1998 Regular Session
By: Senator(s) Smith
Senate Bill 2360
AN ACT TO AMEND SECTIONS 93-17-5 AND 93-17-9, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO REDUCE THE WAITING PERIOD AFTER THE BIRTH OF A CHILD REQUIRED BEFORE THE BIRTH PARENTS MAY CONSENT TO AN ADOPTION AND TO PROVIDE THAT IN THE CASE OF A CHILD BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK, THE FATHER SHALL NOT HAVE A RIGHT TO OBJECT TO AN ADOPTION UNLESS HE DEMONSTRATES A COMMITMENT TO PARENTHOOD AS PROVIDED BY LAW; TO CODIFY SECTION 93-17-6, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE A PROCEDURE FOR FILING A PETITION FOR DETERMINATION OF RIGHTS BY AN ALLEGED FATHER IN ADOPTION PROCEEDINGS AND TO PRESCRIBE THE ELEMENTS OF PROOF TO BE CONSIDERED BY THE COURT IN SUCH MATTERS; TO AMEND SECTION 93-17-7, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PRESCRIBE THE CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH AN ADOPTION MAY BE ALLOWED BY THE COURT OVER THE OBJECTION OF A PARENT; TO CODIFY SECTION 93-17-8, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE A PROCEDURE TO BE FOLLOWED BY THE COURT IN CONTESTED ADOPTION CASES AND TO AUTHORIZE THE COURT TO ORDER THE BIRTH FATHER TO REIMBURSE THE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES OR THE FOSTER PARENTS FOR THE COSTS OF MEDICAL EXPENSES AND REASONABLE SUPPORT FOR THE CHILD AFTER HIS BIRTH; TO AMEND SECTION 93-17-13, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO DIRECT THE COURT TO ORDER HOME STUDIES IN ALL ADOPTION PROCEEDINGS AFTER JULY 1, 1998; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. Section 93-17-5, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
93-17-5. (1) There shall be made parties to the proceeding by process or by the filing therein of a consent to the adoption proposed in the petition, which consent shall be duly sworn to or acknowledged and executed only by the following persons, but not before seventy-two (72) hours after the birth of said child: (a) the parents, or parent, if only one (1) parent, though either be under the age of twenty-one (21) years; or, (b) in the event both parents are dead, then any two (2) adult kin of the child within the third degree computed according to the civil law, provided that, if one of such kin is in possession of the child, he or she shall join in the petition or be made a party to the suit; or, (c) the guardian ad litem of an abandoned child, upon petition showing that the names of the parents of such child are unknown after diligent search and inquiry by the petitioners. In addition to the above, there shall be made parties to any proceeding to adopt a child, either by process or by the filing of a consent to the adoption proposed in the petition, the following:
(i) Those persons having physical custody of such child, except persons having such child as foster parents as a result of placement with them by the Department of Human Services of the State of Mississippi.
(ii) Any person to whom custody of such child may have been awarded by a court of competent jurisdiction of the State of Mississippi.
(iii) The agent of the county Department of Human Services of the State of Mississippi that has placed a child in foster care, either by agreement or by court order.
(2) Such consent may also be executed and filed by the duly authorized officer or representative of a home to whose care the child has been delivered. The child shall join the petition by its next friend.
(3) In the case of a child born out of wedlock, the father shall not have a right to object to an adoption unless he has demonstrated a full commitment to the responsibilities of parenthood. Determination of the rights of the father of a child born out of wedlock may be made in proceedings pursuant to a Petition for Determination of Rights as provided in Section 93-17-6.
(4) If such consent be not filed, then process shall be had upon the parties as provided by law for process in person or by publication, if they be nonresidents of the state or are not found therein, after diligent search and inquiry, or are unknown after diligent search and inquiry; provided that the court or chancellor in vacation may fix a date in termtime or in vacation to which process may be returnable and shall have power to proceed in termtime or vacation. In any event, if the child is more than fourteen (14) years of age, a consent to the adoption, sworn to or acknowledged by the child, shall also be required or personal service of process shall be had upon the child in the same manner and in the same effect as if it were an adult.
