Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Nos. A-237-01 & A-238-01) (Hon. Ronna Lee Beck, Trial Judge).
Before Ruiz, Glickman and Washington, Associate Judges.
Dissenting opinion by Associate Judge RUIZ at p. 9.
Appellant, G.G., appeals the trial court's waiver of her consent to adoption and termination of her parental rights with regard to her children Je.G. and Ja.G. G.G. contends that the trial court lacked clear and convincing evidence necessary to waive her consent; that the trial court failed to adequately weigh issues of race, culture, and gender in reaching its decision; and that actions or omissions of the responsible social services agency should have caused the trial court to deny the adoption petitions. We affirm the trial court's decision.
Je.G. and Ja.G. were committed to foster care in October 2000, after the trial court found them neglected in accordance with a stipulation signed by G.G.*fn1 In April 2001, foster parents F.W. and D.T. filed petitions to adopt the children. G.G. and her husband J.G., who is the father of the children, objected to the proposed adoptions. After holding a consolidated hearing to show cause why the parents' consents to the adoptions should not be waived, the court found that the parents had withheld their consents contrary to the children's best interests and waived consents of the parents to the adoptions. On December 20, 2002, the court issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment, and in April 2003, the court issued final decrees of adoption for the children.
The trial court can waive otherwise necessary parental consents to a proposed adoption if the court determines that the parents are withholding their consents contrary to the child's best interests. See In re P.S., 797 A.2d 1219, 1223 (D.C. 2001); D.C. Code § 16-304 (a)-(b)(2)(B), (e) (2001). We review such a determination for abuse of discretion. In re P.S., 797 A.2d at 1224; In re D.R.M., 570 A.2d 796, 803-804 (D.C. 1990). "Such a finding must be supported by clear and convincing evidence," In re W.E.T., 793 A.2d 471, 478 (D.C. 2002), "'such that the possibility of an erroneous judgment does not lie in equipoise between the two sides.'" In re J.G. Jr., 831 A.2d 992, 999 (D.C. 2003) (quoting In re K.A., 484 A.2d 992, 996 (D.C. 1984)). "Clear and convincing evidence is evidence which will produce in the mind of the trier of fact a firm belief or conviction as to the facts sought to be established. It does not mean clear and unequivocal." In re W.E.T., 793 A.2d at 478 n.15 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
In making its determination, the trial court must weigh the same factors as those weighed in a termination of parental rights proceeding. See In re J.G. Jr., 831 A.2d at 999; In re P.S., 797 A.2d at 1223; In re A.W.K., 778 A.2d 314, 325 (D.C. 2001). The factors to be considered here are:*fn2
(1) the child's need for continuity of care and caretakers and for timely integration into a stable and permanent home, taking into account the differences in the development and the concept of time of children of different ages;
(2) the physical, mental and emotional health of all individuals involved to the degree that such affects the welfare of the child, the decisive consideration being the physical, mental and emotional needs of the child;
(3) the quality of the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent, siblings, relative, and/or caretakers, ...