September 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Most attorneys who have been in practice any appreciable length of time have been confronted with this scenario: maternal grandma and grandpa want to adopt junior because momma and daddy are only 19 years old, prefer meth and weekend partying to raising the tad and are willing to “sign the papers,” and everyone agrees it would be best for junior, all things considered.

That’s pretty much what happened in the case of D.M. v. D.R., 62 So.3d 920 (Miss. 2011). The young parents relinquished their parental rights, and the maternal grandparents adopted the child by decree entered December 25, 2005. Unfortunately, the adoptive father (maternal grandfather) died four months to the day after the adoption, and the adoptive mother (maternal grandmother) died eight months to the day after the adoption. The adoptive mother had named her son as testamentary guardian of the child, but he renounced the appointment.

The court appointed a guardian ad litem, who recommended that the child be placed in the custody of the paternal grandparents. The natural mother attempted through various pleadings and proceedings to get custody of the child, but the chancellor ruled that she had abandoned the child by virtue of her consent to the adoption, and that she no longer was entitled to the natural parent presumption.

In upholding the chancellor’s ruling, the court quoted from its decision in Griffith v. Pell, 881 So.2d 184, 187-188 (Miss. 2004):

A parent has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the “companionship, care, custody and management of his or her children.” Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 651, 92 S.Ct. 1208, 31 L.Ed.2d 551 (1972). However, parental status that rises to the level of a constitutionally protected liberty interest does not rest solely on biological factors, but rather, is dependent upon an actual relationship with the child where the parent assumes responsibility for the child’s emotional and financial needs. As Justice Stewart observed in Caban v. Mohammed, 441 U.S. 380, 99 S.Ct. 1760, 60 L.Ed.2d 297 (1979) [Stewart, J., dissenting]: “Parental rights do not spring full-blown from the biological connection between parent and child. They require relationships more enduring.”

The court went on to hold that the mother had voluntarily relinquished her parental rightt when she consented to the adoption, and that act surrendered the natural parent presumption. Grant v. Martin, 744 So.2d 817, 820 (Miss.App. 1999). The court rejected the mother’s argument that she was entitled to reinstatement of the natural parent presumption on death of the adoptive parents. In conclusion, the court stated:

An adoption, once entered, acts as an irrevocable surrender of all rights, obligations and privileges of the natural parent with and to the child. This surrender is not invalidated upon the deaths of the adoptive parents, and the natural parent is not entitled to resume the parent-child relationship, including the right to assert the natural parent presumption, upon the occurrence of that event.

You would do well to explain to all the parties at the table, including the natural parents, what they are giving up and what they are getting in such an arrangement. If I were doing it, I would get the natural parents to sign a paper for my file indicating that they understand they are giving up all rights, including the natural parent presumption and the right to regain custody in the future.

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You are currently reading ADOPTION IS FOREVER at The Better Chancery Practice Blog.


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