By: Daily Record Staff//February 22, 2010
By: Daily Record Staff//February 22, 2010//
New York State Court of Appeals
Applicability of Best Interests Rule
Petition to Vacate an Adoption Decree, in the Adoption of John Doe
Appealed from the First Department
Background: The parties to the proceeding are former lovers who never married but who, while they were romantically involved, brought a Cambodian child to the United States and planned to adopt him together. The adoption proceedings became complicated; the couple broke up and now each claims to be the child’s only parent. Before the court on appeal is an order of the Surrogate, affirmed by the Appellate Division, which granted the petition of LMB, who asserts he is the child’s father, to vacate an adoption decree previously granted to ERJ, who claims the status of mother. In January 2003, John Doe, apparently about two months old, was found abandoned in a village market in Cambodia and taken to an orphanage. ERJ, a wealthy New York resident who had taken a philanthropic interest in the plight of Cambodian orphans, saw him for the first time on a tour of the orphanage in June 2003. LMB, ERJ’s then boyfriend, also met John Doe in Cambodia, in July 2003. The child suffered from a heart ailment that could not be properly treated in Cambodia, and in late August or early September 2003 he was brought to New York on a six month visa for the purpose of receiving medical care. The parties eventually agreed they would both adopt the child.
Ruling: The adoption decree must be vacated. The decision rests on the failure to give notice to or obtain the consent of LMB, who for purposes of this proceeding is considered John Doe’s father. Other flaws in the adoption might have compelled the same result, according to the court: ERJ’s adoption petition represented that she sought a “re-adoption,” a claim she later disavowed, and failed to disclose a recent substance abuse problem. “The best interests of a child, important though they are, do not automatically validate an otherwise illegal adoption. In particular, the parental rights of a child’s father cannot simply be ignored because a court thinks it would be in the child’s best interests to be adopted by someone else,” the court held. The courts below were correct in declining to hold the best interests of the child to be dispositive in this case.
Richard A. Greenberg for the appellant, and Bonnie E. Rabin for the for respondent