Maryland Court Affirms Constitutionality of Rules Regarding Natural Parent’s Objections

1391967_baby_handsThe Maryland Court of Appeal recently considered constitutional questions in the context of the independent adoption process in In Re: Adoption of Sean. Moira M. and William H. dated from April 2008 to November 2008. On June 16, 2009, Moira M. gave birth to a baby, Sean. The next month Moira filed a complaint against William H.  Stating that he was the natural father of Sean, Moira’s complaint sought sole custody.

In his answer, William H. denied that he was the natural father. He set forth  no objection to Moira M. having sole custody. Meanwhile, Moira M. married Jeffrey Craig K., a man she had been dating, during the fall of 2009. The suit was dismissed in 2010 by agreement.

In March 2011, Jeffrey Craig K. filed a Petition for Stepparent Adoption of a Minor and Change of Name. He announced that he planned to continue to live with Sean’s mother. He also said the natural father had not been identified nor come forward. The Petition claimed that even if William H. was Sean’s natural father, he had “abandoned his parental rights” by denying Sean was his son in the answer to Moira’s earlier complaint, not participating as Sean’s father, and not attempting to support Sean.

In April, the Circuit Court sent a show cause order and form notice of objection to William H. These notified him that if he did not fill out paperwork objecting by May 31, 2011 he was terminating his parental rights.

William H. filed a written objection one day late, on June 1, 2011. Jeffrey Craig K. then filed a Motion to Strike Late Notice of Objection. At the hearing for the motion, William H. did not claim he had an excuse for filing late. The rules required him to claim an excuse for acting in an untimely manner to the potential termination of parental rights. The judge granted Jeffrey Craig K.’s motion.

Shortly after that, William H. filed a Motion to Alter and Amend Judgment, as well as an Emergency Motion to Stay Adoption Proceeding. Both were denied. William H. appealed. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the lower court’s granting of Jeffrey Craig K.’s Motion to Strike. The Court of Special Appeals also held that the rule regarding the late filing did not violate any due process right of William H.

The Maryland Court of Appeals heard William H.’s appeal as to two questions. The first question was whether a natural parent’s failure to file a timely objection to a proposed adoption established irrevocable consent to an adoption. The second question was whether rules that resulted in an irrevocable consent to adoption violated a parent’s due process rights.

As to the first question, the appellate court analyzed how the rule regarding timely objections to adoptions was similar to a provision on failure to object to guardianship of a child. The Maryland Legislature intended that both statutes would render late-filed objections as statutorily-deemed consent.

As to the second issue, William H. argued that the provision that deemed his failure to file a timely objection irrevocable consent  constrained his fundamental right as a natural father to participate in the raising of Sean. The appellate court analyzed this argument in light of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.

The appellate court reasoned that there were two competing interests. The first was William H.’s fundamental right to participate in rearing Sean and the state’s interest in timely permanent and safe homes for children through an orderly adoption procedure. In this case, the state’s interest in protecting a child’s best interests in a disputed adoption case by establishing an effective and predictable process outweighed William H.’s interest.

The appellate court affirmed the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and the lower court. The Maryland statutes currently provide that (1) a parent receives notice that an adoption petition is filed and (2) a parent receives clear notice that the court may enter an order for adoption only if each of the adoptee’s parents consents by writing or else fails to file a notice of objection within the thirty-day statutory time period.

As you can see from this post, if you are dealing with family law matters such as termination of parental rights or adoptions, the well being of your children may depend on hiring a qualified and knowledgeable attorney who can navigate the rules for you. Contact lawyer Anthony Fatemi and his legal team for a legal consultation. They have years of experience in Maryland family law, including matters of divorce, prenuptial agreements, separation agreements, property distribution, custody arrangements, alimony, and domestic violence.

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