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A recent opinion from the Pennsylvania Superior Court involves termination of parental rights and incarceration. The case involved a Mother’s appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, where the trial court found that Mother’s parental rights should be terminated. The Superior Court stated reasons as to why it was affirming the trial court’s decision and found it appropriate to terminate Mother’s parental rights to her four children. One of these factors, and the main factor in the Court’s analysis, was based on the fact that the Mother was incarcerated and had been incarcerated since 1989.
In this case, In re Adoption of J.R.H., No. 2649 EDA 2012 (Pa. Super 2013) the Court analyzed whether it was appropriate for the trial court to terminate Mother’s parental rights to her children. In conducting this analysis, the Court used the standard typically used in termination of parental rights/adoption cases: “Clear and Convincing Evidence.” The burden is on the petitioner in termination cases to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the grounds for seeking termination are valid. In this case, the evidence presented was that Mother had a history of criminal behavior-having been incarcerated numerous times from 1989 to the present date. Some of the incidents leading to Mother’s arrests occurred when the minor children were present.
Further evidence (aside from Mother’s incarcerations) involved the children’s preferences and the Father’s testimony regarding Mother’s lack of involvement in the children’s lives. The children stated that they did not want to visit Mother in jail and they do not want to have contact with her. In termination cases, the Court will analyze the Child(ren)’s preferences and give weight to these preferences depending on the facts of each case. Father’s testimony that Mother has not been a part of the children’s lives because of her incarceration along with the children calling their stepmother “Mom,” also were factors contributing to the Superior Court’s decision.
Under PA law, termination of parental rights can be based on a “continued incapacity, abuse, neglect or refusal of the parent” which has “caused the child to be without essential parental care.” The Court will also consider the “developmental, physical and emotional needs and welfare of the child.” These factors combined in this case allowed the Superior Court to determine that the termination of Mother’s rights was in the best interests of the children, as she was a consistent criminal (which is considered an “incapacity” under PA law) and the court determined that this is an “incapacity that cannot be remedied.” Furthermore, Mother had sporadic contact with her children during her previous incarcerations, and never sought court intervention to spend more time with her children even after claims that Father was trying to prevent this from happening.
If you have questions about termination of parental rights or adoption in Pennsylvania, please contact our Pittsburgh-based law firm today!