2000 Regular Session
By: Senator(s) Nunnelee
Senate Bill 2186
AN ACT TO AMEND SECTIONS 93-17-7 and 93-17-8, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO CLARIFY THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH APPOINTMENT OF A GUARDIAN AD LITEM IS REQUIRED IN AN ADOPTION PROCEEDING; TO ALLOW A COUNTY TO PAY THE FEE IN CERTAIN PROCEEDINGS; TO AMEND SECTION 93-17-6, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO CLARIFY THE NOTICE DUE UNKNOWN FATHERS IN A PROCEEDING UPON A PETITION FOR DETERMINATION OF RIGHTS; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. Section 93-17-7, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
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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 subsection (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. Appointment of a guardian ad litem by the court shall not be mandatory when the adoption is uncontested or where all necessary parties have been properly summoned and no party has filed an objection to the proceeding.
(2) An adoption may be allowed over the objection of a parent where:
(a) The 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) The 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) The 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) The parent has engaged in acts or omissions permitting termination of parental rights under Section 93-15-103, subsections (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.
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SECTION 2. Section 93-17-8, Mississippi Code of 1972, is brought forward as follows:
93-17-8. (1) Whenever an adoption becomes a contested matter, whether after a hearing on a petition for determination of rights under Section 93-17-6 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 unless the chancellor, in his discretion, shall order those costs paid by the county, which order may be entered at any time. 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 automatically required in any proceeding under this chapter except (a) as provided in subsection (1)(b) above; * * *(b) for an abandoned child; * * * or (c) where an adoption agency is involved in the proceeding. 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 3. Section 93-17-6, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
93-17-6. (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 period ending thirty (30) days after the birth of the child. 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, including, but not limited to, notice by certified mail or by publication. 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.
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SECTION 4. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2000.