Children may not have the capacity to make important decisions for themselves, but that does not mean that family judges ignore their wishes and feelings. In a highly unusual case on point, a 17-year-old girl was granted her adamant wish to be adopted by her stepmother.
Following her parents’ difficult separation, the girl spent most of her early years living with her birth mother. Over the past 10 years, however, she had steadily moved into her father and stepmother’s domain. She vehemently supported her stepmother’s application to adopt her, a move that was staunchly opposed by her birth mother. Her court-appointed guardian and a highly experienced social worker strongly advised that adoption would not be in her best interests.
Ruling on the matter, a family judge noted the strength of the girl’s views that her stepmother had done everything for her, whilst her birth mother had done nothing. She referred to the former as ‘Mum’ and the latter by her first name. The birth mother, who had many pressures weighing upon her, accepted that she was not perfect and would not win a ‘mother of the year’ contest. However, she was earnest in her wish to rebuild her relationship with her daughter.
The judge acknowledged that adoption would irrevocably extinguish the daughter’s legal ties to her birth mother. Her guardian and the social worker had expressed concern that her black-and-white views reflected emotional immaturity and that she might come to regret her decision in later life. There was a risk that she would suffer emotional harm if that occurred.
Although legally still a child, the girl was described by the judge as an intelligent, articulate and highly talented young person. Her wishes and feelings deserved to be given great weight. It was not irrational for her to want her stepmother to become her mother in every sense, emotionally, psychologically, practically and legally. To the extent that the birth mother’s human right to respect for her family life clashed with that of her daughter, the latter prevailed.
Ruling in favour of adoption, the judge observed that it was a finely balanced case and that he was disagreeing with the recommendations of two very experienced professionals. He found, however, that an adoption order was a proportionate step that would best promote the girl’s welfare throughout her life. The judge deferred making the order for 28 days so that the birth mother would have the opportunity to lodge an appeal.