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Child custody dispute centers on adoption timing

Maryland readers may be interested in an unusual child custody case playing out between an adoptive couple and a biological father. The case has raised a number of important questions about parental rights in relation to adoption. Unfortunately, both sides have suffered a great deal as the legal aspects of the child custody case have moved forward, and a great deal of disruption and stress has been placed upon the nine-year-old girl caught in the middle. This may be a case in which there is no clear “winner,” and where one family is sure to feel the heart wrenching loss of a child.

The nine-year-old girl at the center of the case has lived in the home of her adoptive parents since before she was two years old. She was adopted by the couple in 2008. Her biological father is a convicted felon, and was serving a 15 year sentence in federal prison at the time of her adoption. Under the parties' state law, no parent serving a sentence in excess of 10 years can have parental rights to a child under the age of eight.

The biological father was able to negotiate a deal that reduced his sentence to less than eight years. This allowed him to assert his parental rights, which he did. In 2009, a court reversed the child’s adoption, but allowed her to remain in the home of her adoptive parents while the matter went forward in court. Recently, a court ordered that she be placed in the custody of her biological father, even though she has had no contact with him over the years.

The adoptive parents are fighting to have her returned to their care, but it is unclear whether their efforts will be successful. They have not seen their daughter since she was taken from their home just hours after the final hearing in the case. As this case illustrates, the process of adopting a child can be fraught with potential dispute. While the urge to open one’s home to a child in need is an admirable one, adoptive parents must take steps to protect themselves from child custody challenges such as this one. There are a number of custody laws that can affect an adoption, and adoptive parents in Maryland and elsewhere must research how their own circumstances could be affected.

Source: CNN, "Adoptive parents fight for custody of 9-year-old Sonya", Randi Kaye, May 20, 2014

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