Series on Adoptions: When Can a Parent’s Parental Rights Be Involuntarily Terminated in Pennsylvania?

By Matthew T. Hovey, Esquire

In honor of National Adoption Month (November), I launched last month a ten part series on Adoptions in Pennsylvania.  The fourth piece in this series focuses on the question: when can a parent’s parental rights be involuntarily terminated?  If you are interested in an adoption, I encourage you to please return and read my articles on adoptions.

The answer is contained in 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511(a).  Before laying out the grounds for involuntary termination, it must be stated that the party seeking the involuntary termination bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the grounds have been satisfied.  Additionally, the court will review whether the grounds were satisfied at the time the party filed for termination, not at the time of the hearing.  This is important because it means that a party cannot fail in his or her parental responsibilities, receive a wake-up call, and suddenly for a short period begin performing as a parent.  To protect your parental rights from attack, you must be a parent all day, every day.  The grounds are as follows (see the statute for the complete description):

(1) The parent for a period of at least six months prior to the filing of termination petition has demonstrated a “settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to a child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties.”

(2) The parent has subjected the child to “repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal of the parent has caused the child to be without essential parental care, control, or subsistence necessary for his physical or mental well-being,” and the parent “cannot or will not” remedy the underlying cause of the failure.

(3) The parent is presumption father, but in not in fact the child’s biological father.

(4) The child is in the custody of a government agency, such as Children and Youth Services, and the parent cannot be located after a “diligent search” for at least three months.

(5) The child is in the custody of a government agency for at least six months and the whereabouts of the parent is known, but the underlying reason for the child ending up in the custody of the government will not be or cannot be remedied, even with the assistance of agency.

(6) If the child is a newborn and the parent knows of the child’s birth and for at least four months preceding the filing of the petition to termination the parent does not maintain “substantial and continuing” contact with the child, nor provides financial support to the child.

(7) If the child is conceived as a result of incest or rape of the father.

(8) The child is in the custody of a government agency for at least twelve months and the whereabouts of the parent is known, but the underlying reason for the child ending up in the custody of the government still exist.

(9) The parent was convicted of certain crimes in which the victim was a child of the parent, including those offenses listed in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2501, et all (criminal homicide), § 2702 (aggravated assault), and conspiracy to commit any of the previously mentioned crimes.

If you, a family member, friend, or coworker are considering an adoption, please call our office and setup a free initial consultation.

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