In Pennsylvania, new families are created every day through the legal miracle
of adoption. But there are many sides and facets to adoption, and to the
state's adoption laws.
Many adoptions begin with an overmatched parent - often a young, single
mother - who loves her child enough to know that another family will be
able to give the child a brighter future. In such cases, the parent may
voluntarily relinquish his/her parental rights to the child to an adult
who wishes to adopt the child or to an agency that provides adoption services.
There are also adoptions that occur after an involuntary termination of
parental rights. In most cases, these involve abused, abandoned or otherwise
neglected children who come to the attention of county Children and Youth
Services agencies. Because parental rights are being nullified against
a parent's will, these legal proceedings are inherently more complicated.
We will revisit this topic in future articles.
Whether it's a voluntary relinquishment or involuntary termination
of parental rights, both circumstances call for experienced attorneys
to represent all parties.
As an attorney at Scaringi Law, where I focus my practice on family law,
I work with clients on all sides of the adoption process, which at its
heart is always about the best interests of the child.
For a legal adoption to occur, the biological parent must go before a Common
Pleas Court judge for the transfer of custody to become official.
For today, we'll focus on a voluntary action by a biological parent.
I respect these parents who are strong enough to admit that their child
would be better off with a new family. It's also why I find the opportunity
to assist these parents and their children so rewarding.
Make no mistake: Legally giving up a child is no small undertaking. The
court urges all parents petitioning to relinquish their rights to retain
experienced legal representation.
To relinquish parental rights, there must be a person or agency ready to
accept the child. This prevents biological parents from shirking their
child support responsibilities simply by voluntarily relinquishing their
In cases of transferring parental rights to a person, the recipient could
be a relative or a friend, or a foster parent. The chief requirement here
is a demonstrated willingness and ability on behalf of the person to accept
the joys and the responsibilities of raising the child. In cases involving
an agency, it is almost always a county Children and Youth Services agency
that accepts this responsibility.
Either way, a biological parent cannot voluntarily relinquish his or her
parental rights unless there is some person or agency willing to accept
those rights and take care of the child.
A new family is forged
Because the biological parent is giving up his/her rights to the child
voluntarily, the adoption can proceed very quickly. In Pennsylvania, the
court requires that the party accepting custody exclusively care for the
child for at least three days prior to the filing of the petition for
voluntary relinquishment of parental rights. Additionally, if the party
accepting custody is an individual intending to adopt, the individual
must have filed a report of intention to adopt prior to the filing of
the petition for voluntary relinquishment. The filing of the biological
parent's petition for voluntary relinquishment of parental rights
results in a court hearing that culminates in a judge's decree terminating
the biological parent's rights.
The report of the accepting party's intention to adopt spells out how
the child came into the care of the accepting party. The report must be
filed within thirty days after the accepting party received physical care
of the child.
Once the filings are made by both parties, the Court of Common Pleas judge
schedules a hearing and ensures that the biological parent has at least
10 days' notice of the proceeding. The parent relinquishing custody
is required to attend the hearing, and most judges wish to question the
parent to satisfy the court that he/she fully understands that the child
no longer will be his/hers.
But what of the other parent, you ask?
The court will provide notice of the hearing to the other parent. If an
individual has been identified as the father of the child, but has not
acknowledged paternity, and paternity has not been established, he is
known as the "putative father." The putative father must also
be notified and invited to testify in court. Importantly, if the putative
father does not appear at the hearing to object to the termination of
his parental rights, or he does not file a written objection, and he has
not filed either an acknowledgment of paternity, or a claim of paternity,
the court may terminate his parental rights at the hearing as well.
In both cases, biological fathers, whether they acknowledge paternity or
not, are given every opportunity to have their say in court before their
parental rights are terminated.
In cases where the biological parent of the child is under 18, his/her
parents are notified of the court hearing as well. However, the parents'
permission is not required for the mother or father of the child to file
an initial petition to relinquish parental rights, regardless of age.
At the hearing, grandparents of the child may testify before the court,
as they may have legal standing to seek certain types of custodial rights
to the child.
Typically, though, when a biological parent reaches his/her decision to
voluntarily relinquish his/her parental rights to a child, the legal proceedings
move along quickly, and the adoption officially forming a new family occurs
in short order.
Before and after
At the conclusion of the hearing, which is carried out in private with
no media or members of the public present, the judge enters a decree.
With it, the biological parent's parental rights are terminated, and
along with them, any further responsibilities for the child.
Going forward, it is up to the biological parent whether he/she files any
further information with the Department of Public Welfare, should the
child ever seek to know more about him/her. At the very least, biological
parents are encouraged to file family health information that could prove
useful in protecting the child from disease or illness.
Voluntarily relinquishing parental rights is never something to be entered
into lightly. But it can be beneficial, especially for the child who gains
from a new beginning.
It's why, as a family law attorney, I always welcome the opportunity
to assist biological parents and new families with the legal miracle of adoption.
Please let me know if ever I can assist you and the child you love.