attempt to locate them. Usually it means sending a certified letter to the last known address, they can contact motor vehicles for address on a driver's license, and/or put a notice in newspapers in the areas where the birthparents might be living. If no one comes forward, the judge will usually TPR the parents based on abandonment and then you can adopt. The judge will need a homestudy since you are adopting a child who is not a relative of yours.
Personalized Service – For many parents, especially those who work with adoption agencies, legal challenges are only half the battle. This is why it becomes critical to work with professionals who take the time to personally understand your situation, needs, and goals and who are committed to advocating on your behalf at all stages of the process. Our attorneys place an emphasis on personalized service and support, and draw from not only our legal experience with adoptions, but also our understanding of this major life event. Clients who work with us receive the personalized service they deserve.
5. WHAT ARE THE COSTS OF THE ADOPTION? – You will want to know who helps guide you in appropriate adoption fees, what is legal and what is paid to whom and when. For the attorney specifically: How do they bill? Do they have a consultation fee, a retainer, a set rate or do they bill by the hour? You should have an estimated adoption budget before you begin the process, and know what part is for legal fees.
Explore your eligibility to adopt a child. There is not a constitutional right to adopt a child.[2] As a result, all adoption rights, procedures, and requirements are governed by state statutes with some guidance from the federal government. In general, under current state laws, any single adult or married couple is eligible to adopt if they meet certain criteria.
3. PROFESSIONAL LICENSING AND CONSUMER RATING – Check if they are licensed in your state. You can also look at www.adoptionattorneys.org which lists attorneys who have been vetted by the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and have a minimum amount of related adoption experience. Find a local adoptive parent group and talk to adoptive parents about whom they used and if they were satisfied with the legal services they received.
The law limits the amount of time a child may stay in foster care by establishing shorter timelines for determining when she or he must have a plan for permanency. The law states that permanency court hearings must be held for children no later than 12 months after they enter foster care and the law also states that termination of parental rights proceedings must begin for any child who has been in the care of a state agency for 15 out of the most recent 22 months. Exceptions may be made to this requirement if the child is in the care of a relative or for other compelling reasons.
Once all of these steps and reports are complete the court will evaluate all of the information provided in an effort to determine what is best for the child. The judge will make this decision after hearing the testimony of involved parties, examining the required reports and studies and then applying the law that applies to your particular situation.
They may not provide matching services. You may need to work with another adoption professional, such as an adoption agency, to be matched with a waiting adoptive family. Alternatively, you may need to independently identify an adoptive family that you would like to pursue an adoption plan with. This can potentially limit the number of families you have to choose from. In addition, there are other services your attorney may not be able to provide throughout the adoption process, such as counseling and support. If adoption counseling is offered, it is normally through an unlicensed paralegal with little adoption counseling experience. The attorney also will not usually be able to keep up with post-adoption agreements, such as receiving pictures and letters, whereas adoption agencies often have programs in place to coordinate these services.
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