Mom loses custody battle over adopted child
A mother who consented to giving up her child for adoption has lost a legal plea to regain custody.
According to a Supreme Court judgment, directed to protect the identity of the child involved both the biological mother and the father signed formal consent for the child to be adopted.
However, the mother informed the Department of Child and Family Services that she wished to revoke consent — three months after the expiration of the statutory limit to do so.
She subsequently brought the matter to the Family Court, seeking custody, care and control of the child, but after hearing evidence the Family Court panel unanimously granted full custody to the adoptive parents.
Expert evidence presented to the panel suggested that the child would be harmed through “broken attachment” if he was moved from his adoptive home and that the birth mother was not capable of meeting the child's needs.
As a result of the ruling, the mother appealed the matter to the Supreme Court, arguing that deference should be given to ensuring a child is raised by his biological parents unless good cause is shown that another avenue should be taken.
She also argued, through lawyer Ray DeSilva, that the Family Court had erred by allowing the introduction of expert evidence beyond what was agreed by both parties and essentially placing her on trial. In the judgment, Chief Justice Ian Kawaley wrote that the Family Court should not have admitted the further evidence and had unintentionally displayed “insufficient sympathy” for the mother's plight.
He noted that tensions on both sides of the dispute were undoubtably high as the adoptive parents would understandably wish to “strain every sinew” to maintain custody while the mother was motivated by similarly intense emotions, and the tensions only heightened the need for the Family Court to ensure a level playing field.
However, he added: “This falls short of an admissible ground of appeal as this court itself is required to treat the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration. The Family Court was bound to record findings which were painful to the appellant as [the child's] biological mother. I unequivocally confirm the crucial findings made by the Family Court although I would restate those findings in a way which is more empathetic to the mother's position. The appeal is accordingly dismissed.
“Nevertheless, although this did not undermine the validity of the decision itself, the admission of the respondents' own expert evidence after a joint expert had been agreed compromised the fairness of the proceedings before the Family Court. This unnecessary application by the respondents clearly contributed to some extent to the appellant's motivation to bring this appeal.”
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