Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Adopted Children: Which Parents Are on the Right Side of the Law?

I watched a particularly effective episode of Harry's Law, a show that airs on Wednesday nights on NBC at 21:00. This is not your typical offering and I will also admit to being a big fan of David E. Kelley's shows. This is another law show, but not just another law show. It has its serious topics and its less serious topics but it is a lot more interesting... the scenarios posted and the responses to them.

Last Wednesday, on 9 November, the episode centered around two things. Harry goes on vacation in a Mercedes Benz truck where in the town of Langford, she is pulled over. The reason? The mayor of the town (well played by George Wendt) made an ordinance that no one shall own, operate or otherwise bring a foreign-made vehicle into their town. They wanted her to pay $1,000 fine for this ridiculousness and she wouldn't.

This is not where I am going with this.

The second case that comes to the office is the less amusing side of the story. A couple from China come in to the office and tells a sad story about how in their home nation, the second children of families who break the "no second child" rule are often stolen from their families. The harassment, brought on by the local government, not the country's government, begins with imprisonment of the parents, then destroying their homes, then other charming acts of basic terrorising the parents. The final slap in the face is to steal the child, put her in an orphanage, while telling the orphanage that the parents perished.

Telly shows and I are often at odds because they take liberties based - naturally - on the knowledge of the lowest common denominator. So, for those of you in that category, they are fooling you. When the child first meets the birth parents, she answers a direct missive in Chinese and then says, "I remember you." This is nothing short of a miracle. I'm not saying that small kids cannot recall anything; however, 98% of memories developed prior to the age of 6 or 7 are likely to be extremely traumatic ones (I'm not qualified to know what children consider "traumatic", but witnessing something violent or a killing or any number of things may imprint on a very small child's memory). Most people are a fairly blank slate up until the years when permanent memories develops; there is one exception, and I am just as susceptible to that as anyone: stories.

Oh, sure. My mother has all the good stories: how I fell into the cactus in the house in Demarest; how I got drunk when I was teething because a neighbour recommended put a tiny amount of vodka on in my bottle and she measured it with a teaspoon instead of an eyedropper. The most famous is one where I woke up early, wanted out of prison (the crib), so I stood up on chubby little legs and began pushing really hard against the bars. Now, who knows, maybe the baby cribs of circa 1968 didn't have brakes on 'em. But that sucker ended up blocking the bedroom door so that no one could get in. Heh, heh.

It sound good and it did in fact happen. But it is not from my memory this comes, but years of hearing my mother tell this. For a long time I thought I could remember it - she told it in rich detail and left nothing out, I was sure I could recall it. She's told it to everyone under the sun, on every occasion, but that is not my memory. I guarantee you it wasn't mine: I was in my room, oblivious to the stir I created and laughing my head off! Not exactly the definition of scarred.

There is an actual reason for putting you through all this, I promise.

In this show, a woman who knows one of lawyers on Harry's staff, Adam, and introduces him to two Chinese people, a husband and wife that had broken the second child law and the local government has stolen her. They've spent time and all of their money and tracked her to a family in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was taken at age two and now she is age 6. They want to get their little girl back and return home to Beijing. (Is it only me who wonders what the government will do - local or otherwise - when these parents who broke a major law there show up again?)

As it happens, China has revamped their taxation system to radically dissuade non-agriculturally dependent families to restrict their procreation to one. Families with farms can have two - kids are additional labour - without suffering monetary problems.

So the lawyers from Harry's firm first visit with the adoptive parents of Li. Li runs into the living room hot on her sister's Darlene's heels, arguing who gets to watch what on the telly. This is while the two lawyers from Harry's office are there to drop this bomb on the parents. They were good enough to want to avoid the parents just receiving a subpoena, but beyond that, this just went straight into the jurisprudence system! Meanwhile, the couple who have been raising this little girl go out and retain a lawyer.

When they meet in front of the judge, a tall, stately, African American woman with very short hair and who is extremely well-spoken, she explained how the process would work: she would hear from the biological parents, then the adoptive parents. The next day they would hear professional opinions on each side of the coin and then the following day there would be closing arguments and she would render her judgment.

Then she said something to the effect of how this would be painful; but like it or not, you are all in this together. That the little girl now has biological parents that she knows are alive; and she has the family with whom she has spent more than half of her life. Like it or not, this is it. One side cannot erase the other.

