Stepparent Adoption in Pennsylvania

1. What is a Stepparent adoption?

An individual becomes a stepparent when he or she marries a person who has a child from a previous marriage or relationship. However, the stepparent is not the legal parent of the child just because of the marriage. If the stepparent wants to become the legal parent of the child, he or she must adopt the child.

2. Can a stepparent adopt his or her spouse’s child if the child’s other parent is not willing to give up his or her parental rights?

It is less complicated and preferable if the other parent consents and is willing to give up his or her parental rights. However, yes, it is possible for the other parent’s rights to be terminated by the court involuntarily under certain circumstances.

3. Does the process involve a hearing before a judge?

It actually involves two hearings. The first to terminate the rights of the other parent, either though his or her consent or involuntarily. The second is the hearing to finalize the adoption.

4. Does the other parent have to come to the hearing if he or she consents to the adoption?

If he or she has signed a written consent to the adoption does not have to attend the hearing.

5. Does the child’s other parent have to be notified of the adoption even if he or she has not been involved in the child’s life?

Yes. Notice of the hearing must be given. If the parent’s whereabouts is unknown, this may be done through publication in a newspaper after a reasonable search is made. See below.

6. What if the location of the other parent is unknown?

A thorough and well documented search must be made to try and find the other parent. This may include an online search, checking the paternity registry, contacting voter registration, contacting mutual friends, etc. If the judge determines that appropriate effort has been made to locate the other parent, notice through newspaper publication may be required.

7. There are a number of different grounds that will allow the other parents’ rights to be terminated involuntarily. These are the most commonly used grounds.
  1. The other parent has refused or failed to perform parental duties for a period of at least six months.
  2. The repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal of the other parent has caused the child to be without the essential parental care that is necessary for the child’s physical and mental health, and the incapacity, etc., cannot or will not be remedied by the parent.
  3. If the child is a newborn, the other parent knows or has reason to know of the child’s birth and the parent has failed for a period of four months to maintain substantial and continuing contact with the child and has failed to provide substantial financial support.
8. Is a home study required for a stepparent adoption?

This depends on the county in which the adoption is brought. However, most counties in Pennsylvania treat the adoption as a “relative adoption” and do not require that a home study take place.

9. Does the stepparent have to obtain criminal or child abuse clearances?

Yes. In most counties the stepparent must obtain Pennsylvania Child Abuse, Pennsylvania Criminal History and FBI Fingerprint clearances.

10. Does the child have to consent to the adoption?

In Pennsylvania, if the child is 12 or older, he or she must sign a written consent to the adoption. Even if the child is under the age of 12, the judge may ask the child some questions to make sure that the child is comfortable with and understands that he or she is being adopted.

11. Can the child’s name be changed?

Yes. This can be part of the adoption. However, if the stepchild is over the age of 18, he or she will most likely have to follow the process for an adult legal change of name. This includes newspaper publication re the new name, a judgment search and fingerprinting and will generally require an additional filing and hearing.

12. Can past due child support obligations of the other birth parent still be pursued?

The adoption will terminate future support obligations of the birth parent whose rights are terminated. However, past due obligations are not discharged and can still be pursued as long as there is an outstanding court order for the support.

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