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Rights of the biological father of a child that was adopted. Jeffrey M. v. Ann B. 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 20209 (N.Y. Fam. Ct. 2020)


In Jeffrey M. v. Ann B., 2020 N.Y. Slip Op. 20209 (N.Y. Fam. Ct. 2020), a case before the Family Court, Respondents Randall B. and Ann B. sought the dismissal of a Visitation Petition filed by Petitioner Jeffrey M. The court’s decision shed light on the complex dynamics of adoption and visitation rights.

In New York, once an adoption is finalized, the biological parents typically relinquish their parental rights over the child. This includes the right to custody, visitation, and decision-making concerning the child’s welfare. However, under certain circumstances, biological parents may retain limited rights, particularly if outlined in a post-placement contact agreement. These agreements may allow for ongoing communication, exchange of photos, and even supervised visitation, depending on the terms agreed upon by all parties involved.

Nevertheless, such agreements are not legally binding in New York unless they are incorporated into the adoption order. Additionally, biological parents may have the option to challenge the adoption on grounds such as fraud, duress, or coercion, although there are limitations and procedural hurdles to overcome, particularly if there has been a significant passage of time since the adoption was finalized.

Background Facts
On January 4, 2008, Betty A., the biological mother, gave birth to the child, whose paternity was attributed to Jeffrey M., the biological father. Both parents purportedly faced developmental challenges, yet they agreed to have their names listed on the child’s birth certificate.

Following the child’s birth, Betty A. presented the infant to Randall B. and Ann B., the adoptive parents, who assumed custody with the intent of formal adoption. On January 9, 2008, separate Post Placement Contact Agreements were executed between the adoptive parents and both biological parents. These agreements included provisions consenting to adoption, exchanging photos of the child, and granting visitation rights until the child’s tenth birthday, after which visitation would be at the child’s discretion. Notably, the agreement acknowledged its lack of legal binding in New York State and stipulated procedures for dispute resolution.

Subsequently, on January 14, 2008, the adoptive parents initiated adoption proceedings in Kings County Family Court. The court followed due process, including notifying the biological parents, investigating the adoptive parents’ suitability, and waiving the residency requirement due to the child’s continuous residence with them. The adoption was formalized on July 16, 2008, establishing the child as the lawful child of the adoptive parents.

Following the adoption, the biological parents sporadically visited the child until 2011, in accordance with the Post Placement Contact Agreement. However, visitations ceased later that year. In response, the biological father filed a Visitation Petition in 2012, seeking enforcement of the agreement. The Family Court dismissed the petition due to lack of standing, leading to no further proceedings. The Biological Father appealed.

Whether the Biological Father had standing to seek visitation rights after the child’s adoption by the Adoptive Parents.

The court granted the Adoptive Parents’ motion to dismiss the Biological Father’s Visitation Petition, emphasizing that the child’s adoption severed the Biological Father’s visitation rights.

The court’s decision in the case of the Biological Father’s petition for visitation rights with the child was based on a careful consideration of various legal factors. Firstly, the court underscored the limited jurisdiction of Family Court, emphasizing that its powers are constrained by the State Constitution and statutes. This served as the foundational principle guiding the court’s analysis.

Central to the case was the nature of adoption proceedings and the legal requirements surrounding them. The court highlighted the stringent criteria that must be met for an adoption to proceed lawfully, including the necessity of consent from biological parents and approval from the court. This aspect of the decision underscored the importance of adhering to established legal procedures in matters of adoption.

A key component of the case was the post-adoption contact agreement between the Biological Father and the Adoptive Parents. While such agreements may permit post-adoption contact between biological parents and the child, the court stressed that they must be formally incorporated into the adoption order to be legally enforceable. In this instance, the court found that the Biological Father had failed to demonstrate that the terms of the agreement were included in the adoption order, thus lacking a legal basis for visitation rights.

The court’s decision reaffirmed the importance of adhering to legal procedures in adoption cases. While biological parents may seek visitation, such rights must be established and legally recognized. The case underscores the complexities of family law and the need for clear legal frameworks to protect the best interests of children involved in adoption proceedings.

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