The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in M.C. v. Adoption Choices of Colorado, Inc. on Thursday, November 20, 2014.
Termination of Parent–Child Legal Relationship—Due Process—Troxel Presumption.
On September 13, 2012, mother gave birth to twins in Grand Junction. The next day, she filed a petition for expedited relinquishment of her parental rights. She provided a first name for the children’s father, but alleged she didn’t know any other information that might have been used to locate him. Intervenors, clients of Adoption Choices of Colorado, Inc., were chosen as the children’s adoptive parents. They were present for the birth and the children were placed with them that day. Father’s legal relationship with the children was terminated, and a final decree of adoption was entered in December 2012.
In February 2013, father, who resided in Iowa, sought relief from the judgment terminating his parental rights. He alleged that mother had informed him she lost the pregnancy and that he didn’t discover her deception until December 2012.
The trial court found overwhelming evidence of fraud on the court by mother and held that the termination of father’s parental rights was void. The trial court ordered the parties to confer and arrange for father to have weekly visitation with the children. The parties could not agree on a means to accomplish this order and the court modified its order to provide for a more gradual visitation schedule. A guardian ad litem(GAL) was appointed to provide a written report for the court. The GAL found it was in the best interests of the children to maintain their secure attachment to intervenors and recommended termination of father’s parental rights.
Following a hearing, the trial court concluded that father had not established a substantial positive relationship with the children. The court held it was in the best interests of the children to terminate father’s parental right and place the children in the permanent legal custody of intervenors. The Court of Appeals reversed.
The Court held that the trial court erred by terminating father’s parental rights based on his not having established a substantial positive relationship with the children. Evidence did not support the conclusion that the children likely would suffer significant psychological harm if removed from intervenors’ home. The trial court also erred in failing to give father the benefit of the Troxel presumption. [Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57, 65 (2000).] Having found him “not unfit,” the court was required to presume that father’s decisions were in the best interests of the children.
The Court rejected intervenors’ contention that the entry of final adoption decrees conferred on them a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody, and control of the children equal to father’s, and that the children have a fundamental right to continue their relationship with intervenors and to have a stable, permanent home. Intervenors argued that the interest of the state, as set forth in CRS § 19-5-100.2(2), is “to promote the integrity and finality of adoptions.” However, the integrity of an adoption is not to be preserved at the cost of denying the rights of a fit biological parent. On remand, the trial court must conduct a custody hearing after affording father a full and fair opportunity to establish a meaningful relationship with his children.