Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Case Law Development: Sufficiency of Evidence of Child's Objection to Adoption

When courts give older child the right to object to adoption, what evidence provides sufficient proof of an objection?  The California Court of Appeals explored the difference between a child's objection and mere statements of preference in affriming termination of a mother's rights to her 16-year-old son. 

California law permits the court to find termination of parental rights detrimental to a child if a child 12 years of age or older objects to termination of parental rights. The law requires the  juvenile court to consider the child's wishes, to the extent that they are ascertainable, though the evidence need not be in the form of direct testimony at the parental rights termination hearing, as the child's wishes, attachment and feelings may also appear in an agency's reports.

In this case, the court concluded that the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate son's unequivocal objection to the termination of parental rights:

He instead repeatedly asserted his preference for adoption. [Son] testified he felt comfortable living with his aunt and uncle and had known them since he was a child. When asked if he wanted to be adopted, he replied "[y]es." In response to the question, "Would you want to be adopted if ... you couldn't ever see your mom again?" he replied no and stated he would like to see [Mother] again. ... He explained he was "okay" with the idea of living with his aunt and uncle until he was an adult because they made him feel safe. He further expressed wanting his sister to live with him and hoped she would be adopted by his relatives. Moreover, the Agency's reports showed that throughout the dependency, [Son] wanted to be adopted by his relatives. [He] described his caregivers as his second parents. When the social worker asked him where he wanted to live, he stated he wanted to live with his aunt and uncle. He further said he was willing to be adopted by them.

The court concluded that these statement were not objections but, instead, "the statements appear to reveal an internal conflict between his hope to be adopted and live in a stable and loving environment, and his hope to see [Mother] again."   The court reaffirmed the standard of best interests of the child as ultimately governing the determination of whether a parent's rights should be terminated.

In re Christopher L, 2006 Cal. App. LEXIS 1608 (October 16, 2006)
Opinion on the web (last visited October 24, 2006 bgf)

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