Surprising Facts About Terminating Parental Rights You Need To Know Right Now

How do you terminate parental rights in Pennsylvania? The answer: under very limited circumstances. A Pennsylvania court will only end parental rights in connection with an adoption. Additionally, the petitioner must meet other criteria.

The general rule in Pennsylvania for determining issues related to children is “the best interest of the child”. See Fisher v. Fisher, 370 Pa. Super. 87 (1988). The standard is the same when terminating parental rights. But, the petitioner must meet the statutory burdens before a court considers the best interest of a child. Courts must consider standing, adoption, and other issues before terminating parental rights. Discuss these issues with your Pittsburgh family attorney.

Do You Have Standing?

Standing is the right to proceed as a party in a court case. A biological parent, an agency, an attorney for a child, or an individual standing in loco parentis may file a petition to end parental rights. “In loco parentis” is Latin for “in the place of a parent.” The term refers to anyone that assumes both the status of a parent and the legal responsibilities of a parent. So, an adoptive parent, a step-parent, a foster parent, or a grand parent can be in loco parentis.

Have You Satisfied the Bases for Termination?

Pennsylvania law provides nine different bases for involuntarily terminating parental rights. These factors focus on issues such as abuse, neglect, abandonment, and the failure to perform parental duties. For instance, a court may end a parent’s rights if he or she has shown a settled desire to no longer claim parentage. Or, if the parent has shown a pattern of abuse or neglect, his or her rights may be terminated. The factors are fact specific and technical.

Is Someone Willing to Adopt?

This is the make or break issue. Is someone willing to stand in as an adoptive parent if the other parent’s rights are terminated? Pennsylvania family courts will only end parental rights in connection with an adoption. My child’s parent won’t pay support. My child’s parent doesn’t see the child very often. I don’t like my child’s parent. None of these reasons are enough to end parental rights.

What are the Competing Rights?

There are competing rights when terminating parental rights. The state has an interest in protecting children. So, Courts will not end parental rights unless the child can be taken care of. A child must have an opportunity to form a new parent-child relationship. Additionally, a child has a right to be raised in a healthy environment. The state has an interest in children becoming productive, law abiding citizens. And what about the legal rights of parents? What are parental rights? Biological parents also have a right to raise their own children as they see fit. Parents have a right to legal and physical custody absent certain facts. Yet, parents have a responsibility to protect and care for their children. So, there are many competing rights when determining whether to end parental rights.

We’ve spoken this far about involuntary termination of parental rights. What about a biological father signing over his rights in Pennsylvania? Or a mother? Parents can voluntarily sign over their parental rights. But they can only do so in connection with an adoption. And many of the same limitations still apply.


In conclusion, these are the issues you’ll face when trying to terminate parental rights in Pennsylvania. Do you have questions about terminating parental rights? Contact the Pittsburgh adoption and custody attorneys at Dodaro, Matta, & Cambest, P.C. today at 412-243-1600 to schedule a consultation.

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