Series on Adoptions: Can a Biological Parent Revoke His or Her Consent?

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 fifth piece in this series focuses on the question: can a biological parent revoke his or her consent?  If you are interested in an adoption, I encourage you to please return and read my articles on adoptions.

The answer to this question is complicated.  The technical legal answer is no, but the practical real world answer is yes.  The reason for the complication is that the reality of the situation provides for an unofficial consent which may be revoked and then the the legal world provides for official consent which may not be revoked.  This distinction is a source of great anxiety and stress for both the natural parents and the presumptive adoptive parents.

Pennsylvania law provides for the relinquishment of the child to both an appropriate agency (23 Pa.C.S. § 2501) and to an adult intending to adopt the child (23 Pa.C.S. § 2502).  Under either avenue, once the child has been in the care of the agency or presumptive adoptive parents for three days, the natural parent may petition the court for permission to relinquish (or voluntarily terminate) his or her parental rights.  Upon receipt of the petition, the court will schedule a hearing on the matter, which cannot occur less than 10 days from the time the petition is filed.  This means that from birth, a minimum of 13 days will pass between when the child is born and when the hearing could be scheduled.  At the hearing, the natural parent(s) will appear before the court and the court will determine whether to accept the relinquishment of the parental rights.  If the court accepts the relinquishment, then the parental rights will be forever terminated.  Once this occurs, absent a legal error, the consent cannot be revoked and the termination cannot be undone.

The reality of the situation is a different story.  Presumably, at the time of the birth, the natural parent(s) and the adoptive parents will have an agreement that the adoptive parents will adopt the child.  In a sense, an unofficial consent will be provided.  As a result, shortly after the birth, the adoptive parents will take custody of the child.  The adoptive parents will normally retain custody of the child up through the hearing.  If, however, at any point leading up to the conclusion of the hearing the natural parent(s) withdraw the unofficial consent, then the child will be removed from the adoptive parents and returned to the natural parent(s).  This period, and the removal of the child, can be an emotionally difficult time for all involved.

To protect all parties, it is recommended that the natural parent(s) receive counseling prior to the hearing.  In fact, hospitals are required to provide the patients who may be considering an adoption with a list of counselors.  Likewise, prior to accepting the relinquishment of parental rights, the court is evaluate whether the parent requires counseling and, if so, order that counseling be completed prior to the relinquishment of the parental rights.

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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