The superior court denied the petition of Theresa Goudeau to adopt her foster daughter and ordered the Department of Family and Children’s Services to remove the child from Goudeau’s foster care, finding that placing the child with Goudeau violated this state’s “public policy” because Goudeau was not married to the man with whom she lived.Thankfully, the appellate court reversed the trial court:
* * *
Goudeau, 66, testified that she and Lovett, 46, were in a committed relationship and had been together 20 years, treating each other as husband and wife. He was a father figure to her son and she was a stepmother to his children. They attended the same training programs before being approved to foster children in their home, and had cared for A.C. since she was two days old. She further explained that she had been married twice before, both times to abusive men, and did not want to marry again, although later she clarified that she meant she did not want to marry “by going to a preacher [and] getting it on paper.”
* * *
In a written order issued a few weeks later, the superior court denied the petition for adoption and held that Goudeau and Lovett should not have physical custody of A.C. because of their relationship with each other. The court found no common law marriage existed between Goudeau and Lovett and found that clear and convincing evidence established they were “living in an immoral, meretricious relationship, ... and that the adoption and their continued custody is inappropriate.” Quoting from cases involving illegal contracts, change of custody and visitation cases between divorced parents, and criminal statutes prohibiting sodomy, fornication, and adultery, the court held that allowing a child to be adopted by an unmarried person living with someone else violates Georgia’s “public policy,” which favors the institution of marriage. The court continued:
DFACS has adopted a policy, in contravention of Georgia law, that persons living in meretricious relationships may serve as foster parents and adoptive parents. DFACS’ Adoption Services Manual (March 2007) expressly confirms this policy by requiring “significant others” to attend [adoption orientation and training]. DFACS’ policy violates the established public policy and laws of this state favoring the institution of marriage, and declaring meretricious relationships as immoral. Georgia recognizes the legitimacy of married couples and single individuals. It does not recognize any other status, regardless of the mores of some members of society who have thrown off long-standing social, moral, ethical and religious constraints. DFACS’ policy offends the laws of this state, the sensibilities of this court, and the common conscious [sic] of the moral, ethical and religious citizens of this state.
The superior court then stated. . . “The trial court must not only protect the child’s best interest, but it must also ensure that an adoption does not violate the public policy or laws of this state. It cannot be in a child’s best interest to be placed in a household which the courts of this state have condemned as immoral.”
In this case, absolutely no evidence supports the denial of the petition to adopt. All of the witnesses, including the guardian ad litem appointed by the trial court to represent the child’s interests and the DFACS adoption specialist testified that this adoption was in the child’s best interest, and that to remove her from the only family she has ever known would be “devastating” to the child. The trial court in its order barely refers to the child’s interests, except to make the conclusory finding that her continued exposure to what the court describes as a “meretricious relationship” was not in the little girl’s best interest, and “would have an adverse effect on her moral character.” Nothing in the record supports this finding. Regardless of the trial court’s moral views about unmarried people living together and its conclusion that DFACS acts in contravention of the law by allowing unmarried people to adopt or serve as foster parents, the adoption statute clearly does not prohibit this adoption.Th law blogger who highlighted this case further opined:
The General Assembly has not prohibited unmarried couples from adopting children. This court applies the law, not its personal viewpoint of social mores. No evidence supports the trial court’s conclusion that adoption was not in this child’s best interest; in fact, all of the evidence was to the contrary.
The trial court’s response that “It cannot be in a child’s best interest to be placed in a household which the courts of this state have condemned as immoral” strikes me as deeply inadequate. And any argument that a policy of barring unmarried couples from being foster parents (or barring unmarried people with live-in lovers from being adoptive parents) would be good for other children in the future also strikes me as unsound: It’s not like our system is so awash in would-be foster and adoptive parents who are willing to raise babies born with cocaine in their systems that we can afford to reject apparently eminently loving and effective parents. Again, the matter might be different if we were considering a preference for married parents over unmarried ones, when there was a choice to be made. But that does not seem to be the case here, or in many other situations.So what do you think? I think that if the rigidly "moral" people who decry the orphan crisis really wanted to find families for orphans around the world they wouldn't care about prohibiting unmarried couples or same-sex couples or single parents from adopting.