SECTION 2. The following provision shall be codified as Section 93-17-6, Mississippi Code of 1972:
93-17-6. Petition for Determination of Rights.
(1) Any person who would be a necessary party to an adoption proceeding under this chapter and any person alleged or claiming to be the father of a child born out of wedlock who is proposed for adoption or who has been determined to be such by any administrative or judicial procedure (the "alleged father") may file a petition for determination of rights as a preliminary pleading to a petition for adoption in any court which would have jurisdiction and venue of an adoption proceeding. A petition for determination of rights may be filed at any time after the child's birth. Should competing petitions be filed in two (2) or more courts having jurisdiction and venue, the court in which the first such petition was properly filed shall have jurisdiction over the whole proceeding until its disposition. The prospective adopting parents need not be a party to such petition. Where the child's biological mother has surrendered the child to a home for adoption, the home may represent the biological mother and her interests in this proceeding.
(2) The court shall set this petition for hearing as expeditiously as possible allowing not less than ten (10) days' notice from the service or completion of process on the parties to be served.
(3) The sole matter for determination under a petition for determination of rights is whether the alleged father has a right to object to an adoption as set out in Section 93-17-5(3).
(4) Proof of an alleged father's full commitment to the responsibilities of parenthood would be shown by proof that, in accordance with his means and knowledge of the mother's pregnancy or the child's birth, that he either:
(a) Provided financial support, including, but not limited to, the payment of consistent support to the mother during her pregnancy, contributions to the payment of the medical expenses of pregnancy and birth, and contributions of consistent support of the child after birth; that he frequently and consistently visited the child after birth; and that he is now willing and able to assume legal and physical care of the child; or
(b) Was willing to provide such support and to visit the child and that he made reasonable attempts to manifest such a parental commitment, but was thwarted in his efforts by the mother or her agents, and that he is now willing and able to assume legal and physical care of the child.
(5) If the court determines that the alleged father has not met his full responsibilities of parenthood, it shall enter an order terminating his parental rights and he shall have no right to object to an adoption under Section 93-17-7.
(6) If the court determines that the alleged father has met his full responsibilities of parenthood and that he objects to the child's adoption, the court shall set the matter as a contested adoption in accord with Section 93-17-8.
(7) A petition for determination of rights may be used to determine the rights of alleged fathers whose identity is unknown or uncertain. In such cases the court shall determine what, if any, notice can be and is to be given such persons. Determinations of rights under the procedure of this section may also be made under a petition for adoption.
(8) Petitions for determination of rights shall be considered adoption cases and all subsequent proceedings such as a contested adoption under Section 93-17-8 and the adoption proceeding itself shall be portions of the same file.
(9) A petition for determination of rights may not be filed after a final decree of adoption has become incontestable under Section 93-17-15.
SECTION 3. Section 93-17-7, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
93-17-7. (1) No infant shall be adopted to any person if either parent, after having been summoned, shall appear and object thereto before the making of a decree for adoption, unless it shall be made to appear to the court from evidence touching such matters that the parent so objecting had abandoned or deserted such infant or is mentally, or morally, or otherwise unfit to rear and train it, including, but not limited to, those matters set out in subparagraph (2) below, in either of which cases the adoption may be decreed notwithstanding the objection of such parent, first considering the welfare of the child, or children, sought to be adopted. Provided, however, the parents shall not be summoned in the adoption proceedings nor have the right to object thereto if the parental rights of the parent or parents have been terminated by the procedure set forth in Sections 93-15-101 through 93-15-111, and such termination shall be res judicata on the question of parental abandonment or unfitness in the adoption proceedings.
(2) An adoption may be allowed over the objection of a parent where:
(a) A parent has abused the child. For purposes of this paragraph, abuse means the infliction of physical or mental injury which causes deterioration to the child, sexual abuse, exploitation or overworking of a child to such an extent that his health or moral or emotional well-being is endangered.
