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WATSON APPEAL (03/16/73)

decided: March 16, 1973.

WATSON APPEAL


Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Family Court Division, of Philadelphia, April T., 1969, No. 3930, in re Petition for Voluntary Relinquishment of Stephanie Martina Watson.

COUNSEL

Grace C. Kennedy, for appellant.

Peter M. Mattoon, with him Charles J. Peischl, and Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Jones. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Manderino. Mr. Justice Nix joins in this dissenting opinion.

Author: Jones

[ 450 Pa. Page 580]

On December 12, 1968, appellant gave birth to Stephanie Watson at the Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia. Appellant was then an unmarried fourteen-year-old tenth grade student at the Gratz Neighborhood High School. The acknowledged father, who was sixteen years old on the date of the infant's birth, is Leon Van Randolph, Jr.

On December 23, 1968, appellant relinquished custody of her infant daughter to the Children's Aid Society of Philadelphia. On April 7, 1969, appellant signed a petition for the voluntary relinquishment of parental rights in the infant Stephanie. Appellant and her mother, Mrs. Janet Watson Bull, attended a hearing before the Honorable Hazel H. Brown on April 30, 1969, pursuant to the petition for relinquishment. Appellant and her mother each offered testimony attesting to an understanding of the relinquishment proceeding and the finality of their decision.*fn1 The petition for relinquishment was thus granted according to the Adoption Act of April 4, 1925, P. L. 127, § 1.1, as amended, 1 P.S. § 1.1,*fn2 repealed, Act of July 24, 1970, P. L. 620, § 601, 1 P.S. § 601.

[ 450 Pa. Page 581]

From April 30, 1969, until January 1971, when appellant petitioned the lower court to vacate the decree of voluntary relinquishment, neither appellant nor her mother manifested any misgivings about the relinquishment decision. On January 26, 1971, appellant filed a petition to vacate the order of relinquishment. Judge Brown held an evidentiary hearing on June 30, 1971, and on November 3, 1971, entered an order dismissing the petition to vacate the decree of relinquishment. Denise Watson Randolph*fn3 has appealed from the order dismissing the petition to vacate.*fn4

Appellant questions whether the relinquishment of her child was a voluntary, intelligent and deliberate act and whether the procedure employed pursuant to appellant's voluntary relinquishment afforded her procedural due process guaranteed by the Constitution.

[ 450 Pa. Page 582]

The Adoption Act applicable to the present case provides for the severance of parental rights in one of four ways: voluntary relinquishment prior to adoption, an abandonment decree prior to adoption, a judicial determination of abandonment at the adoption proceeding or adoption by consent of the natural parents at the adoption hearing. Act of April 4, 1925, P. L. 127, §§ 1.1, 1.2, as amended, 1 P.S. §§ 1.1, 1.2, repealed, Act of July 24, 1970, P. L. 620, § 601, 1 P.S. § 601. In the case of a pre-adoption voluntary relinquishment, as here, the act mandates that if the mother of the illegitimate child is not eighteen years of age or over, the parent or parents of the minor mother must consent to the petition to relinquish parental rights.

It is appellant's position that, although she and her mother appeared to have assented to relinquishment, the necessary "intelligent, voluntary and deliberate" consent prescribed by the Adoption Act was lacking. Susko Adoption Case, 363 Pa. 78, 69 A.2d 132 (1949). This Court in Susko, determined that the "intelligent, voluntary and deliberate" consent prescribed by the Adoption Act was lacking because the "[natural mother] signed [the consent to adoption] when she was eighteen years and two months, at a time very soon after her mother's death, and while subjected to reprehensible coercion on the part of her brothers." 363 Pa. at 83, 69 A.2d at 135.

Susko stands for the proposition that an involuntary consent is no consent, and that it is appropriate under circumstances of vitiated consent to withdraw a validly executed formal ...


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