The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently decided an issue of first impression that our Allegheny County juvenile law lawyers are talking about right now. The Juvenile Act, and the adoption of the subsequent Adoption and Safe Families Act permits the award of permanent legal custody to a third party of a child who has been declared to be dependent by the Court. Dependent (in this case) means that their physical, emotional, and mental welfare are at risk by remaining with their parents, and they must be removed and placed elsewhere by the Court.
In certain circumstances, parental rights are terminated if someone is interested in adopting the child, and the adoption is determined to be in the child’s best interest. In other circumstances, if neither adoption/termination of parental rights, nor custody exercised by the parents would be in the best interest of the child, a Court may order permanent legal custody. In this instance, the guardian continues to exercises physical and legal custody of the child, but the connection with the parents is not broken.
The question presented in this case was regarding whether or not the parents of a child for whom permanent legal custody was awarded to a legal guardian would be able to petition for custody time. The arguments against this Philadelphia case were that permanent means permanent, and that it would affect the stability of the child if the parents, who were determined to not be able to care for their child, were allowed to petition for custody at a later date.
The Superior Court ultimately agreed with the trial court in saying that the parents would always have a right to petition for custody until parental rights are terminated. The Court engaged in statutory analysis and ultimately decided that in light of a multitude of case law regarding the rights of a parent, it would be contradictory to the intent of the legislature, as well as the bets interest of the child, to prevent parents from petitioning for custody of their own children in the case that they had rehabilitated themselves. The trial court serves as a gatekeeper, and will only permit custody modifications to occur if there is a true change in circumstances.
In Pennsylvania, the right of a parent to their child is fundamental, and only in very serious cases will their rights to their children be removed. It is generally in the best interest of the child to reside with their parents. The Superior Court reaffirmed that a parent who changes their ways should be able to exercise their rights to their children in the future. If your rights to your children are being threatened, or you want to get your children, contact our experienced Pittsburgh dependency attorneys today!