Monday, February 18, 2013

Relinquishments Are Forever, Even When Not in the Best Interests of the Children.

In Re R.B.F.S. (B.J.M. and A.F.M. v. B.S.), 2012 UT 132, May 3, 2012

This case came to the Court of Appeals on Remand after In re R.B.F.S., 2011 UT 46, Utah Supreme Court August 2, 2011.  In August 2005, Father relinquished his parental rights and consented to the adoption by Mother’s (then unknown) future spouse.  The judge in the divorce matter rejected the stipulation because there was no Stepfather at that time, and because a relinquishment in District Court is only enforceable in conjunction with an adoption.

In April 2007, Mother and her new husband filed a Petition for adoption and incorporated Father’s relinquishment and Consent.  They did not notify Father.  The District Court terminated Father’s parental rights.  Father by way of letter objected to the district court decision.  Judge Hilder treated the letter as a motion to reconsider and denied the motion.  Father appealed on several grounds including jurisdiction.  The Court of Appeals set aside the termination and adoption because it found that the trial court did not have jurisdiction.  Mother petitioned for cert.  The Supreme Court the district court did have jurisdiction and remanded the matter to the Court of Appeals to consider Father’s other grounds.

Father asserts that the denial of the acceptance of the relinquishment became the Law of the Case and should not have been overturned by the second Judge.  Father also asserted that he should have been permitted to testify in regards to the Children’s’ best interests.

The Court of Appeals found that the law of the case doctrine does not prohibit a court from reconsidering issues that have been decided, but allows the court to decline to revisit decided issues.  Because the record does not show the existence of a completed adoption, the Court of Appeals declines to rule on the Court’s failure to consider Father’s testimony because Father’s claim is not yet ripe.

Finally, the Court found that the statute does not require a best interest analysis on its face and that Father failed to assert any Constitutional grounds to conduct such an analysis.  The Court takes considerable time in explaining its concern about the current Utah adoption act and calls on legislators to revise the act.


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