The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herr
This is a case of first impression in New Jersey regarding whether notice to the natural father is required in an adult adoption. V.A. filed a complaint seeking to adopt M.M., the adult child of his wife, N.A., without giving notice to the natural father, D.D. The reasons for the court is requiring notice to the natural father in spite of the silence of the statute are set forth herein.
N.J.S.A. 2A:22-1 outlines the standard for adult adoptions in New Jersey and states:
The superior court shall allow an unmarried person of full age, a husband with his wife's consent, a wife with her husband's consent or a husband and wife jointly to adopt an adult person and may change the name of the adult, if the court is satisfied that the adopting parent or parents are of good moral character and of reputable standing in their community and that the adoption will be to the advantage and benefit of the person to be adopted.
N.J.S.A. 2A:22-2 outlines additional requirements for granting the adoption and states:
Such adoption shall not be granted, unless the adopting parent or parents are at least 10 years older than the person to be adopted and the latter has, in writing, acknowledged by him as deeds are required to be acknowledged, requested the adoption and, if desired, the change of name. The court, upon being satisfied that the best interests of the person to be adopted would be promoted by granting the adoption, may waive any and all of the above requirements. Every such waiver shall be recited in any judgment of adoption thereafter entered.
Applying these requirements to the case at bar, the statute requires that 1) N.A. consent to V.A.'s adoption of M.M.; 2) V.A. be of good moral character and of reputable standing in the community; 3) the adoption be to the advantage and benefit of M.M.; 4) V.A. be at least 10 years older than M.M.; 5) M.M. request the adoption; and 6) the best interests of M.M. be promoted by granting the adoption.
The complaint asserting that each of these requirements has been met was uncontroverted and proven to the court's satisfaction. Nonetheless, at the initial hearing, I denied the application for plaintiff's failure to give notice of the termination of parental rights to M.M.'s natural father, D.D. Notice is not a specifically stated condition of the Adult Adoption Statute in New Jersey, N.J.S.A. 2A:22-1 through -3, but I determined notice was required by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Federal Constitution and Article 1, P 1 of the New Jersey Constitution.
The notice requirement of the Due Process Clause is well documented. In Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank and Trust Co. 339 U.S. 306, 313, 94 L. Ed. 865, 70 S. Ct. 652 (1949), the United States Supreme Court stated:
many controversies have raged about the cryptic and abstract words of the Due Process Clause, but there can be no doubt that at a minimum they require that deprivation of life, liberty or property by adjudication be preceded by notice and opportunity for hearing appropriate to the nature of the case.
Similarly, in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 333, 47 L. Ed. 2d 18, 96 S. Ct. 893 (1977), the United States Supreme Court stated:
this Court consistently has held that some form of hearing is required before an individual is finally deprived of a property interest. Wolff v McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 557-558, 41 L. Ed. 2d 935, 94 S. Ct. 2963, 71 Ohio Op. 2d 336 (1974). See, e.g., Phillips v Commissioner, 283 U.S. 589, 596-597, 75 L. Ed. 1289, 51 S. Ct. 608 (1931). See also Dent v West Virginia, 129 U.S. 114, 124-125, 32 L. Ed. 623, 9 S. Ct. 231 (1889). The "right to be heard before being condemned to suffer grievous loss of any kind, even though it may not involve the stigma and hardships of a criminal conviction, is a principle basic to our society." Joint Anti-Fascist Comm. v McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 168, 95 L. Ed. 817, 71 S. Ct. 624 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., Concurring). The fundamental requirement of due process is the opportunity to be ...