Missouri High Court Calls Child’s Adoption ‘Manifest Injustice’

Another day, another adoption case in which a parent’s rights have been egregiously violated.  But this one has a special twist (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/26/11).

In the past, I’ve written many posts about fathers like Benjamin Wyrembek of Ohio, John Wyatt of Virginia and Christian Diaz of California.  Those all have much in common; the mothers of their children all unilaterally decided that they would place their children for adoption despite the dads’ expressed desire to care for and raise them. 

In each case, that meant the mothers’ leading the fathers to believe that they agreed while arranging adoption in secret.  Then, just before delivery, the mothers disappeared and refused all contact with the father.  That provided the window of opportunity through which to pass the child to the adoptive parents, sign away the mother’s parental rights and claim the father was unknown. 

Once in the possession of the adoptive parents, it’s proven very difficult for fathers to get their children back.  Wyrembek succeeded after three years in court.  Diaz failed.  Wyatt’s case is still pending in the Bermuda Triangle of fathers’ rights, the Utah judicial system.

We’re familiar with those cases and the simple steps a mother can take to deprive an unmarried father of his child if she chooses.  But as I said, this new case has a twist; it’s the mother who lost her child and had her parental rights terminated.

The events happened in Missouri and the mother is a Guatemalan woman named Encarnacion Romero.  Four years ago, she was in the United States illegally, working in a poultry processing plant.  Immigration officials arrested her and put her in detention pending deportation.  The only trouble was she had a then-four-month-old son whom she gave to her brother to care for while she was detained.

But the brother passed the child to another sister who handed him off to a family pastor.

At that point, Seth and Melinda Moser entered the case seeking to adopt the boy which, in short order, they did.  Romero’s parental rights were terminated and the Missouri lower court finalized the Moser’s adoption. 

But an appellate court overturned the adoption calling the termination of Romero’s parental rights a “manifest injustice.”  That’s at least in part because she was behind bars and apparently unable to assert her rights.  The Missouri Supreme Court has now agreed with the appellate court and sent the case back to the trial court for a hearing to determine whether Romero had “abandoned” her son.

The idea that she abandoned the boy simply because she was in an immigration detention center and unable to care for him or assert her rights in court looks like arrant nonsense to me.  Legal abandonment requires a showing that she intended to abandon her son and I’d put good money on the proposition that she did nothing of the kind.

In due course, we’ll see whether Encarnacion Romero gets her son back or not.

Interestingly, the Supreme Court case was decided by a 4-3 vote.  But the three dissenters don’t argue that the adoption should stand; on the contrary, they argue that Romero’s rights should be restored, the child returned to her and the adoption voided as one judge wrote, “not in 90 more days or 900 more days, but now.”  

I couldn’t agree more.  As in the fathers’ cases mentioned earlier, a brief lapse in a parent’s ability to assert his/her parental rights has been taken by an adoption agency as an open invitation to pilfer a child.  In the fathers’ cases, that lapse was created by the secretiveness of the mothers; here it was the mother’s incarceration and (probably) her unfamiliarity with the language and our court system.

But parental rights in this country are supposed to be made of far sterner stuff than that.  The U.S. Supreme Court has said that states have no legitimate interest in terminating a parent’s rights absent a showing of unfitness.  But, for reasons that escape me entirely, state laws continue to take single fathers’ (and now a mother’s)parental rights at the drop of a hat.

What’s most intriguing about the Romero case though is the utter silence of the pro-adoption crowd.  You remember them; they’re the ones who argue that, since the child has been with its adoptive parents for some amount of time (e.g. in the Wyrembek case, it was three years), whatever violation of the father’s rights has occurred must remain in effect for all time.  Otherwise, so the argument goes, a change of parents would be too upsetting to the child.

Now, of course small children like Romero’s or Wyrembek will undoubtedly experience upset and confusion at being taken from adults who are, to them, their parents.  What the defenders of the current system don’t grasp though is that, to allow such adoptions to stand is to sanction what amounts to kidnapping. 

Into the bargain, it would strike a possibly lethal blow to the rights of all parents.  Face it, the idea that a simple lie here and there by an interested party should allow a state to terminate parental rights is outrageous and should be treated as such.

But in the Wyrembek case, the Wyatt case and others, that’s precisely what the pro-adoption crowd argues for.  So why the silence now?  After all, Romero’s child has lived for almost all of his four years with the Mosers.  Surely returning him to his natural mother will be upsetting and confusing to him, so, according to their arguments in the various fathers’ cases, this adoption must stand.

And yet, this time, we hear only silence.  Now why would that be?   

Thanks to John for the head-up.

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