In my previous post on Adopting a Stepchild, I explained the steps to go through for an uncontested adoption. Many adoptions are very simple and straightforward. However, in situations where there are disagreements about what is best for a child or a parent’s rights are being terminated, the courts must become further involved.
The news media has been buzzing about an internal Memorandum reportedly sent from the Chief Judge of the Probate and Family Court, Angela Ordonez, on August 20, 2015 seeking review of all contested adoption cases in the court system. Specifically, the memorandum is said to require that all pending private adoption cases be reviewed to ensure that children at the center of those disputes have attorneys appointed to represent their interests. Pursuant to the case of Adoption of Meaghan, decided in 2012, children are entitled to counsel in contested adoption proceedings, even private adoptions.
It is reported that Judge Ordonez may have been spurred to order this review because of the case of Randall Lints, a Hardwick father who was granted custody of his son and is accused of starving and abusing the 7 year old resulting in the child lapsing into a coma. Fingers have been pointed at the Probate and Family Court Judge who granted custody to the father and at the Judge for failing to appoint an attorney to look out for the interests of the boy, who had been in his grandmother’s custody for years. The grandmother petitioned for adoption, but a family member objected.
The objection by the family member would have made the matter a contested adoption, prompting the appointment of an attorney for the child under the Adoption of Meaghan case. No attorney was ever appointed. However, what happened in Court was that the child’s mother, father and grandmother all agreed that custody be given to the father. The grandmother did not pursue her adoption petition. The contested nature of the proceedings ended when the adults came to agreement. Attorneys are not routinely appointed for children in custody matters and there would have been no investigation done in this case given the resolution by agreement.
Supposedly a Department of Children and Families (DCF) worker saw the child two weeks before he was taken by ambulance from the father’s home after a call to 911. If that’s accurate, the spotlight should be focused on DCF, not the Probate and Family Court. Appointment of an attorney or guardian ad litem to report to the Court on the child’s best interests does not happen in uncontested matters, nor should it. Rather, those who saw this child suffering, which should have included the DCF worker, needed to speak up and protect him. Tragically, that didn’t happen.
If your family is involved in a contested adoption, make sure that you have experienced counsel by your side and that the child’s rights are protected with appointment of counsel for the child.
Until next time,