No. 80-1-80, Appeal from the Decree of the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, at No. 45 of 1978, Orphans' Court Division.
Louis Pomerico, New Castle, for appellant.
Richard J. Audino, Rea & Audino, John Hodge, New Castle, for J. L. Z.
O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty and Kauffman, JJ.
This is an appeal from a decree of the Orphans' Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County which granted the appellee mother's petition to involuntarily terminate the parental rights of the appellant father with respect to their daughter, J. L. Z. The court below held that appellant had, for a period of at least six months, failed to perform parental duties under Section 311(1) of the Adoption Act.*fn1
The standard of review in cases where parental rights have been terminated is limited to a determination of
whether the decree was supported by competent evidence. In re Adoption of Baby Boy P., 479 Pa. 138, 387 A.2d 873 (1978). With regard to the parental duties required under Section 311(1), this Court stated in In re Adoption of F. D. S., 490 Pa. 43, 46, 415 A.2d 23, 25 (1980):
[W]e have repeatedly held that, for the purposes of this section, "the parental obligation is a positive duty which requires affirmative performance . . . . [citations omitted] . . . . This affirmative duty encompasses more than a financial obligation; it requires continuing interest in the child and a genuine effort to maintain communication and association with the child . . . . [citations omitted] . . . . Because a child needs more than a benefactor, parental duty requires that a parent exert himself to take and maintain a place of importance in the child's life." In re Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights of S. C. B. and K. T., 474 Pa. 615, 624, 379 A.2d 535, 540 (1977).
In view of the standard of review, and the affirmative duties imposed upon a parent, we cannot say that the decree of the Orphans' Court Division is not supported by competent evidence. J. L. Z. was born in 1973 and in 1975 her parents were divorced, following which J. L. Z. resided with her mother. Under the terms of a custody agreement entered pursuant the divorce, J. L. Z.'s mother retained custody, subject to visitation rights of the father. The father, who lived approximately twenty miles from J. L. Z., failed to visit or provide support for the child from January, 1976 until the instant termination proceeding commenced in November, 1978. The father testified that the mother's actions prevented or discouraged contact with the child, but the court below described this testimony ...