Judge ‘was wrong’ to prevent grandparents adopting 3-year-old
The Court of Appeal has ruled that a judge was wrong to prevent two grandparents adopting their 3-year-old grandson.
The court heard that the child's mother suffered from mental health problems. She had a long history of drug abuse and had criminal convictions for violent offences. She had had no contact with the child since his birth.
Care proceedings had been started and the child had been placed with the grandparents in August 2016, when he was two.
The ‘grandfather’ was married to the grandmother but was not biologically related to the child.
In late 2016, the mother was convicted of harassment after making threats to kill the grandmother. She was sentenced to imprisonment and an indefinite restraining order was imposed, preventing her from contacting the grandmother.
In February 2017, the care proceedings concluded with a special guardianship order being made in the grandparents' favour.
Since March 2017, the mother had been convicted of breaching the restraining order several times, including incidents where she was verbally aggressive and abusive, and one occasion when she smashed windows in the family home and car.
Since June 2018, the mother had either been a serving prisoner or had been detained in a psychiatric hospital. She opposed the grandparents’ application for an adoption order.
The judge acknowledged that the child's needs were being met by the grandparents but concluded that an adoption order was not necessary or proportionate because the special guardianship order was working well.
The Court of Appeal overturned that decision. It held that the judge had clearly given some weight to the fact that an adoption order would "skew" the child's legal relationships, but she overplayed that and failed to balance it against:
- the cultural norms of familial relationships for that family
- the fact that the child saw his grandparents as his "mummy" and "daddy" and the mother as his "tummy mummy”
- the fact that an adoption order would provide the child with a legal father.
Those omissions were so grave that the judge's welfare evaluation was fundamentally flawed.
The child's welfare required him to be afforded the greatest possible security in his placement with his grandparents. Only an adoption order would provide that.
Please contact Sarah Ashby if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.