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Child custody after the relationship ends

In child custody cases, Pennsylvania courts have long ruled that a child's life may not be placed on hold until a parent shows the capacity to handle parenting responsibilities. Following this logic, a Pennsylvania appeals court terminated the custody rights of a father last month when there was no evidence that the child ever had relationship with father.

The case has a tragic history. The father was incarcerated several times over the last four years and admitted that he could not currently provide a home for his child. But, he objected to a local court's termination of his parental rights and supported the placement of the child with her mother's relatives.

The child's mother was also addicted to drugs and had a criminal record. In May 2015, the family court awarded custody to a mother's relative. The parents were only allowed supervised contact with their daughter.

A local child welfare group later assumed custody and unsuccessfully attempted placement with her maternal great-grandmother. The child was then placed in a foster home with the goal of an adoption.

The Superior Court found that the child was doing well in foster care and receiving the attention she needs. The father presented no evidence concerning his relationship with the child.

In fact, there was no evidence that she would suffer any harm if the father was taken permanently from her life. The trial court terminated the father and mother's parental rights.

The mother died unexpectedly last October. The Superior Court, accordingly ruled that the case involving her relationship would not affect the father's appeal, and her appeal was moot because of her death.

But, another judge, in that county's family court, ruled on parental rights for another family in late January. He addressed the rights of drug-addicted parents who were incarcerated and rejected arguments supporting the termination of the mother's parental rights. According to the judge though, she kept up contact with this child, even though she was in prison for over two years.

While most cases do not have these tragic facts, emotions and other difficult issues often accompany a child custody dispute or decision. An attorney can help a parent assure that the custody order is reasonable and protects the child's rights.

Source: The Altoona Mirror, "Termination of father's rights upheld by court," Feb. 2, 2017

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