Contested Adoptions Are Not Child’s Play, Particularly in the Appeals Court

Every year, thousands of adoptions make their way through the courts without a single blip.  However, there are times when problems arise, and an adoption case can quickly becomes very complex and even completely unravel.  Over the years, Konowitz & Greenberg has been involved in several such cases, and has worked hard to obtain the best possible outcome for its clients.

Over the years we have had our share of contested adoption and cases going up to the Appeals Court.  I have learned a lot about nuances in appeals.  For example, in adoption matters, if the aggrieved party chooses to appeal the case, a Motion to Stay the Judgment of the Probate Court, must be filed and heard by the trial judge.  In cases where the stay is denied, attempts have been made to appeal the stay of the judgment, claiming Rules of Civil Procedure govern adoptions and the stay is an automatic right.

Until a case several years ago argued that very point, oddly, there was no case on point that specifically stated whether the Rules of Civil Procedure or Domestic Relations Procedural govern adoptions.

The pivotal question with respect to the right to a stay is whether the termination of parental rights is considered a custody matter, which is governed by Domestic Relations Procedural Rules.  The Appeals Court made it quite clear that the termination of parental rights was a denial of custody to a parent, and that the law should favor speedy resolution of custody issues, and there is no automatic right to stay a custody judgment.

To stay a judgment involving custody, the aggrieved party must demonstrate that if the judgment were to go forward, prior to the underlying appeal of the judgment, the party would be irreparably harmed.

At this point, you may be thinking, isn’t it obvious that the termination of parental rights is a custody issue?   In a strictly logical world, yes.  However, one cannot rely on assumptions (or even logic at times) in determining legal rights or when applying court rules.  Hence, the Appeals Court functions not only to determine whether there was an abuse of discretion, or whether the law was misapplied, but also plays a key role in clarifying ambiguities and the law’s intent.

Here, while the procedural minutiae can prove frustrating to many, there was an upside: an adoption proceeded, and once again the law was clarified.

If you, or anyone you know, find themselves in a situation where an adoption has gone awry and need specialized assistance please give me a call.

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