Case Caption: In re Adoption of L.O.F. and N.M.F., MinorsCase Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2013-0087Date: 05/20/2015Author: Cabret, Maria M. Citation: Summary:

In deciding a petition by the biological mother of two minor children and her same-sex partner, seeking legal recognition of the partner as co-parent of the children along with the biological mother, the Superior Court misinterpreted the adoption statutes in denying the petition. Under 16 V.I.C. § 141 any inhabitant of the Virgin Islands may petition the proper court to adopt a child who is not her own and who is in the Virgin Islands. While a "plain-language" reading of §§ 141, 145 and 146(b) would preclude the granting of either stepparent or second-parent adoptions, in light of the Legislature's clear objective in enacting the domestic relations statutes, § 146(b) should not be read literally and restrictively where to do so would defeat the best interests of the children and produce a wholly absurd and untenable result. The best interests of the children would certainly be advanced by allowing two adults who actually function as their parents to become the legal parents. Granting an adoption in favor of a stepparent or second parent who already serves as the child's functional parent, without terminating the rights of the original parent, furthers the child's best interest. Strictly applying § 146(b) to prevent all stepparent and second-parent adoptions would actively undermine the best interests of children such those in the present case, and thus undercut the Legislature's clear intent. The purpose of § 146(b) is to shield the adoptive family from unnecessary instability and uncertainty arising from unwanted intrusions by the child's biological family, and nothing in that section or any other statutory provision prohibits the parties to an independent adoption from waiving the benefits of the statute when a birth parent intends and desires to coparent with another adult who has agreed to adopt the child and share parental responsibilities. It would be against common sense to terminate the biological parent's rights when that parent will continue to raise and be responsible for the child. In this case, the adoption petition was filed by the partner as the proposed adoptive parent and joined by the biological mother, explicitly seeking a "second-parent adoption" that would grant the partner legal rights with respect to the children, while maintaining those of the biological mother. Under these circumstances, there can be no doubt that the partner-as the proposed adoptive parent-has waived enforcement of 16 V.I.C. § 146(b), and that the biological mother-as the only person with legal rights with respect to the children-has consented to the adoption as required by 16 V.I.C. § 142(a). If the Superior Court determines on remand after following the procedures outlined in 16 V.I.C. §§ 141-147 that granting the adoption petition in favor of the partner while maintaining the parental rights of the biological mother is in the best interest of the children, under § 145(a) it shall order that the children be, to all legal intents and purposes, the children of the petitioner. Accordingly, the Superior Court erred in denying the adoption petition based only on an erroneous reading of the adoption statutes. Its September 18, 2013 order is vacated and the adoption petition is reinstated. The case is remanded for the Superior Court to continue with the adoption proceedings in line with the best interests of the children.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion