You Have No Right! Termination of Parental Rights in PA

By: Robert B. George, Esquire

When parental rights are terminated for a child, it is as though the child were never born to that parent. There are two types of termination of parental rights: voluntary and involuntary.
As to voluntary termination, a parent can voluntarily terminate his or her parental rights to a child. This is frequently a choice made by a parent who is not involved in the child’s life, when there is another party who wishes to adopt the child, and who has for some period of time already been acting in the role of the parent to the child.  It is important to understand that a voluntary termination of parental rights would also terminate any support obligation on the part of the terminating parent.

Parental rights can generally only be dissolved as part of a pending adoption case because there is a strong public policy not to leave a child parentless.   In that regard a biological parent can consent to an adoption by voluntarily relinquishing his/her parental rights to the child, as noted above, or be subject to involuntary termination.

As to involuntary termination, under the applicable Pennsylvania law, 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511, there are nine grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights, as follows:


1.     The parent by conduct continuing for a period of at least six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition either has evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to a child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties;

2.     The repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal of the parent as caused the child to be without essential parental care, control or subsistence necessary for his physical or mental well-being and the conditions and causes of the incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal cannot or will not be remedied by the parent;

3.     The parent is the presumptive but not the natural father of the child;

4.     The child is in the custody of an agency, having been found under such circumstances that the identity or whereabouts of the parent is unknown and cannot be ascertained by diligent search and the parent does not claim the child within three months after the child is found;

5.     The child has been removed from the care of the parent by the court or under a voluntary agreement with an agency for a period of at least six months, the conditions which led to the removal or placement of the child continue to exist, the parent cannot or will not remedy those conditions within a reasonable period of time, the services or assistance reasonably available to the parent are not likely to remedy the conditions which led to the removal or placement of the child within a reasonable period of time and termination of the parental rights would best serve the needs and welfare of the child;

6.     In the case of a newborn child, the parent knows or has reason to know of the child’s birth, does not reside with the child, has not married the child’s other parent, has failed for a period of four months immediately preceding the filing of the petition to make reasonable efforts to maintain substantial and continuing contact with the child and has failed during the same four-month period to provide substantial financial support for the child;

7.     The parent is the father of a child conceived as a result of a rape or incest;

8.     The child has been removed from the care of the parent by the court or under a voluntary agreement with an agency, 12 months or more have elapsed from the date of removal or placement, the conditions which led to the removal or placement of the child continue to exist and termination of parental rights would best serve the needs and welfare of the child; and

9.     The parent has been convicted of one of the following in which the victim was a child of the parent: criminal homicide, aggravated assault, a comparable crime in a different jurisdiction, or any attempt/conspiracy to commit the above.

A petition to terminate parental rights with respect to a child under the age of 18 years may be filed with the Court by any of the following:

1. Either parent, when termination is sought with respect to the other parent;

2. An agency;

3. The individual having custody or standing in loco parentis (in the place of a parent) to the child and who has filed a report of intention to adopt required by 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 2531 (relating to intention to adopt); or

4.  An attorney representing a child or a guardian ad litem representing a child who has been adjudicated dependent under 42 Pa.C.S. Section 6341(c) (relating to adjudication) 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 2512(a)

Such Petitions may be filed by one of the parents to terminate the other parent’s rights for reasons such as lack of involvement or abuse. However, the state agency on child welfare may also start an involuntary termination action against one or both of the natural parents.   In such cases, the agency may petition the Court to terminate parental rights where there is a history of abuse, the child is in danger because of a parent, or even if the parent has committed certain crimes, such as homicide.

Under either scenarios, the Court takes these hearings very seriously, and there is a long list of factors the Court must consider before involuntary termination can take place. The Court must carefully consider each factor and weigh how the termination will affect the child before any decision is made.

If you have the need to pursue or if you are currently involved with a case involving the Termination of Parental Rights, it is highly recommended that you consider consulting with a qualified attorney to ensure that your rights and interest are properly protected.

The attorneys at The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP are experienced and available to help you. Contact Robert B. George, Esquire at 610-565-5700, or send him an e-mail at [email protected].


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