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[U] In re Adoption of H.E.A.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 11, 2014



Appeal from the Order Entered October 10, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of York County Orphans' Court at No(s): 2013-0081




Appellants, R.J.S. (Mother) and J.L.S. (Stepfather), appeal from the October 10, 2013 order denying their petition to involuntary terminate the parental rights of S.J.A. (Father) to H.E.A, Mother and Father's biological daughter. After careful review, we affirm.

The relevant facts and procedural history, as gleaned from the certified record, are as follows. H.E.A. was born in August 2004. Mother and Father resided together for approximately two years after H.E.A. was born. During these two years, Father assisted in caring for H.E.A., but Mother was H.E.A.'s primary caretaker.

Mother and Father separated in September 2006. After this separation, Father had sporadic contact with H.E.A. from 2006 through 2010. During that time, Father was incarcerated for an aggregate of 14 months for multiple offenses. Since the separation, Father has not provided Mother with financial support for H.E.A. or attended H.E.A.'s medical appointments and school functions. Also, Mother was incarcerated from 2008 to 2009. During Mother's incarceration, Stepfather cared for H.E.A.

In 2010, Father filed for custody of H.E.A. On March 16, 2010, Mother and Father entered into a stipulated custody order granting Father physical custody of H.E.A. on alternating weekends and every Wednesday night. Paternal Grandmother provided the transportation for these custody exchanges. On Father's weekends, H.E.A. typically stayed with Paternal Grandmother on Friday night, and Father on Saturday and Sunday.

In August 2010, Father moved to California, where he remained for approximately two and one half years. Mother testified that Father has not contacted H.E.A. since he moved to California. Specifically, Mother testified that Father has not attempted to contact H.E.A. at Mother's home. Father conceded this point during his trial testimony.

After Father moved to California, Mother allowed contact between H.E.A. and both sets of paternal grandparents.[1] H.E.A. continued to visit with Paternal Grandmother and Step Grandfather on alternating weekends. On a number of occasions, Mother told Paternal Grandmother that she did not want H.E.A. to have contact with Father during visits with Paternal Grandmother.

Unbeknownst to Mother, Father maintained contact with H.E.A. for the two and one half years that he was residing in California. Father communicated with H.E.A. while H.E.A. was with Paternal Grandmother. Father talked to H.E.A. on the phone every weekend that H.E.A. was with Paternal Grandmother. Additionally, Father talked on the phone to H.E.A. when Paternal Grandmother either picked up or dropped off H.E.A. from her weekly gymnastics classes. Father and H.E.A. sent cards and letters to each other on a weekly basis. Father and H.E.A. also exchanged emails once or twice a week through an email account that H.E.A. accessed at Paternal Grandmother's home. During each of these conversations, Father and H.E.A. spoke about a number of topics, including H.E.A.'s school and activities. Father also sent a number of gifts to Paternal Grandmother's house for H.E.A.

On July 17, 2013, Father returned to Pennsylvania. As Father violated the conditions of his parole when he absconded to California, he was incarcerated upon his return to the Commonwealth.[2] Father testified that he returned to Pennsylvania because H.E.A. asked him to come home.

On August 7, 2013, Mother and Stepfather filed a petition to involuntarily terminate Father's parental rights, pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 2511(a)(1) and (b). On that same date, Mother and Stepfather filed a petition to adopt H.E.A.[3] Father filed a notice to contest the termination of his parental rights on August 27, 2013. On September 3, 2013, the trial court appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent H.E.A.'s interests and scheduled a hearing on the termination petition.

Approximately two weeks prior to the hearing, Mother ceased contact between H.E.A. and Paternal Grandmother. Mother stopped this contact when she discovered Paternal Grandmother was facilitating communication between H.E.A. and ...

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