Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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In Re Lisa Diane G

Citation. In re Lisa Diane G., 537 A.2d 131, 1988 R.I. LEXIS 26 (R.I. Feb. 17, 1988)

Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiffs sought to nullify the adoption of daughter based on alleged fraudulent conduct or misrepresentations of the adoptive agency. The Family Court found that it lacked jurisdiction over the matter.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The Family Court has jurisdiction to nullify an adoption if plaintiffs can prove their claim of fraudulent conduct or misrepresentations by clear and convincing evidence.

Facts. Plaintiffs, adoptive parents of an 8 year old daughter, complain that their adoption decree was procured by the fraudulent conduct or misrepresentations of certain representatives of the Department of Children and Their Families (DCF). Plaintiffs contend that DCF never informed them that the staff of a hospital known for treatment of the emotionally disturbed informed DCF that the 8 year old should not be placed for adoption due to her behavioral problems. The plaintiffs sought nullification of the adoption decree and compensation for expenses incurred. On order was entered denying the parents’ complaint for a lack of jurisdiction. At the court’s insistence, counsel for DCF filed a petition asking that the daughter, now a teenager, be declared a dependent child and placed in the custody of the state.

Issue. Does the Family Court have jurisdiction to grant the relief requested by the plaintiffs?

Held. The Family Court has jurisdiction to grant the requested relief if plaintiffs can prove their claim by clear and convincing evidence.
A natural mother who has consented to have her child placed for adoption but subsequently seeks to vacate the adoptive decree must prove her claim to relief by clear and convincing evidence. The same standard should be satisfied when the adoptive parents are seeking to invalidate the adoption decree.

Because of its exclusive jurisdiction in the subject matter of adoption, the Family Court has the inherent power to adjudicate the claim put forth by the adoptive parents. This determination will involve a consideration of the child’s best interest, but this must be balanced against the harm suffered by the adoptive parents as a result of the alleged conduct of DCF.

Discussion. The Court found that the Family Court had jurisdiction to nullify plaintiffs’ adoption of the daughter if they proved by clear and convincing evidence that the adoption was procured by the fraudulent conduct or misrepresentations of certain representatives of DCF.