Voluntary and Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

The termination of parental rights severs all ties of the biological parent(s) and the minor child to make it as though that child had never been born to the parent(s). The need to terminate parental rights usually only occurs in the event of a child being adopted when parental rights of the biological parents must be terminated before the child can be adopted and can be terminated either voluntarily or involuntarily. These proceedings are governed by Pennsylvania’s Adoption Act.

There can be a voluntary termination of parental rights when a parent, free from any undesired influence, chooses to relinquish their rights to be a parent to the child. For example, when the parent(s) approve of those adopting the child, they may voluntarily relinquish their rights. The court typically will not accept a voluntary termination unless an adoption is in motion. The reason for this revolves around the permanency of terminating a parent’s right to the child. Once the time for appeal has passed, the parent(s) cannot restore their right to the child. Subsequently, the court prefers to place the child in an adoptive family that is permanent and stable to promote the child’s best interest by limiting the hindrance to the child’s development due to multiple placements. However, if the child is entering into the custody of an agency (Example: adoption agency), a prospective adoption is not required in order to proceed with a termination of parental right case.

A parent’s rights can also be involuntarily terminated for a number of reasons:

  • Severe or chronic abuse or neglect (of the child or of other children in the household);
  • Abandonment of the child;
  • Long-term mental illness or deficiency of the parent;
  • Long-term alcohol or drug induced incapacity of the parent;
  • Failure to support or maintain contact with the child;
  • TPR for another of the parent’s children;
  • Felony conviction of the parent for a violent crime against the child or another family member.

Additional grounds for the termination of a parent’s rights can be found in 23 Pa.C.S. § 2511.

Along with their reluctance to allow voluntary termination, the court is similarly reluctant to terminate parental rights of the parent(s) who do not want their rights terminated. However, termination by involuntary means is different than voluntary termination as evidenced by their contrasting names. Parental rights are considered to be a constitutional right, and the involuntary termination of those rights must be subject to a more in-depth analysis by the court than when a parent voluntarily chooses to give up their constitutional right because the court must weigh stripping the parent(s) of a constitutional right against the best interest of the child. The court needs to know with utmost certainty that the involuntary termination of the relationship between the biological parent(s) and the child is in the best interest of the child by clear and convincing evidence in support of the termination to warrant taking away a constitutional right.

For example, unless there is a complete breakdown in the bond between parent and child, the court will likely refuse to strip parent(s) of their right to their child. In other words, there must be clear and convincing evidence to show that the parent refuses to be an active part of the child’s life through physical actions like taking care of and providing for the child in addition to through emotional means by showing that the love and support the parent gives to the child is unnaturally scarce. If these are demonstrated the court can conclude that it is almost like the parent has already been removed from the child’s life and that further severing the bond between the parent(s) and the child will not have any substantial detrimental impact on the child. If this is the case, the court can state with certainty that the child will not have any adverse developmental effects on the child and will grant a petition for termination. For example, a child who has been in foster care for most of their life already can be substantially certain not suffer any adverse effects of severing the bond between them and their parent because the parents are already not involved in the child’s life in any way.

This article was written by writer and legal intern, Jennifer Lapinski.