Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Adoption & "Living in Sin"

A Georgia trial court denied an adoption request by a foster mom who was living with a man to whom she was not married.  The unmarried couple was licensed as foster parents, had fostered over 80 kids, and had fostered the child they wanted to adopt for 3 years.
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.

* * *

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.”
Thankfully, the appellate court reversed the trial court:
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.

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.
Th law blogger who highlighted this case further opined:
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.


Bukimom said...

I think it's possible to be a moral person who cares about orphans and still maintain boundaries about what is an acceptable situation to place a child into.

Notwithstanding the previous sentence, it seems cruel to me to remove a child from the only parents she has ever known because of technicalities she can't understand.

Elizabeth@Romans8:15 said...

I'm glad to hear it was overturned because I think the first decision was disgraceful. If the foster care system in that state says that singles or "live in couples" can be foster parents then they should obviously be able to adopt.

patti said...

Sounds like the judge was more interested in getting a personal opinion registered than in what would be best for this child. Just the kind of person you want in charge of someone else's life changing decisions. And why wouldn't a 20 year relationship be found to be a common law marriage? Isn't that basically what common law marriages are?

Mahmee said...

Wha? Simply put...I think that is NUTS, NUTS, NUTS! Marriage, common-law marriage, living together, single, whatever. A family is a family. That whole story leaves a bad taste in my mouth for sure. Ugh.

malinda said...

Why wouldn't a 20-year relationship be a common-law marriage? Well, it takes more than living together, or even living together for a long time for it to be a common-law marriage. You have to INTEND to be married, and you have to hold yourself out to others as married.

Doesn't sound like this couple did any of that. You'd look to see what their address labels said, what their bank account said, how they filled out their taxes, etc., to see if they held themselves out to be married.

Elaine said...

My partner and I had lived together -even had two commitment ceremonies, though we neglected to get the marriage license - for 4 years before we started our adoption process. We had to get legally married at that point. We were living in GA at the time and soon moved to NC. Common law marriage did not apply to us.
Our initial not getting the legal status was equal parts simply forgetting to apply for the license and feeling it was unjust that we could be legally married when our gay and lesbian friends could not.
I'm glad to see that the decision was overturned.