The Court of Appeals in IN RE PETITION OF J.B.S. & V.S.S.; IN RE PETITION OF R.H., decided on September 10, 2020, reversed the lower court giving “weighty consideration” to parental choice in a competing adoption litigation.
Generally, the weighty consideration doctrine requires a court deciding between competing adoption petitions to grant the petition that the child’s biological parent favors unless the court finds “by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s choice of custodian is clearly contrary to the child’s best interest.
That is, the weighty consideration establishes a strong presumption that the parent’s preference is in the child’s best interest—a presumption that determines who will adopt the child unless the non-favored petitioner proves that placement of the child with the parentally preferred petitioner — would be detrimental to the child’s best interest.
Previously, the parental preference presumption would have applied even when the child was neglected and removed from his parent’s care, and the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the parent is unfit to care for the child.
Here, the trial court’s strict adherence to the weighty consideration resulted in denying a child the adoption it found to be in his best interests and instead to grant a competing petition that posed identifiable risks for the child’s long-term welfare.
Weighty consideration was a judge-made rule and in a contested adoption proceedings in some ways vindicated the constitutionally protected interest of the parents in influencing their child’s future — even unfit parents and as long as their parental rights were intact and not terminated.
The Court of Appeals ruled that such can no longer be allowed and that the trial court erred in requiring weighty consideration when the parents of a child up for adoption have been found, by clear and convincing evidence, to be unfit to raise the child.
Specifically, the court ruled: if a parent has been deemed unfit, the parent does not have a constitutionally protected right to choose her child’s adoptive parent or to have her preference be given any weight. That weighty consideration deference to an unfit parent in an adoption proceeding is incompatible with the “best interest of the child” standard and the statutory provisions governing adoption in the District of Columbia which requires the ultimate test in granting an adoption petition to be the best interests of the child only.
The Court of Appeals in eliminating the weighty consideration criteria in effect made the legal hurdle to adopt somewhat easier as the parental choice is no longer give a preference.
Refer to our Washington DC Family Lawyer page for more detailed information on this subject.