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PA adoption law: Can the parental rights of an unknown birth father be involuntarily terminated in PA?

Stroudsburg, PA |

My husband and I in the process of adopting our infant son in PA. (Son has been with us since birth.) Birth mother will be voluntarily terminating parental rights. Birth father is unknown. Our attorney states that there is no process of involuntarily terminating an unknown birth father's parental rights in PA. Our research suggests that there is indeed a process: involuntary termination of unknown birth father's parental rights with notice by publication. So, our questions are: 1.) Which is correct? 2.) If this process does indeed exist, is it a legal requirement or just a "good idea to do"? 3.) Would the court actually allow this adoption to be finalized with only one birth parent's (the birth mother's, but not the birth father's), rights being terminated? Thank you for your help.

Our attorney is related to my husband and has a small, general practice. He initially assured us that, although he hasn't handled many adoption cases, this case should be no problem since birth mother is voluntarily terminating rights and birth father is unknown. He obviously feels that unknown birth father means birth father is unknown so there is nothing at all to deal with. My husband and I are very concerned that he is completely incorrect on this (as detailed in my initial post). Additionally, not sure if it matters, but our son was born in Morristown, NJ, which is where bio mom also still resides. Please help. Thank you.

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Attorney answers 3

Posted

Judging from the fact that by now no attorneys have responded to your question, I'm thinking that no one is certain of the answer to your question. If I were handling your case, I'd contact the law clerk for the judge who hears the adoption cases and ask this question of him/her. Your attorney may be correct in his advice. If he's an experienced adoption attorney, then he should know. The worst that would happen, I believe, would be that you would attend a hearing on the involuntary termination and find out that the judge wanted you to make service on the unknown father. At that point I'd expect that there would be a discussion of the procedure and a rescheduling of the hearing. If you can do so in a discrete manner, perhaps you could express to your attorney your concerns that it seems there should be some legal requirement that a notice of the involuntary termination be published. You're worried that, if nothing is done, perhaps the bio dad could somehow come out of the woodwork and try to overturn the adoption. (I doubt that would happen, btw). You could then ask if your attorney might contact someone in Orphan's Court just to calm your concerns. I wouldn't be offended by that. I trust your attorney won't be either. Again, though, if your attorney is well versed in adoptions, you probably shouldn't be second guessing him/her.

Be sure to click Best Answer if you found this helpful. Disclaimer: Please note that this response does not in any way an attorney-client relationship between Kathryn L. Hilbush and the recipient. My responses are general in nature. They do not constitute legal advice. You are advised to consult an attorney regarding this and any other legal matters.

Asker

Posted

Thank you very much to Attys. Young, Hilbush, and Zerillo for taking the time to answer our question. All three of your answers were very helpful. Just to clarify: 1.) Our atty. is a relative of my husband's. In retrospect, we have realized that he is not very experienced at all with handling adoptions. 2.) Atty. states that because the bio dad is unknown, there is no available process in PA for terminating his parental rights. ("He is unknown so there is nothing to deal with.") 3.) Atty. states that he directly asked the Judge here in Monroe County about this, and that the Judge agrees with him completely. (That the bio mother's rights will be terminated but that there is no way of terminating the bio dad's rights, so nothing at all will be done regarding the bio dad.) 4.) My husband's and my very basic research on this issue shows that, at least in some other PA counties, there is indeed a process available to terminate a bio dad's parental rights, and that this process is required to be completed before an adoption can be finalized. So my husband and I are still unclear about the following: 1.) Is there indeed a process in PA available to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of an unknown birth father? 2.) If yes, what specifically is that process? 3.) If yes, wouldn't this process be clearly spelled out by a specific state law, and wouldn't it apply uniformly to all cases of unknown bio fathers throughout all counties in PA? (as opposed to it being up the the whims of any particular county judge on a case-by-case basis?) Again, thank you in advance for your help and expertise. It is greatly appreciated.

Posted

If no steps at all are taking to ascertain paternity/provide notice by publication to the birth father, then the adoption will always be vulnerable to the unlikely possibility of a putative father coming forward in the future. I agree with the other post re: a call to the law clerk to determine whether the Court will grant the adoption without this notice.

This answer is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.

Asker

Posted

Thank you very much to Attys. Young, Hilbush, and Zerillo for taking the time to answer our question. All three of your answers were very helpful. Just to clarify: 1.) Our atty. is a relative of my husband's. In retrospect, we have realized that he is not very experienced at all with handling adoptions. 2.) Atty. states that because the bio dad is unknown, there is no available process in PA for terminating his parental rights. ("He is unknown so there is nothing to deal with.") 3.) Atty. states that he directly asked the Judge here in Monroe County about this, and that the Judge agrees with him completely. (That the bio mother's rights will be terminated but that there is no way of terminating the bio dad's rights, so nothing at all will be done regarding the bio dad.) 4.) My husband's and my very basic research on this issue shows that, at least in some other PA counties, there is indeed a process available to terminate a bio dad's parental rights, and that this process is required to be completed before an adoption can be finalized. So my husband and I are still unclear about the following: 1.) Is there indeed a process in PA available to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of an unknown birth father? 2.) If yes, what specifically is that process? 3.) If yes, wouldn't this process be clearly spelled out by a specific state law, and wouldn't it apply uniformly to all cases of unknown bio fathers throughout all counties in PA? (as opposed to it being up the the whims of any particular county judge on a case-by-case basis?) Again, thank you in advance for your help and expertise. It is greatly appreciated.

Posted

I've handled an involuntary termination hearing in a private placement Adoption in Berks County some years ago where the natural father was unknown and,more recently,two Adoptions in Montgomery County where the fathers whereabouts were unknown.In all of the cases Service by Publication was not discretionary but mandatory before the Courts would hear the cases.Hope this input helps.

This answer does not create an attorney/client relationship and is for informational purposes only.For further information please schedule a consultation with an attorney of your choice in your area or at my offices at the location on my Avvo profile

Asker

Posted

Thank you very much to Attys. Young, Hilbush, and Zerillo for taking the time to answer our question. All three of your answers were very helpful. Just to clarify: 1.) Our atty. is a relative of my husband's. In retrospect, we have realized that he is not very experienced at all with handling adoptions. 2.) Atty. states that because the bio dad is unknown, there is no available process in PA for terminating his parental rights. ("He is unknown so there is nothing to deal with.") 3.) Atty. states that he directly asked the Judge here in Monroe County about this, and that the Judge agrees with him completely. (That the bio mother's rights will be terminated but that there is no way of terminating the bio dad's rights, so nothing at all will be done regarding the bio dad.) 4.) My husband's and my very basic research on this issue shows that, at least in some other PA counties, there is indeed a process available to terminate a bio dad's parental rights, and that this process is required to be completed before an adoption can be finalized. So my husband and I are still unclear about the following: 1.) Is there indeed a process in PA available to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of an unknown birth father? 2.) If yes, what specifically is that process? 3.) If yes, wouldn't this process be clearly spelled out by a specific state law, and wouldn't it apply uniformly to all cases of unknown bio fathers throughout all counties in PA? (as opposed to it being up the the whims of any particular county judge on a case-by-case basis?) Again, thank you in advance for your help and expertise. It is greatly appreciated.