Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
There are very few actions a court can take that have a larger bearing on a person's fundamental rights than terminating that person's legal right to parent a child. Involuntary termination of parental rights means that the court is entering an order stating that a person is no longer the legal parent or guardian of a child. Even if that person is the biological mother or father. It is involuntary because the person is not agreeing with the termination, and is either fighting the process or refusing to participate.
The court will make two decisions: 1) whether the parent's parental rights should be terminated, and 2) whether the termination is in the best interests of the child. Just because a parent's rights should be terminated does not mean the child is automatically better off with the person who has filed the petition to adopt. Each case is highly unique, but a parent who has simply walked away from her child for more than six months will have an extremely difficult time persuading the court not to take away her rights to her child.
23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511 is the statute that covers an involuntary termination in Pennsylvania. A parent's rights may be terminated if that parent:
1) By her actions for a period of six months, makes it clear that she has no interest in raising the child or has refused to act as a parent in any capacity. This means that for six straight months the parent has not had custody, visitation, or any other contact with the child, whether by telephone, letter, or any other form of communication. The parent has not performed any normal parenting duties during that time, leaving the welfare of the child completely in the hands of someone else.
2) The continuous conduct of the parent has left the child without essential care for the child's well-being and the causes of the conduct can't or won't be remedied by the parent.
3) The parent is the presumptive (believed to be), but not natural (biological) parent of the child.
4) The child is in the care of an agency for three months and the parent either makes no claim for the child or can't be found by the agency.
5) The child has been removed by court order or agreement with an agency for six months or more because of conditions that the parent refuses to remedy, can't remedy no matter what services are provided, and termination would be in the best interests of the child.
6) For a baby a parent's rights may be terminated after four months if that parent knows of the child's birth but has had no contact, doesn't live with the other parent, has not married the other parent, and has given no financial support for the child.
7) The parent of a child conceived from rape or incest.
8) The child has been removed by court order or agency agreement for more than twelve months and the same conditions that led to removal still exist, and it is in the best interest of the child to terminate.
9) The parent was convicted of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, or the attempt of either, against one of the parent's children.