Sunday, December 23, 2012

Termination of Parental Rights


Courts sometimes must decide, in order to protect a child, that a parent’s rights be terminated. In the 2012 Pennsylvania Superior Court appeal, In the Interest of K.M., Mother appealed from a December 2011 order where the Orphans’ Court terminated her parental rights to her minor son pursuant to the Adoption Act 23 Pa.C.S. §2511(a)(8) and (b). In the Interest of K.M., 53 A.3d 781 (2012). The minor child was born in June 2009. A hearing was held in May 2011 with respect to the termination of Father’s parental rights. After additional hearings and testimony, both Mother and Father’s parental rights were terminated.

The child had been in foster care placement since his birth, when he had drugs in his system and the Mother tested positive for marijuana. After being released from the Intensive Care Unit, in August 2009, the child entered foster care because, in addition to the drug issues, Mother had parenting deficits, unstable housing, and mental health issues. The child was placed in foster care because Mother tested positive for cannabinoids when the child was born, and Mother had parenting deficits, unstable housing, and mental health issues. 

Following the child’s placement, the juvenile court ordered the then-seventeen-year-old Mother to complete parenting classes, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health services, and maintain safe and stable housing. Mother initially complied, but, in the summer of 2010, she failed to abide by the rules that Luzerne County Children and Youth Services (“CYS”) had established. As Mother was still a child herself, her non-compliance does not necessarily shock.

Based on Mother’s behavior over the summer of 2010, CYS obtained an August 2010 court order that permitted CYS to suspend all visitations with Mother for safety reasons. Mother did not have any contact with her son after July 2010, even though she could have petitioned to have her visitation reinstated. In March 2011, CYS filed a petition to involuntarily terminate Mother’s parental rights pursuant to provisions of the Adoption Act. After three days of testimony, the Orphans’ Court terminated Mother’s parental rights under the provisions of the Adoption Act because the child had been removed from the care of the parent for twelve months and the conditions, which led to the removal of the child, continued.



The Superior Court reviewed the order terminating parental rights according to the standard set forth in In re S.H., 879 A.2d 802, 805. Absent an abuse of discretion, an error of law, or insufficient evidentiary support for the trial court’s decision, the termination will be upheld. When the court has granted a petition to involuntarily terminate parental rights, the reviewing court must review the entire record in order to determine whether the trial court’s decision was supported by the evidence. The burden is on the petitioner, in this case CYS, to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the grounds for seeking termination of parental rights were valid.

Mother argued that CYS did not prove by clear and convincing evidence the statutory grounds to terminate her parental rights under the Adoption Act. To terminate parental rights under the Adoption Act, CYS must have demonstrated that: (1) the child had been removed from Mother’s care for at least twelve months, (2) conditions which led to the removal or placement of the child continue to exist, and (3) involuntary termination of parental rights would best serve the child’s needs and welfare. The record supported the first requirement because the child had been removed from Mother for at least twelve months. The second and third requirements were also met because the record supported the fact that the conditions leading to the child’s removal continued to exist and involuntary termination of Mother’s parental rights would best serve the child’s needs and welfare.

If you have questions regarding the termination of parental rights or adoption of a child, you should contact an attorney.

Written by Allyson Lutley, law clerk at The Law Offices of Linda A. Kerns, LLC.  Edited by Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire, associate attorney.

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