(b) A parent has not consistently offered to provide reasonably necessary food, clothing, appropriate shelter and treatment for the child. For purposes of this paragraph, treatment means medical care or other health services provided in accordance with the tenets of a well-recognized religious method of healing with a reasonable, proven record of success.
(c) A parent suffers from a medical or emotional illness, mental deficiency, behavior or conduct disorder, severe physical disability, substance abuse or chemical dependency which makes him unable or unwilling to provide an adequate permanent home for the child at the present time or in the reasonably near future based upon expert opinion or based upon an established pattern of behavior.
(d) Viewed in its entirety, the parent's past or present conduct, including his criminal convictions, would pose a risk of substantial harm to the physical, mental or emotional health of the child.
(e) A parent has engaged in acts or omissions permitting termination of parental rights under Section 93-15-103(2) and (3)(a), (b), (d) or (e).
(f) The enumeration of conduct or omissions in this subsection (2) in no way limits the court's power to such enumerated conduct or omissions in determining a parent's abandonment or desertion of the child or unfitness under subparagraph (1) above.
SECTION 4. The following provision shall be codified as Section 93-17-8, Mississippi Code of 1972:
93-17-8. Contested Adoptions.
(1) Whenever an adoption becomes a contested matter, whether after a hearing on a petition for determination of rights under Section 92-17-6 or otherwise, the court:
(a) Shall, on motion of any party or on its own motion, issue an order for immediate blood or tissue sampling in accordance with the provisions of Section 93-9-21 et seq., if paternity is at issue. The court shall order an expedited report of such testing and shall hold the hearing resolving this matter at the earliest time possible.
(b) Shall appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child. Such guardian ad litem shall be an attorney, however his duties are as guardian ad litem and not as attorney for the child. The reasonable costs of the guardian ad litem shall be taxed as costs of court. Neither the child nor anyone purporting to act on his behalf may waive the appointment of a guardian ad litem.
(c) Shall determine first whether or not the objecting parent is entitled to so object under the criteria of Section 93-17-7 and then shall determine the custody of the child in accord with the best interests of the child and the rights of the parties as established by the hearings and judgments.
(d) Shall schedule all hearings concerning the contested adoption as expeditiously as possible for prompt conclusion of the matter.
(2) In determining the custody of the child after a finding that the adoption will not be granted, the fact of the surrender of the child for adoption by a parent shall not be taken as any evidence of that parent's abandonment or desertion of the child or of that parent's unfitness as a parent.
(3) In contested adoptions arising through petitions for determination of rights where the prospective adopting parents were not parties to that proceeding, they need not be made parties to the contested adoption until there has been a ruling that the objecting parent is not entitled to enter a valid objection to the adoption. At that point the prospective adopting parents shall be made parties by joinder which shall show their suitability to be adopting parents as would a petition for adoption. The identity and suitability of the prospective adopting parents shall be made known to the court and the guardian ad litem, but shall not be made known to other parties to the proceeding unless the court determines that the interests of justice or the best interests of the child require it.
(4) No birth parent or alleged parent shall be permitted to contradict statements given in a proceeding for the adoption of their child in any other proceeding concerning that child or his ancestry.
(5) Appointment of a guardian ad litem is not required in any proceeding under this chapter except as provided in subsection (1)(b) above and except for the guardian ad litem needed for an abandoned child. No final decree of adoption heretofore granted shall be set aside or modified because a guardian ad litem was not appointed unless as the result of a direct appeal not now barred.
(6) The provisions of Chapter 15 of this Title 93, Mississippi Code of 1972, are not applicable to proceedings under this chapter except as specifically provided by reference herein.
