A woman recently appealed a circuit court’s final order of the adoption of her biological daughter to the minor child’s long-term foster parents. The Virginia family court case began when the Department of Social Services (DSS) became involved after the woman was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of drug paraphernalia. Over the course of seven years, the mother would frequently leave the child in the couple’s care. As such, the foster parents maintained a “very close” relationship with the girl. At one point, the juvenile and domestic relations (JDR) court issued an order granting legal custody of the child to the foster parents.
Between 2017 and 2019, the mother had little contact with the child and did not see her for about 11 months. The foster parents expressed their desire to adopt the child; however, the mother would not consent. The mother conceded that she was absent but refused the adoption, arguing that she wanted additional time to prove her capability. At the adoption hearing, the couple argued that the mother’s consent was unnecessary under Virginia Code § 63.2-1202(H). They further argued that the mother was withholding consent contrary to the child’s best interest. At the hearing, the mother argued that the court erred in taking jurisdiction because the JDR did not remove legal custody or terminate her parental rights. She contends that because the JDR court entered the last custody order, they maintained jurisdiction over the case.
According to the law, a parent’s interest in the care, custody and control of their children is a fundamental liberty interest. As such, biological parents may initiate adoption proceedings in a JDR court as long as one parent consents. Here, contrary to the mother’s assertions, this case was not a parental placement. Instead, the parties testified that the child was placed with the couple so that the girl would be kept out of the foster care system. The court found that the JDR did not have jurisdiction because this was not a case of parental placement, and neither parent consented to the adoption. Ultimately, under the law, the adoption must commence in the proper venue, in this case, the circuit court. For these reasons, the appeals court ultimately affirmed the circuit court’s ruling in the adoption proceedings.