Adoptive Parent of Special Needs Child Remains Liable For Child Support Upon Voluntary Surrender Of Parental Rights

Adopting a special needs child is a tremendous act of love and compassion. Those who under take the challenge take great risks both emotional and financial as demonstrated by the Court of Appeals decision today in Matter of Greene County Dept. of Social Servs. v Ward, 2007 NY Slip Op 05131. An unmarried registered nurse was desirous of adopting a special needs child. She was presented with a child who had tested positive for cocaine and syphilis at birth. The child also exhibited various mental and emotional developmental problems. The nurse sought appropriate treatment and care for the child. Nevertheless, the child continued to have problems to such extent that he became violent. The nurse therefore voluntarily relinquished her parental rights. Even though she gave up her parental rights, the local Family Court found that she was still liable for child support. The Court of Appeals affirmed stating that an adoptive parent retains the obligation to provide financial support for a child until he or she is adopted or turns twenty-one (see Family Court Act § 413). The Court rejected the nurse’s claim that she should be exempt from the child support obligation since she was a single parent of a child born out of wedlock. The Court of Appeals noted, however, that although the Social Services Law carved out a limited exception from this support requirement for children born out of wedlock to unwed mothers (see Social Services Law § 398 [6][f]; 18 NYCRR 422.4), this exception did not apply in the instant case. Since the child was not “begotten and born” to the nurse, she did not qualify as the “mother of a child born” out of lawful matrimony (see Family Court Act § 512).

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