State Adoption Law Updates, Spring 2016

State adoption laws are always in flux. Read on to learn what changes have been made or are being considered during the first quarter of 2016.

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Pennsylvania Pursuing Multiple Reforms to Adoption Process

In March, Pennsylvania’s House Children and Youth Committee held hearings on three bills that seek to reform the state’s adoption process.

  • House Bill 1524 would ensure access to counseling services for expectant parents considering adoption and birth parents who have placed a child for adoption. The bill seeks to not only cover the cost of such counseling but to require courts to compile and make readily available a list of qualified counselors and counseling service providers. “The intent of my legislation is to assist an individual or individuals in navigating through an extremely emotional decision, or in the event that the decision to relinquish parental rights has been made, to help the birth parent or parents deal with the psychological aftermath of that decision,” says Representative Katharine M. Watson, who introduced the legislation.
  • House Bill 1529, introduced by Representative Tarah Toohill, would permit prospective adoptive parents to reimburse expectant mothers for reasonable living expenses. Currently, the state’s laws only allow reimbursement for medical and hospital expenses.
  • House Bill 1526 would reduce the period of time in which parents can revoke consent for an adoption from 30 to five days. The bill, introduced by Representative Scott A. Petri, would also stipulate that a challenge to the validity of consent must be filed before parental rights are terminated.

Indiana Opens Pre-1994 Adoption Records

Governor Mike Pence has signed into law an act that will open records for all adoptions finalized between 1941 and 1994. The law will not go into effect until July 1, 2018, to give birth parents time to file a contact preference form, if they wish.

Records had been “open” before and after that period because 1941 was the year when Indiana sealed adoption records. (Before that time, there were few laws governing adoptions and adoptees were permitted to view their records.) As the damaging effects of secrecy surrounding adoption became clear, the state passed a new law in 1993 that allowed individuals adopted after January 1, 1994 to access their original birth certificates. The law, however, did not provide retroactive access for adoptees from the “closed records” period.

Florida Empowers Judges to Make Adoption Decisions

On March 23, 2016, Governor Rick Scott signed into law bill SB 590, which redefines the terms “abandoned,” “abandonment,” and “parent,” and grants judges more discretion to determine if a placement is in the child’s best interest. The eight other bills signed that day included SB 860, which designates the second week of February as “Foster Family Appreciation Week.”

Iowa Supreme Court Refuses to Unseal Adoption Records

The Iowa Supreme Court has denied a woman’s appeal to unseal her adoption records. The 51-year-old made the request after being told that discovering her birth parents’ identities would help her battle the anxiety and depression that contributed to her alcohol abuse. The Supreme Court justices agreed in their opinion that opening her records might help in her treatment, but sided with the state’s laws that heavily favor confidentiality.

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