I frequently blog about custody issues. However, at the start of the new year, I thought it apt to blog about beginnings, especially beginning a family.
Many people want a child to raise and love. That desire transcends race, age, marital status and gender issues. Although the law is slow to follow societal changes, it eventually gets there. The areas of single or same-sex adoptions, as well as of scientific help to have a child are still areas in flux. So too is the law. Different states have different legal schemes. We will be guided by Pennsylvania’s in this blog. However, it is important to consult a lawyer in your state before starting legal proceedings.
Starting a family in the traditional way means having sexual relations between a man and a woman with the result of impregnating the woman. No marriage is required. Love is not a necessity. However, the child resulting from this physical relationship is the child of the man and woman—in the absence of any subsequent act to change the relationship. In Pennsylvania, parents have an obligation to support their child. It is unequivocal and is the child’s right. Therefore, no matter how loving or brief the coupling that produces the baby, both parents are required to support that child until the child turns 18 AND graduates from high school.
When the child is born, a form will be filled out ( in PA, a Registration of Live Birth) identifying the mother from which the child was just delivered. Usually the father is identified, but not always. With DNA testing, a father can be identified with great certainty—or ruled out with the same certainty. The hospital sends the form to the state department of vital records and a birth certificate is issued. The child’s parents are now legally identified. In the best of all worlds, mother father and child will be bonded and thrive. The parents will care for and raise the child and all will live happy lives. If the parents cannot raise the child, the child may be placed for adoption through an adoption agency or privately. Because so many infertile couples want to adopt a newborn, there are few available through agencies. Hence, more and more foreign adoptions occur.
Frequently, once it is known in the community that a newborn will be available, there are many people wishing to adopt. In an “open adoption” the biological and the adoptive parents know each other’s identities. In a “closed adoption” the identities are kept secret and only the lawyers, the agencies and the Court have that information. Sometimes a Court Order is necessary to open sealed Court records, when certain information is needed in a closed adoption.
Different states have different laws, and different agencies have different guidelines about who is eligible to adopt. Sometimes a single parent is not favored; sometimes a same sex couple is not favored. Age, income, religion and ethnic background may all be mandated by private and/or public agencies.
At the end of what can sometimes be a very long process, an adoption takes place. This is a legal proceeding, in which a Judge terminates the biological parents’ rights and then, after inquiry, issues an adoption certificate. No adoption can take place until both parent’s rights are terminated—unless it is a step parent adoption. In some places these two proceedings are held at the same time. In others, there are 2 separate Court appearances. Once the adoption has been consummated, the certificate is sent to the state’s vital statistics office and a new birth certificate is issued. That new certificate looks exactly the same as if the child had been born in a hospital to the (adopting) parents! So too, the legal relationship is exactly the same as though this were the biological child of these parents. All obligations (support, etc) and rights (inheritance, etc) are the same. And the new family is born!