2002 Regular Session
To: Judiciary A
By: Representative Watson
AN ACT TO AMEND SECTION 93-17-5, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO CLARIFY THE RIGHTS OF FATHERS OF CHILDREN BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK TO OBJECT TO ADOPTIONS; TO CODIFY SECTION 93-17-6, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE FOR THE FATHER'S PETITION FOR DETERMINATION OF RIGHTS IN PROPOSED ADOPTIONS OF CHILDREN BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK; TO AMEND SECTION 93-17-7, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO PROVIDE THAT AN ADOPTION MAY BE ALLOWED OVER THE OBJECTION OF A PARENT IN CERTAIN CIRCUMSTANCES; 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, within the period ending thirty (30) days after the birth of the child, 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 shall be codified as Section 93-17-6, Mississippi Code of 1972:
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. 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.
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 subsection (2) of this section, 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) 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.
(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 subsection (1) of this section.
SECTION 4. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2002.