After a court terminates a parent’s rights and grants an adoption of the minor child, does the biological parent have a right to post-adoption visitation with the child? A recent appellate case explores this issue.
Case: Adoption of Oren
In the case, Adoption of Oren, the mother gave birth to the child at the age of fifteen, after she had run away to New York. The mother originally became involved with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) when her mother, the child’s maternal grandmother, called DCF to report the mother as a child in need of services.
After the child’s birth, multiple additional reports were filed with DCF. These reports were filed because the mother ran away again. This time, however, she ran away with the child. It was not known whether the mother had the resources to care for the child. DCF initiated an emergency response.
Eventually, DCF filed a care and protection proceeding against the mother. As a result, the court granted temporary custody of the child to DCF. DCF gave the mother a parenting plan, which she failed to complete. For example, the mother did not attend school, parenting classes, or therapy. The mother visited the child sporadically. When the maternal grandmother came with her, the grandmother ended up taking care of the child during visits. The mother also did not have a stable residence.
At the time of the trial, the child was two years old and the mother was eighteen. The mother argued that the child should be placed with the maternal grandmother. Meanwhile, DCF advocated for placement with the pre-adoptive parents, with whom the child had lived for about six months.
The judge found that the mother was unfit and that she would likely continue to be unfit into the indefinite future. The judge further found that DCF’s parenting plan was in the best interests of the child. The mother appealed the judge’s decision. The appeal included the decision to issue an order regarding post-adoption visitation rights.
It should be noted that termination of parental rights is a tool at the Probate and Family Court’s disposal – yet it is used only after much deliberation and consideration. When this occurs, the court severs a natural parent’s rights to custody of and parenting time with the minor child. In order for a court to terminate parental rights in Massachusetts, parental unfitness must be proven by clear and convincing evidence. This requires strong, positive and decisive proof that the parenting is so faulty as to place the child in serious risk of peril.
In this case, the Appeals Court ruled that the trial judge did not abuse her discretion in determining that the mother was unfit, based on the circumstances. The Appeals Court also held that the trial judge’s decision to adopt DCF’s parenting plan was sound. The court reasoned that the maternal grandmother had difficulties parenting. She also had difficulty providing structure and guidance, and continued to have an open DCF case. The grandmother did not have her own place to stay. She was living with her sister. There, the child would have to share a room with his four year-old aunt, going against DCF regulations. Furthermore, it seemed the child had adapted to the pre-adoptive parents very well.
Regarding post-adoption visitation, however, the Appeals Court reversed and remanded the trial judge’s decision. As the court discussed, there are two questions to ask in this regard. First, is visitation in the child’s best interest? And, second, in cases where the child is ready to be adopted, is an order regarding visitation necessary to protect the child’s best interests, or may decisions regarding visitation be left up to the adoptive parents?
In the case at hand, the trial judge acknowledged that the mother and maternal grandmother were important parts of the child’s life. They seemed to share a bond with the child. However, the judge declined to make any order regarding visitation. Furthermore, the record did not address the adoptive family’s preferences or thoughts regarding visitation. Because of this, the Appeals Court stated that it could not evaluate whether the trial judge’s decision regarding visitation was sound. The Appeals Court remanded the case to the trial court to consider this issue further.
If you have questions about post-adoption visitation rights or other family law issues, contact us. You may schedule a free consultation online with our experienced attorneys at Turco Legal. If you’d prefer to schedule a consultation by phone, call (866) 995-6663. We will respond to your phone call promptly.