Many of my families who are fostering to adopt children through the Dependency System spend months to years waiting for the day when their foster child is legally free for adoption. Many of those families have experienced pain, turmoil, disappointment, frustration, and always, the joy of raising a beautiful child. However, when they meet with me to move forward with the finalization of their adoption, they simply cannot believe that the process of doing so is as easy as I tell them that it is.
So, when you finally get to that magic moment when your foster child is legally free for adoption and your caseworker says now it is time to proceed to a finalization hearing, here’s what you can expect:
Many County adoption workers will provide the information necessary for me to prepare your Adoption Petition. Each County varies a bit, and when a County Agency and an affiliated Agency are involved, we all work as a team to get the information necessary to prepare your Petition. That can include information provided from your County caseworker, from your affiliated Agency caseworker, and directly from you. Once all the information I need to prepare the Adoption Petition has been provided, I prepare the Petition and schedule a time to meet with you to review the Petition and discuss the finalization process. Fortunately, that process is relatively simple when considering what many families have already been through to get to the place where they are sitting down with me to review and sign their Adoption Petition.
Essentially, the Adoption Petition contains all the information required by the Pennsylvania Adoption Statute in order to finalize an adoption. I review that Petition with you to ensure that the information provided is accurate. You then sign what is known as a Verification, which as it’s named, verifies the information in the Petition. I file the Petition with the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas Orphans’ Court Division (or whatever County Court will be hearing your case), and often I will secure an adoption date prior to our meeting. That allows you to have as much notice as possible of when the finalization hearing will occur and you can then plan accordingly.
Typically, our Court expects a minimum of two weeks to review your Adoption Petition before your hearing date. Once the Petition is filed, it is provided to the judge who will hear your adoption finalization request, who at this time is the Honorable James P. Cullen. Judge Cullen presides over Courtroom number six on the third floor of the Lancaster County Courthouse, and adoption hearings are scheduled every thirty minutes. Judge Cullen hears adoption cases on varying days and he has been accommodating with regard to special requests for dates when possible. Once Judge Cullen has reviewed your Adoption Petition, it is returned to me and I provide copies to you and your caseworker(s).
During our meeting to review your Adoption Petition, I typically review what to expect at the hearing. As noted above, hearings are scheduled every thirty minutes and typically take anywhere between fifteen and twenty minutes. Your caseworker will testify first, and then the adoptive parents or parent go next. The hearing is a closed proceeding because it involves a minor and technically, your foster child is in the custody of the Agency until the adoption is actually decreed at the end of your hearing. Therefore, the public is not permitted to come to adoption hearings unless you specifically invite them. The only people that are in an adoption hearing are the judge, his staff, myself, the adoptive parents and child, and any guests who are invited to observe the adoption hearing. After the adoption hearing is completed, additional time is typically available for the judge to congratulate the family and for pictures to be taken to memorialize the adoption.
In my next post I will discuss more details about the adoption hearing, the final steps to complete the adoption process and how to acquire all of the necessary post-adoption documentation.
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 and Family Law.