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Termination of Parental Rights- Part I; Involuntary Termination

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There are two distinct types of termination proceedings for parental rights.  One is voluntary, the other is involuntary.

By Attorney Jeffrey B. Engle, Adoption Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

Numerous potential clients have contacted me in the past seeking advice on how to terminate someone's parental rights.  Either due to lack of involvement or abuse by the parent.  This is not always easy for the child or the courts to properly terminate a parent's rights.  There are a number of statutory grounds to terminate a parent's rights.

There are nine grounds upon which an involuntary termination petition may be granted:

  1. The parent either has evidenced a settled purpose of relinquishing parental claim to a child or has refused or failed to perform parental duties by conduct continuing for at least six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition. When the statutory basis for termination has been established, the court must engage in three further lines of inquiry:
    • The parent's explanation for the conduct;
    • Post-abandonment contact between parent and child; and
    • The effect of termination on the child.
  2. The repeated and continued incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal of the parent has caused the child to be without essential parental care, control or subsistence necessary for the child's 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 and was 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 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 within a reasonable period of time and termination of 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 contact with the child and has failed during the same four-month period to provide financial support for the child.
  7. The parent is the father of a child who was conceived as a result of a rape.
  8. Parental rights may be terminated to a child who has been removed from the parent's care by the court or pursuant to a voluntary agreement with an agency, where at least 12 months have elapsed from the date of the removal or placement, the conditions which led to the removal or placement continue to exist, and termination of parental rights would best serve the needs and welfare of the child.
  9. The parent has been convicted of a certain specified crime in which the victim was a child of the parent.
    • The crimes are: homicide; aggravated assault; an offense in another jurisdiction equivalent to homicide or aggravated assault; or an attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit an enumerated crime.

The courts will look at the totality of the circumstances in assessing whether a moving party has met their burden of clear and convincing evidence to terminate a parent's rights.  No one statutory factor alone may be sufficient. 

It's important to discuss your case with an experienced attorney.  It is not always simple to terminate a parent's rights.  The courts are very reluctant to do this, unless one of these statutory grounds is met and there are additional facts shown.  You may call Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.


The father of my child is addicted to narcotic crack cocaine and in his fits of paranoia n delusion he neglects said child and fails to provide a safe living environment for the baby, because of his addiction the gas and water utilities have been shut off at his residence, also hes not working or paying support for any of his other kids, and obviously his home n financial situation is obviously not up to standard on what it needs to be to properly care for our 3 month old baby, also he is physically verbally n emotionally abusive to me and the child, im going to have to stay in a homeless shelter for now with the baby but please let me know hoe to proceee to terminate his rights to her

I have an amazing 3 yr old son who has not seen his bf since September 2012 he doesn't call or help w him I want to kno how I can go about establishing full custody n pulling his rights he moved out of state to avoid child support court

Kimberly- You may certainly have an instance where the father's parental rights could be terminated for non-involvement with the child. However, prior to termination, the court will want to ascertain whether there is another individual that is ready, willing, and available to adopt the child. The courts will generally not terminate a parent's rights and, thus, the child's right to support, of a parent unless there is another parent waiting in the wings to step in. You should probably contact a laywer to discuss more fully. I am available if you reside in the southcentral PA area.

Alyssa Knisely

My husband and I have our 5 year old grandson and his mom would like to Voluntarily terminate her rights. The man she listed on his birth certificate has not seen or bothered with the child since 2009. Will we have a problem terminating his rights. He hasn't bothered with him no calls no nothing. Since June 2010. Our custody order was done in Cambria County but we now live in Franklin County. My husband and I want to adopt our grandson.

You could certainly file a petition to terminate and adopt the child. You will have to have a home study and evaluation conducted. If you would like to discuss your situation offline, we could certainly help. (717) 545-3032. Ask for Alyssa.

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