She held the lawyers back and asked if they had at least met as a group with the child present. They all shook their heads. The judge raised an eyebrow and said, "So your clients all lawyered up; this can all be faxed with a lawsuit, huh?" They all had the grace to look a little chastised, at least.

Later that day, the three lawyers and their clients had a get-together with Li. She seemed cold and distant to her biological parents, and the husband told the wife that she was only two when she last saw them. The adoptive mother apologetically told them Li doesn't remember Chinese. And then, after a another minute of the parents fretting that their child does not remember them, she said, "I remember you," in Chinese.

(Maybe that could happen, but I find that tough to believe...)

The next day in court they have experts give testimony. The defendants' side had a man who argued that it would be criminal to rip the daughter from her adoptive family. The other side's expert actually argued that multi-racial families can't work! I was grinding my teeth to the nubs when I heard that. That is preposterous!

After the experts did their thing, the judge called to the lawyers to hang back and asked if either of them had gotten their clients into counseling of some kind. Both again looked a little sheepish and shook their heads. The judge then asked the three of them if they had any kids. They all shook their heads and she sighed, shook her head and made a comment that it's a good thing their clients are in good hands.

At the end, it was time for the judge to hand down her verdict and inform the families of her fateful decision. She began by saying that these cases all come down to the judge you get [there was no jury]. She had been adopted by white parents. Was she racially conditioned to be white? She didn't know. She did say that if anyone had suggested to her that they were not her family, she would have fought it and never believed it. On the other hand, she is a mother and if anyone took her daughter, she would search the ends of the earth for her, if it took two years, four years, twenty.

She took a deep breath and said that she is going to work out a very strong and detailed set up of visitation rights. She also stated that Li would be living with the Thomas' (the adoptive family). She would get the visitation rights worked out as soon as possible and then apologised to the Chinese family. She just couldn't see taking away Li from her parents who'd raised her the last four years of her life. The Chinese woman broke down, the Thomas' were very relieved. I can understand that.

Currently, United States law always favours the side of the biological parents, a ruling I don't agree with. I don't think any case is so cut and dry one can have a predetermined ruling ideal. Each case has to be tried on an individual basis. Many times, I am on the side of the adoptive or waiting parents of an as-yet unborn child. Especially when teenage girls enter into an agreement that they will give up the baby they will have to a family that is childless and waiting for their own baby. But the 15-year-old girl giving up the child holds it for the first (and presumably last) time and suddenly decides to change her mind. AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!

And the law is on her side?! How is that fair? She signed an agreement! Received money and a ton of free health care! And she is bloody well 15! What kind of life will this be for either the child or the girl or the rest of the family? Let's be honest, we all know how this plays out. The mother of the teenager is saddled with more kids that she is raising full time. What a great system! And we support it! The law supports it.

Now we have destroyed how many lives? That of the girl, the baby, the girl's family (if they are directly involved). And what about the adoptive parents? Sure, they knew the risks. But they are desperate to have a child and they are the ones who really got screwed. These people usually have been through the ringer by the time they reach this point: failed attempts on their own to conceive; failed attempts at IVF; attempts to maybe have a surrogate mother (one who has signed up solely to incubate a child for another couple) adoption and now this - and then some irresponsible twit decides she can do this and opts to keep the child! These are the people who go through the worst times.

So what do you think? Should the legal system have a fall-back position that is favourable to one side of the issue? Or should the courts have to examine each case and make its own determination? Do you think the biological parents should always be the top winners of every case? The adoptive parents? Why or why not?

It's good food for thought. I welcome your thoughts, as always.

2 comments:

Patrick said...

Great topic, Aislínge...I had to think about this one for a bit.

For me, in the case of a child's future, I think justice should be completely blind. No pre-conceived notions, no trends, no patterns. The judge should hear everything and make a judgment based on that child and the would-be parents and nothing else.

I think that in the case of a child, there is too much at stake to worry about who traditionally does or doesn't prevail.

Every family is different, every child is unique. And I think the courts should act that way.

EMT Wench said...

I find the more I learn about the jurisprudence system, the less faith I have in it. Especially where children are concerned. It seems the wheels of justice do not consider the emotional well-being of anyone.

Now, an adult can fairly easily be psychologically damaged by the court process during their testimony if not the whole experience... just imagine what children go through.

One of the reasons I love the show "Harry's Law" is that David E. Kelley, true to form, gives an interesting snapshot of court cases and what they can do to people and/or families. It's on Wednesday now, but is moving to Sunday nights. Give it a try, through; I think you'll like it.