Adoptions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are controlled by the statutory provisions as set forth by the Legislature and the Rules of Civil Procedure as set forth by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Before an adoption can occur in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a termination of the parental rights must occur. Parental rights may be terminated in a voluntary or an involuntary manner. Parental rights may not be terminated simply to avoid responsibility or liability to a minor child. The law does not allow parental rights to be terminated to simply avoid child support or providing insurance to the minor child.
Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights
Voluntary termination of parental rights is just what it appears to be. That is, one of the parents of the minor child is voluntarily agreeing to terminate his or her parental rights. The law allows a voluntary termination of parental rights to an agency. [23 Pa SCA 2501] In most cases however, the voluntary termination of parental rights is to allow an individual who has married one of the parents to adopt the minor child. The divorced parent of the child voluntarily agrees to terminate his/her rights based on the representation that the now step-parent of the child will be adopting the child and for that reason and that reason only the termination occurs. [23 Pa SCA 2502] In either one of the above cases, however, the hearing in front of the Judge of Court of Common Pleas of the appropriate county must occur to make sure there is no coercion, force, threat or any other act causing the termination of parental rights that may not in fact be verbal. [23 Pa SCA 2503] If after the hearing the court has determined the voluntary termination of parental rights is in fact voluntary, the adoption by the adult will proceed. If the termination is to an agency, the agency will be awarded custody of the child at the completion of the hearing.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
As opposed to the voluntary termination, in the case of involuntary termination either a party is moving forward that party being a natural parent, an agency who presently has custody of the child is moving forward, or an interested party is moving forward to terminate the parental rights of one of the natural parents. By Statute [23 Pa. SCA 2511] the Legislature has set forth eight (8) specific grounds upon which involuntary termination can occur. Generally a termination is done under the first ground, meaning that the natural parent by conduct for a period of at least six months immediately proceeding the filing of the petition has evidenced a settled purpose to relinquish parental claim to the child by refusing or failing to perform parental duties. The grounds also include abuse, incapacity, neglect, parent as a result of a rape and children who are already in the care of an agency. In the case of involuntary termination a hearing also is necessary [23 Pa. SCA 2513] but in this case the moving party must prove one of the specific elements beyond a preponderance of the evidence so the court may make a decision at that point. In addition the court may appoint an attorney for the minor child in a case of an involuntary termination. The petition for an involuntary termination [23 Pa. SCA 2512] is required to set forth specifically the ground under the section and the factual basis upon which the grounds are alleged. A failure to do so generally will lead to a dismissal of the petition for an involuntary termination.
The effect of a Decree, a Court Order, ordering the termination of parental rights either by voluntary or involuntary method in effect terminates all rights and duties of a parent. It further extinguishes the power and/or right of the parent to object to or receive notice of an adoption proceeding. So, in effect the Decree will terminate the parental rights and from that moment on preclude that individual from receiving any notice about the minor child involved.
This area of the law deals with parental rights to a minor child or children and the requirements are strictly enforced. Although a concerned parent may proceed without an attorney it would be foolish to enter into this area of the law with all the ramifications it may have on a child or and/or an adult without the representation of an attorney. Obviously this office has dealt with adoptions for more than a quarter of a century and we will continue to do so. If you need information please contact this office.
Petition for Adoption
In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as stated above the Legislature has set specific rules and regulations in regards to adoptions. What must be contained in a petition for adoption can be found in Section 2703 of Title 23 of the Statutes of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The petition must include the nine specific elements listed in the Statute and/or any other element that may well be involved with the nine elements set forth. In addition in this Commonwealth, adoptees who are over the age of twelve must consent to the adoption itself. There are a number of other people who must also consent if they are involved in an adoption matter. Under Section 2711 of Title 23, the Legislature has set forth all the individuals who must consent if they are involved with the adoption. Failure to have the consent as required will lead to a refusal of adoption in this Commonwealth.
A hearing is required for all adoptions in the Commonwealth. The hearing is before a judge in the appropriate county with notice to be served by personal service or registered mail on all parties involved. The court may enter a Decree of Adoption at any time after all the requirements by Statute have been met. There are additional requirements if this is an agency adoption. Again those additional requirements would be found in the Statute in Title 23, Section 2531 et seq. Lastly, the Pennsylvania Legislature has set up the Pennsylvania Adoption Cooperative Exchange which can be found at Section 2551 of Title 23 which requires specific things to occur after the adoption in this matter. It requires certain information to be provided to the court through that Exchange. Those elements must in fact be met again if the adoption is to take place.