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Case Number: 2023 OK 48
Judge: Josh King
Court: District Court, Cherokee County, Oklahoma
Description: Tahlequah, Oklahoma family law lawyers represented parties in an adoption case.
This case of adoption without parental consent illustrates the tension between two competing principles: parental rights and the care necessary to provide due process before terminating those rights without consent versus the "best interests of the child" standard emphasized in the Adoption Code. Ideally, the child's best interests run together with the parent's. In practice these principles seldom conflict, because a trial court may usually give equal effect to both.
Minor Child L.B.L was born to Respondent Pollard (Mother) in May 2017. Child was born addicted to methamphetamine and PCP. The next two and a half years of Child's life were tumultuous. As an infant he stayed with Mother in a rehabilitation facility. In 2018, Father was convicted of assault and battery in the presence of a minor child. During the summer of 2019, the Department of Human Services investigated whether and under what circumstances Child might safely remain with either or both parents. On August 4, 2019, while staying with Father, Child was found in the afternoon wandering alone in a parking lot, wearing only a diaper. Child was returned to Father. Around the same time Mother tested positive for drugs. Child was put in Father's custody under a safety plan which prohibited visitation by Mother, but Father nevertheless allowed her to have contact with Child. In late August, DHS removed Child from Father's custody and briefly placed him with a third party. Child was last in Mother's care on August 28, 2019.
On September 19, 2019, Petitioners, the Lloyds (Guardians), Child's paternal uncle and aunt, were appointed Child's emergency guardians. They were granted full guardianship on December 3, 2019. In connection with this, the trial court issued guardianship standards imposing requirements on Mother and Father before the guardianship could be terminated. These included clean drug tests, attendance in long-term counseling, and assessment and compliance with recommendations for domestic violence and mental health issues.1 The guardianship court held child support in abeyance pending review. When the temporary guardianship began, Guardians started Child on therapy as well as educational and medical intervention, to address his cognitive problems and developmental delays.
Outcome: Sometimes, this can only be done by ensuring the parent's due process rights are protected, then considering which outcome is in the child's best interests. Here, the Court of Civil Appeals specifically acknowledged the best interests of the child standard, but allowed it to be outweighed by other considerations in reaching its conclusion. Consequently, we vacate the Court of Civil Appeals opinion, affirm the trial court and remand the case to the court for further proceedings.