(7) The court may order a child's birth father, identified as such in the proceedings, to reimburse the Department of Human Services, the foster parents, the adopting parents, the home, any other agency or person who has assumed liability for such child, all or part of the costs of the medical expenses incurred for the mother and the child in connection with the birth of the child, as well as reasonable support for the child after his birth.
SECTION 5. Section 93-17-9, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
93-17-9. As used in this chapter the word "home" shall be construed to include any charitable or religious corporation or organization or the superintendent or head of such charitable or religious corporation or organization organized under the laws of the State of Mississippi, or any public authority to which has been granted the power to provide care for or procure the adoption of children by any statute or statutes of this state, and any association or institution engaged in placing children for adoption on July 1, 1955. Any person required to be a party to an adoption proceeding by Section 93-17-5 may execute the surrender of a child to a home by sworn or acknowledged instrument which shall include the following: the name of the child and the home; that there is thereby vested in the home the exclusive custody, care and control of such child; that all parental rights to such child including the right of inheritance are relinquished by such person; provided, the rights of inheritance of the natural parents and the child shall not be affected until entry of a final decree of adoption; that the home is authorized to execute a consent to adoption as provided by this chapter and that process in any adoption proceeding is waived; that such surrender shall be irrevocable and that such person will not, in any manner, interfere with the custody of such child thus vested in the home. Said instrument shall not be executed until seventy-two (72) hours after the birth of the child and shall effectually vest in the home all rights thus surrendered and all powers thus created, with the right and power to execute the consent to adoption as required in this chapter authorizing the court to vest in the child and the adopting parent or parents the rights herein provided.
Where a child has been surrendered to a home or other agency operating under the laws of another state, and the child is delivered into the custody of a petitioner or home within this state, the execution of such consent by such nonresident home or agency shall be accepted in lieu of the execution of such consent by a home.
SECTION 6. Section 93-17-13, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
93-17-13. A final decree of adoption shall not be entered before the expiration of six (6) months from the entry of the interlocutory decree except (a) when a child is a stepchild of a petitioner or is related by blood to the petitioner within the third degree according to the rules of the civil law or in any case in which the chancellor in the exercise of his discretion shall determine from all the proceedings and evidence in said cause that the six-month waiting period is not necessary or required for the benefit of the court, the petitioners or the child to be adopted, and shall so adjudicate in the decree entered in said cause, in either of which cases the final decree may be entered immediately without any delay and without an interlocutory decree, or (b) when the child has resided in the home of any petitioner prior to the granting of the interlocutory decree, in which case the court may, in its discretion, shorten the waiting period by the length of time the child has thus resided.
From and after July 1, 1998, the court shall order adoption home studies in all adoption cases to be conducted by a licensed adoption agency or a licensed social worker, and shall receive such testimony in writing or by the oral testimony of the individual conducting the study.
The final decree shall adjudicate, in addition to such other provisions as may be found by the court to be proper for the protection of the interests of the child; and its effect, unless otherwise specifically provided, shall be that (a) the child shall inherit from and through the adopting parents and shall likewise inherit from the other children of the adopting parents to the same extent and under the same conditions as provided for the inheritance between brothers and sisters of the full blood by the laws of descent and distribution of the State of Mississippi, and that the adopting parents and their other children shall inherit from the child, just as if such child had been born to the adopting parents in lawful wedlock; (b) the child and the adopting parents and adoptive kindred are vested with all of the rights, powers, duties and obligations, respectively, as if such child had been born to the adopting parents in lawful wedlock, including all rights existing by virtue of Section 11-7-13, Mississippi Code of 1972; provided, however, that inheritance by or from the adopted child shall be governed by subsection (a) above; (c) that the name of the child shall be changed if desired; and (d) that the natural parents and natural kindred of the child shall not inherit by or through the child except as to a natural parent who is the spouse of the adopting parent, and all parental rights of the natural parent, or parents, shall be terminated, except as to a natural parent who is the spouse of the adopting parent. Nothing in this chapter shall restrict the right of any person to dispose of property under a last will and testament.
SECTION 7. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 1998.