Case Notes: Termination of parental rights for an infant.

In the case of In Re: Adoption of M.R.B., 25 A3d 1247 (Pa. Super. 2011), the Superior Court overturned the Beaver County trial court decision and required the court to consider terminating the parental rights of the father.

In this case, the child was conceived while Mother and Father resided together. Mother and Father attended an ultrasound test in September 2009 and were advised that the child was due on April 28, 2010. The parties separated in November 2009 and Mother obtained a PFA against Father and criminal charges were filed against Father. Mother sought to have the child adopted but Father refused to consider adoption and announced his intention to file for custody. So, adoption proceedings where shelved. The child was born on April 10, 2010.

After the child's birth, Father made no attempt to visit the child, contact the child or provide financial support to Mother. Accordingly, Mother re-opened adoption proceedings on August 27, 2010. On September 16, 2010, the child placement agency filed a petition to terminate Father's parental rights, purusant to 23 Pa.CSA 2511(a). The trial court judge issued an order denied the agencies petition. The agency appealed. The Superior Court set forth the relevant portion of 23 Pa. CSA 2511 (a) which states (in relevant portion) that parental rights may be taken from a parent when:

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.

The Superior Court interpreted this provision as a "five-prong" test:

1) Is the child a newborn?

2) Did Father know or have reason to know of the child's birth?

3) Does Father reside with Mother?

4) Is Father married to Mother?

5) Did Father make reasonable efforts to maintain substantial, continuing contact with the child?

The Superior Court found that "Father did nothing within the applicable period". The Court also found that the trial court was erred in requiring "clear and convincing evidence" of Father's "purpose and intent" to abandon the child. 2511 does not require clear and convinving evidence of Father purpose and intent in order to terminate his parental rights. The case was sent back to the trial court wih an admonition to consider Father's failure to seek contact with the child.

As always, speak to your attorney before applying this case to your circumstances. In the interest of clarity, I did not address several aspects of this opinion. Also, almost all rules have exceptions and the exceptions often have exceptions.