When a single parent gets married, they often wonder “can my new spouse adopt my child?” This is especially true when the child’s other biological parent has not been involved in the child’s life for an extended period of time or is unable to properly care for the child.
Under Pennsylvania law, birth parents almost always have parental rights over their children, but those rights can be terminated by the court. A termination of parental rights can be accomplished voluntarily or involuntarily. Once a parent’s rights are terminated, a stepparent can then initiate adoption proceedings and adopt the child.
A biological parent can voluntarily relinquish his parental rights and consent to the adoption of their child. Although relinquishing parental rights is a deeply difficult decision, a parent may wish to do so if they realize they are unable to care for the child and know that an adoption will foster a loving, stable family environment.
A voluntary termination of parental rights is accomplished through a legal proceeding where the relinquishing parent indicates their consent by signing a specific legal document and/or giving testimony in court. The court will always hold a hearing to ensure the legal requirements have been met and that the relinquishment of parental rights is in the child’s best interest.
In many cases, the other parent will not consent to an adoption of their child. In these cases, it may be possible to obtain a court order for involuntary termination of their parental rights. In Pennsylvania parental rights can be involuntarily terminated under certain circumstances, such as the following:
- The parent has shown a “settled purpose” of relinquishing their parental rights or has refused or failed to perform parental duties for a period of at least six months.
- The parent has continually abused or neglected the child.
- The parent is not the biological father of the child.
- Where the child is in the care of a Children & Youth agency and has not taken steps to remedy the conditions that led to removal or placement of the child.
- When the parent of a newborn has failed, for at least four months, to make reasonable efforts to maintain contact with or provide support for the child.
- The parent is the father of a child conceived as a result of rape or incest.
- The parent has been convicted of certain crimes, such as homicide or aggravated assault, where the victim is one of their children.
- The parent has been found to commit sexual abuse against a child, or is required to register as a sex offender in Pennsylvania.
If one or more of these circumstances exist, the parent who has custody of the child can file a Petition requesting an involuntary termination of parental rights. The Court will hold a hearing in which evidence is presented and then analyze a complicated set of factors and determine whether the legal requirement has been met to terminate the other parent’s rights, and whether it is in the child’s best interest to do so.
If the Court determines that a termination of parental rights is warranted, the judge will issue a Decree of Termination. A termination is final, meaning that the parent’s rights are terminated forever. Once the Decree is signed by the judge (and the appeal period elapses) then the stepparent can file an adoption petition and proceed with obtaining an adoption of the child.