ANNAPOLIS – In a case balancing an interstate adoption compact with the welfare of a 3-year-old child, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals on Friday overturned a lower court’s decision declaring that a Maryland couple were the lawful parents of a baby born in New York.
“At the heart of the dispute is a little … girl who has never known any parents other than appellees,” Judge Theodore Bloom wrote for the majority. “There is a natural inclination to let our concern for what we perceive to be the best interests and future happiness of that child overshadow all other concerns and issues in the case.”
However, Bloom wrote, “We should not let it cause us to introduce bad law.”
The court held that a Harford County Circuit Court was wrong to finalize the adoption in March 1995, because the arrangements violated the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children.
All 50 states have adopted the compact, “created to facilitate interstate adoption and thereby increase the `pool of acceptable homes for children in need of placement’,” the appeals court observed.
But the court found that the Maryland couple took the child, referred to only as Baby Girl S., to their home without the approval of the respective states. Court records show that the couple went to New York for the birth of the child, and took her to their Fallston home about two weeks later.
Moreover, the court noted that very soon before the birth, “to expedite adoption,” the natural mother falsely stated in a compact application to New York that the natural father of the child was “unknown.”
The adoptive parents, meanwhile, also knew who the father was and “had a duty … to notify the Maryland Compact Administrator,” the court said.
The brief for the natural father argued that his daughter had no emotional ties with him because “this is the way it was intended by the birth mother and those who helped plan the adoption.”
Bloom’s opinion concluded, “When a natural parent has been deprived of his or her baby by a violation of the ICPC, we fully and wholeheartedly agree that Maryland courts should enforce the ICPC…. Maryland should not become a safe haven for those who illegally remove babies from foreign states in contravention of” the compact.
Dawn Oxley Musgrave, attorney for the Maryland couple, called the ruling “a terrible … injustice to this child.”
“I can’t believe they’ve done this. She’s almost four years old,” Musgrave said.
Musgrave added, when the adoptive parents moved the child to Maryland, “It was not done to deprive the rights of the natural father.”
Alfred N. Kramer of Aberdeen, the natural father’s attorney, could not be reached for comment.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Ellen L. Hollander said that although interstate compact had been violated, the circuit court’s decision should have been affirmed.
“The proper focus here is not the interest of a hypothetical child,” she wrote. “Rather we must focus upon the interests of Baby Girl S.”
The majority opinion, however, repeatedly emphasized the importance of the interstate compact.
“Permitting the adoption will send a message to other adoptive parents that it is not only permissible but advantageous to violate the ICPC, thus eroding the credibility of ICPC. Eventually all that will remain of the ICPC is a gutted shell,” Bloom wrote.
Musgrave said she would continue to fight to keep Baby Girl S. with the Maryland couple. “We will do whatever it takes,” she said, “take whatever legal option we have to … to keep the adoption in place.” -30-