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Georgia Case Law Update – In Re Lionel John Williams et al

In adoption cases, one of the most important items to take care of is to terminate the parental rights of the legal/biological parents or, if termination is not possible, provide notice of the pending adoption to legal and biological parents of the child. There are very specific rules about termination and notice that protect the rights of both legal/biological parents and adoptive parents.

A recent case heard by the Court of Appeals of Georgia considered the issue of notice of a child’s pending adoption to that child’s alleged biological father. In Re Lionel John Williams et al., A17A0019, May 9, 2017 In that case, the child’s biological mother relinquished her rights to an adoption agency who placed the child with the an adoptive family. The biological mother provided an affidavit in which she did not identify the child’s father but, rather, stated that she and the father were not married and the child was a result of a one time sexual encounter. The adoption agency then searched the Georgia Putative Father registry, as required by Georgia law, and found no one who asserted an interest in the child. As a result, the trial court entered an order “terminating the parental rights of the biological mother and any unknown, unnamed biological father.” Id. Shortly thereafter, a man called the adoption agency claiming to be the father, but refused to meet with anyone to discuss his allegation. After the adoptive parents brought this to the attention of the court in their petition to adopt, the court ordered the father to be served with a copy of the termination order and adoption petition, and further ordered that the alleged biological father had 15 days to file a motion to set aside the termination order. The adoptive parents appealed.

In reversing the trial court’s order, the Court of Appeals of Georgia cited Georgia law which states: “If the identity of the biological father whose rights are sought to be terminated is not known to the petitioner or the petitioner’s attorney and the biological father would not be entitled to notice in accordance with subsection (a) of this Code section, then it shall be rebuttably presumed that he is not entitled to notice of the proceedings.” O.C.G.A. § 15-11-283(c). At that point, no further inquiry or notice is required and the biological father’s rights may be terminated. Under the facts of the case, including the fact that the man never provided financial support for the child, lived with the child or attempted to legitimate the child, the Court of Appeals held that this alleged biological father was not entitled to notice of any proceedings.

This case shows that a termination of parental rights will stand if all of the proper procedures are followed. If the alleged biological father had asserted his rights earlier, rather than 2 weeks after his rights were terminated, this story may have had a different ending. However, since he waited so long, his rights were properly terminated – and this termination will stand regardless of whether he actually is the biological father of the child.


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