Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Bucks County, No. 43188, in re adoption of Alissa Lynn Singer.
Robert F. Ruehl, with him Power, Bowen & Valimont, for appellants.
Ralf E. Gilbert, with him Curtin and Heefner, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Jones.
Alissa Lynn Singer, the subject of this appeal, was born on February 22, 1968, to Frederick J. Singer, III, and Shirley A. Singer. The natural parents were divorced in Mercer County, New Jersey, on March 1, 1971. The divorce decree incorporated an earlier separation agreement which provided, inter alia, for custody of the child to remain with the mother, for support to be paid by the father, and for weekly visitation rights by the father.
On June 26, 1971, Shirley A. Singer married Thomas M. Forbes in New Jersey and thereafter took up residence in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Singer continued to pay support for the child to the Forbes and also to exercise his visitation rights on a regular basis. On December 2, 1971, Singer and Mrs. Forbes executed an agreement modifying the earlier separation agreement in certain particulars, including a reduction in the amount of the agreed support payments for Alissa, the deletion of provisions that if the mother ceased to have custody then custody would vest wholly and exclusively in the father, and the substitution of these deleted provisions with the father's consent to the
adoption of his daughter by the Forbes. The modification agreement also provided that Singer's support payments would continue after the proposed adoption and that Singer's visitation rights would not only continue similarly but would also be extended to include vacation visitations. On December 13, 1971, a New Jersey court incorporated this modification agreement as an amendment to the earlier divorce decree.
The Forbes filed an adoption petition on August 4, 1972, with the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County and attached thereto Singer's consent form which was conditioned upon the preservation of his rights with respect to the child under the New Jersey divorce decree. After holding a hearing attended only by the Forbes, their counsel and the child, the court refused to enter a decree of adoption because Singer's consent was not unconditional and because he was not notified of the hearing. The Forbes were informed that Singer's unconditional consent was necessary to obtain the adoption decree.
On September 11, 1972, the court received a new and unconditional form of consent signed by Singer and dated September 3, 1972. A letter dated September 6, 1972, to the court and signed by Mr. Forbes explaining the circumstances under which Singer had signed the new consent form accompanied this consent form. The letter stated:
". . . Both my wife, Shirley, and I explained to Mr. Singer that the signing of this new Consent Form waived any rights he might have under the New Jersey divorce granted to him in 1970.
"I further explained in detail the fact that he would have no legal rights whatsoever with respect to Alissa Lynn upon signing this new Consent Form. I feel confident that he ...