The Best Interests of the Child

In 2011, after only twenty five weeks of gestation, boy and girl twins were born to a single mother and unknown father. They had numerous medical conditions including bacterial and lung infections, and were at risk for hearing and vision impairment, bleeding of the brain, cerebral palsy, SIDS (sudden infant death), and learning disorders. They lived with their mother for the first nine months of their lives. They were removed from her care when she was incarcerated for, what the court called, "non-accidentally injuring" the boy's leg bone. The Children and Family Services Department [CFS] placed the twins with foster parents. The foster mother, SL, was a stay-at-home mom, and her husband, Mr. L, worked for a furniture store. They had a 16-year old daughter, and together the three of them cared the twins for the next 14 months. During this time, because of the twins' medical conditions, they had numerous and lengthy medical appointments. The boy was on oxygen 24 hours a day, and the family made constant trips to stores trying to find the special dietary products the twins needed to live. Fortunately, with the foster family's care, the twins thrived. They also bonded as a family.

In November, 2012, during a CFS follow-up visit, the L family wanted to adopt the twins, but changed their mind a month later. The following month, in January, 2013, SL re-committed to adopting the twins and filed a de facto parent request. (Mr. L did not file.) The request was granted, but the twins were removed from the L family's custody and placed with other prospective adoptive parents. (A de facto parent is a court term for someone who has assumed the role of parent and provides the physical and emotional needs of a child on a day-to-day basis. That person is used, when needed, to help a court decide the best interests of a child's welfare.)

In February, 2013, SL petitioned the court to reconsider and Mr. L joined her request. According to the Ls, the 24-hour care the twins first needed when they were placed with them, was exhaustive and caused problems in their 20-year marriage. The exhaustion and marital problems caused them to change their minds about adopting the children. But with marital counseling, the continual health improvement of the children, and their bonding as a family, they knew they had to adopt the twins. They also argued that it was in the best interests of the twins to be adopted by them. The children thrived in their care, and now they were bonded as a family. Further, SL was always home for the twins. Their new prospective parents were both working full time, and the twins were in day care. Their petition was denied without a hearing, and SL appealed.

The appellate court reversed the family court's decision stating that the family court failed to do the MOST important thing in determining where to place a child: Determine what is in the best interest of the child. Here, there was no indication that the court did so, and therefore the matter was returned to the court.

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