Pennsylvania trial judges have the authority to terminate parents’ rights. Judicial termination of parental rights is rare and requires convincing evidence or the consent of the parent whose rights are in question. A parent whose rights to his or her child have been terminated is left with absolutely no parental rights; the termination effectively extinguishes the parent-child relationship.
In a recent case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Courtreversedthetermination decision of a trial judge and an intermediate appellate court, finding that the mother’s rights to her child should not have been terminated.
The history of the case was brief but bitter. After several years of intense custody litigation, the mother abruptly dropped her four year-old daughter off at the father’s home and moved to Tennessee. The mother later claimed that the father and his new wife had been so hostile to her that she thought it best for everyone that she move away.
She tried to stay involved in the daughter’s life through mail and phone calls. Initially she maintained a schedule of weekend visits, but the father and stepmother frequently interfered in the mother’s weekend custody. The mother sent gifts and tried to maintain contact with the daughter through her own extended family members.
The rights of a parent in regard to a child may be terminated if 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 pa rental claim to a child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties.” Parents may also lose their rights if there has been serious abuse, abandonment, or conviction of serious crimes, or if their children are in protracted foster care.
In the case of the mother who moved to Tennessee, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found numerous errors in the termination procedures at the trial level. The court noted that the trial judge had not placed sufficient importance on the long-term level of hostility directed at the mother from the father and stepmother. The mother’s continued efforts to maintain a relationship with the daughter had been seriously impaired by steady interference from the father and stepmother. More importantly, near the end of the termination hearings and proceedings, the mother discovered that the father and the stepmother had separated and intended to divorce.
An enduring principle in the law of termination of parental rights is that a parent’s rights are terminated only when an adoptive parent is ready, Willing, and able to promptly adopt the child. The only exception to the requirement of an available adoptive parent is when a child protection agency that has custody of children in foster-care placement seeks to terminate parents’ rights.
The supreme court found that because the father had petitioned city parking garage did not prove that the employee’s conduct was willful. In addition, the court found that “physical illness can constitute good cause” for an employee’s failure to follow a workplace rule.
Employees with health problems cannot systematically violate workplace rules and collect unemployment, But where an employee shows legitimate reasons that add up to “good cause,’ the employee may be entitled to unemployment compensation after being fired for breaking workplace rules, for termination and no agency was involved, the separation and divorce of the father and stepmother should have been a major factor in the trial judge’s decision making. The daughter’s adoption by the stepmother was essential to the termination decision.
The supreme court observed that an order of termination “is not to punish an ineffective or negligent parent, or to provide a means for changing the surname of the child.” Instead, the court said, “the purpose of involuntary termination of parental rights is to dispense with the need for parental consent to an adoption when, by choice or neglect, a parent has failed to meet the continuing needs of the child.”
Resolution of legal issues depends upon many factors, including variations of facts and interpretations of Pennsylvania law. This newsletter is not intended to provide legal advice on specific subjects, but rather to provide insight into legal developments and issues. The reader should always consult with legal counsel before taking action on matters covered by this newsletter.