Appeal from decree of Orphans' Court of Lawrence County, Dec. T., 1965, No. 4, in re adoption of William Dale List.
L. Ivan Hudson, with him Errol Fullerton, for appellants.
W. Walter Braham, with him Braham & Mitsos, for appellee.
Bell, C. J., Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Eagen, O'Brien and Roberts, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Jones. Mr. Justice Eagen dissents.
This is an appeal from a decree of the Orphans' Court of Lawrence County which vacated a decree of adoption of a minor child entered by the same court in 1961.*fn1
William Dale List (the child), was legitimately born March 2, 1953, in the city of New Castle, Lawrence County, his parents being Harry N. List (natural father), and Joanne List (natural mother). On March 11, 1955, the natural parents of the child were divorced and the child thereafter lived for the most part with his mother until the summer of 1961. The natural mother was having difficulty, through lack of steady employment, to support herself and the child*fn2 and was
desirous of entering the Women's Army Corps of the United States Army but she was informed that her application for enlistment could not be considered so long as she had a dependent child. The natural mother then contacted the paternal grandparents of the child -- Harry W. and Martha A. List -- and requested that they adopt the child, a request to which they readily agreed. The natural mother then contacted Attorney Fullerton of New Castle, the paternal grandparents' counsel, who prepared a petition for adoption for presentation to the Orphans' Court of Lawrence County.
Prior to the presentation of that petition, Attorney Fullerton prepared a written form of consent to be signed by each of the natural parents. In pertinent part, the written consent of the natural mother recited: "That she is the mother of William Dale List, a minor, born March 2, 1953 in the City of New Castle, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, as the natural son of Joanne List, nee Joanne Miller; and that she consents to the adoption of the said William Dale List by Harry W. List and Martha A. List, his wife, of 3939 Ellwood Road, New Castle, Pennsylvania; that she waives and releases any and all rights over the care, custody and control of said child whatsoever; and she does not desire to be present at the hearing held in regard to the adoption of the said William Dale List and wishes to be excused therefrom."
When the natural mother, with her sister, first visited Attorney Fullerton's office she discussed with him what the result of her signing this consent would be. Attorney Fullerton testified as to this matter: "I told her and advised her that she had absolutely no rights, if she once signed [the] consent and the adoption was approved -- and I [informed her] that she was making a mistake or she should go slow -- but she insisted that she was going to enter the armed services
and that was her interest; not her child -- that was my opinion of it at the time . . . . I stated that I advised her [the natural mother] that when she signed this consent and the adoption was approved -- all her rights were terminated." Apparently at that time the natural mother told the attorney she wanted the child to be adopted temporarily and that, upon her discharge from the armed services, she wanted the child to be returned to her. After being advised by Attorney Fullerton of the finality of the grant of an adoption and of the impossibility of a temporary adoption the natural mother left his office without signing any consent. Shortly thereafter, the natural mother returned to Attorney Fullerton's office and at that time executed the consent.
On October 25, 1961, the petition for adoption, to which were attached the written consents of both natural parents, was filed and presented to the Orphans' Court of Lawrence County. After a hearing, the court, on November 7, 1961, decreed the adoption of the child by his paternal grandparents. The decree of the court read as follows: "Now, this 7th day of November, 1961, upon consideration of the allegations contained in the petition in the above entitled matter, the exhibits and testimony before this Court, therefore, on motion of Errol Fullerton, Attorney for the Petitioners, it is hereby ordered, adjudged and decreed that the prayer of the petitioners, Harry W. List and Martha A. List, his wife, be granted, and that the said minor child shall retain the name of William Dale List; and that he shall have all the rights and shall be subject to all the duties of the child and heir ...