Senate Judiciary Committee looks to modify state adoption process to avoid potential ‘legal mess’

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday, scaled back their scheduled public agenda in order to focus on the advancement of a legislative proposal designed to modify the process of adoption proceedings. 

An overview of the committee substitute for the bill – SB 318, submitted by lead sponsor and Committee Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan – was provided by Judiciary Committee Counsel J.A. Curia, III.

“As background, many abuse and neglect cases end with a circuit court’s termination of the biological parent’s parental rights,” Curia began. “To achieve permanency for the children of those parents, oftentimes there is adoption by a foster family or a relative.”

“The adoption process begins with a petition filed, in many cases, by the adoption attorney representing the individuals seeking to adopt the children,” Curia continued. “Unfortunately there are situations where adoption petitions are being filed prematurely, and adoption hearings held and adoptions finalized prior to the resolution of a biological parent’s appeal.”

According to Curia, the proposed legislation would require that adoption petitions be filed only after a biological parent’s appeal has been denied, or their allotted time to file such an appeal has elapsed. 

“Where the adoption involves a termination of parental rights under our state’s abuse and neglect law, the Department of Human Services (DHS) [would also be] required to issue a certificate containing the previously mentioned information regarding the parent’s appeal, or absence of an appeal.” Curia said. “The certificate provided by DHS [would then be] attached to the adoption petition.”

After referencing several recent cases in West Virginia where adoptions were finalized prior to a ruling being issued on the biological parent’s appeal, Trump asked Curia to explain what would happen if termination of parental rights were reversed after an adoption was finalized. 

According to Curia, such a scenario would be a “legal mess.” 

“There’s a statute that provides that adoptions are essentially incontestable after six months,” Curia explained, but noting the problems would still be significant regardless of the timeframe.

“There would obviously be some tension,” Curia said. “It may not be in the best interests of the child – the child could be traumatized if the adoption were undone. You have the due process rights of the parents that could be impacted. It just seems like it would be a legal mess to resolve.”

Trump then asked, “If it exceeded six months it would be a prickly legal question as to whether it could be undone, wouldn’t it?”

Curia confirmed that there would be no clear resolution for such a situation.

With their substitute for SB 318 having been adopted by the Judiciary Committee, the proposal will now be advanced to the full Senate for further deliberation. RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of the committee substitute for SB 318 as additional information is made available. 

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