Hennepin County District Court File Nos. J7-02-054718, 231037, F0-02-50798, F9-02-05079 7
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge;
and Minge, Judge.
Unless contrary to the best interests of the child, when a birth parent has voluntarily terminated his/her parental rights and has directed that certain relatives not be accorded the relative preference for adoption, the commissioner of the Department of Human Services shall honor that request.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Minge, Judge
Appellants, great-aunt and great-uncle of T.L.A. and T.E.A., challenge the commissioner's decision to withhold consent to their adoption of the children. Because Minnesota law allows a biological parent who relinquishes parental rights to direct that the commissioner not consider relatives as an adoptive placement, because the relative preference for adoptive placement is only one factor in determining a child's best interests, and because the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the commissioner's decision was in the best interests of the children, we affirm.
T.A. is the mother of T.L.A. and T.E.A., who were born in March 1999 and August 2000, respectively. T.A. has a history of prostitution and drug addiction. Shortly after the birth of T.E.A., Hennepin County Department of Children, Family and Adult Services (Hennepin County) filed a petition stating that the children were in need of protection or services.
Appellants J.A. and S.A. are sister and brother and T.A. is their niece. In August 2000, T.E.A. was placed in emergency foster care with appellant J.A. T.L.A. was placed with J.A. a month later. Within a few days of T.L.A.'s arrival, appellant J.A. contacted Hennepin County demanding that the children be removed immediately. Hennepin County offered J.A. supportive services and advised her that if she gave up the children it might affect subsequent adoption decisions. J.A. insisted, however, and the children were placed in an emergency shelter home until respondent M.R. took them into her home.
T.A. and respondent M.R. are close friends. T.A. considers M.R. to be "kin" and chose M.R. to be her godmother. T.A. heavily relied on M.R. for help with the children and M.R. has cared for the children for extended periods of time.
In 2001, the district court ordered that the children be reunified with T.A. This reunification lasted for approximately one year. During this period of time, appellant S.A. visited with the children once. J.A. did not have any contact with the children. M.R., however, was a frequent visitor. When T.A. became incapable of caring for the children, M.R. intervened on the children's behalf and they were placed with her where they now remain.
Both T.A. and the father of the children voluntarily terminated their parental rights, and the district court ordered their rights terminated. By law, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (commissioner) became the guardian and legal custodian of the children. Appellants and M.R. both filed petitions for adoption. After first identifying M.R. as the preferred adoptive parent, and then favoring adoption by appellants, T.A. finally directed that the commissioner reject appellants as adoptive parents and designated M.R. as the preferred adoptive parent. The commissioner reviewed the matter and determined that the state would not consent to adoption by appellants. A contested adoption hearing was scheduled and the district court determined that the issue of whether the commissioner reasonably withheld consent would be tried first, and bifurcated from consideration of the competing adoption petitions of appellants and respondent.
The district court held a six-day hearing on the commissioner's refusal to consent to adoption by appellants and the facts as they pertained to adoption placement. There was evidence that appellants had not had significant contact with T.A. until she was unable to care for her children and that T.A. felt unsupported and abandoned by appellants. There was also testimony that, apparently because of T.A.'s history of drug use and prostitution, appellants were not willing to have contact with T.A. and the children as long as she retained her parental rights and that, if appellants became adoptive parents, they would not allow her contact with the children. The district court found that M.R. had been loving and supportive of the children and maintained contact with them despite ...