Waldlaw Blog

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Delightful Way to Spend A Morning

Monday morning is adoption morning in San Francisco Superior Court. Families gather in the hallway outside Department 405 -- the courtroom of the presiding judge of the Unified Family Court -- grandmas in their church best, children in their party clothes, proud and excited adoptive parents posing for photographs and exchanging hugs and congratulations. A sense of celebration fills the air -- probably the only time all week that there are more smiles than frowns and tears in the family court, which usually handles divorces and custody disputes. This morning, I had a particulary moving adoption. My client's ex-partner was married when they met. By the time she left her husband for my client, she was pregnant. That was 26 years ago. My client was present at the baby's birth, cut his umbilical cord, and brought him and his birth mother home to her house where they raised him together for 16 years. But she was never able to adopt him, for two reasons: (1) he already had a legal mother and a legal father, neither of whom would consent to termination of their parental rights; and (2) 2nd parent adoptions hadn't been invented yet when he was young. Fast forward 26 years. My client has raised this child, now a young man, from birth. They are deeply bonded -- the love between them is obvious to anyone walking by. But they have never had a legal relationship. My client remains a "legal stranger" to this man she has raised, and would have no rights whatsoever if, god forbid, something should happen to him. She couldn't visit him in the ICU; would have no right to make decisions about his care or comfort; wouldn't be legally entitled to family leave or other benefits she might need to take care of him. Nor would he have these rights with regard to her. I have been asked on occasion why anyone bothers with adult adoptions. They seem so much less important, somehow, then adoptions of minor children who are still in need of so much from their parents. But this morning's adoption was one of the most meaningful adoptions I have had the privilege of being part of. To be able to give this mother and son the gift of being a legal family, after 26 years of waiting, was a moving and joyful experience -- when the Judge said "it is now ordered, adjudged and decreed that this adoption be granted" there wasn't a dry eye in the house. I have sometimes wondered why San Francisco Superior Court does its adoption hearings at 8:45 on Monday mornings, when we are all still shaking off our weekends and figuring out what our work weeks will hold, but all I can say this morning is ... what a nice way to start the week!!


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