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In re Adoption of Children

Decided: August 18, 1967.

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF CHILDREN BY N.M, APPELLANT


Lewis, Labrecque and Goldmann. The opinion of the court was delivered by Lewis, J.A.D.

Lewis

[96 NJSuper Page 418] In this matter the Bergen County Court, Probate Division, granted the petition of N (herein stepfather) to adopt S, age 7, and G, age 3, children of his present wife R, formerly Miss V, (herein mother). M, the natural father of the two children (herein father), contested the proceedings as to the older child. He appeals from that part of the judgment allowing S to be adopted by the boys' stepfather.

The trial court, in granting the adoption, made no finding that the father abandoned his child or was an unfit parent. The judge stated that "all of these people are fine people," but he "felt" that the interests of the child would be better served by granting the adoption and terminating the natural relationship between father and child. The validity of that approach to the resolution of a controverted adoption proceeding is called into question by this appeal.

THE ISSUES

M contends that the court failed to make the required statutory finding that he had "forsaken parental obligations" and that no such finding would have been justified by the evidence.

N argues: (1) the findings are adequate and no additional findings are essential, (2) the natural father's consent is unnecessary, and (3) the judgment in his favor is sustainable since the trial court found that the adoption of S was for the child's best interests.

THE UNDISPUTED FACTS

The mother of the two children was pregnant with S at the time she married appellant in 1958. She knew that he was then married to another woman; a divorce from the first wife, however, was obtained later that year. S was born on January 30, 1959, and another son, G, was born January 1, 1963, approximately four months after the parents, who were then living in Michigan, had separated. The father moved to Canada in September 1963 and, eventually, the Michigan Circuit Court entered a default judgment annulling the V(R)-M marriage. That judgment declared that the children were the legitimate issue of the parties, gave their custody to the mother until they reached 18 years of age or "until the further order of this court," awarded $30 per week for their support, and provided for the right of visitation by the father.

M operates three music schools; he has remarried and has a child of that union. Since moving to Canada visits with his son S have been infrequent and neither party has strictly complied with the Michigan order for support and visitation rights. In August 1964 the mother of S and G married N, a widower with four children, and in March 1965 the couple, with their respective children, moved to New Jersey. There is now one child of that marriage. N is employed as a materials engineer.

THE LAW

The history of adoption reaches back into antiquity but was never recognized by the English common law.*fn1 Such an artificial relationship, with its concomitant rights and responsibilities, exists in our present society solely by legislative authority "to serve a socio-familial policy of prime import." In re Holibaugh, 18 N.J. 229, 233 (1955). Note, In re Coe, 42 N.J. 485, 489-490 (1964). Cf. Nickell v. Gall, 49 N.J. 186, 189 (1967).

The first adoption statute in New Jersey was enacted in 1877 (L. 1877, c. 83, p. 123). The law, as it existed prior to 1954,*fn2 required the consent of a living, competent and available parent before the parent-offspring relationship could be judicially severed, unless the parent had "forsaken parental obligations or been divorced from the father or mother of the child because of his ...


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