California Court Discusses Modification of Final Family Law Orders

There are many ways to grow a family, including adoption. In some instances, a child’s birth family will want to retain contact with a child and will request an open adoption. Usually, the open adoption contract will be made part of the order granting the adoption. If it is not, however, the court may see fit to amend the final adoption order, as illustrated in a recent California case. If you have questions regarding child custody or adoption, it is in your best interest to speak to a knowledgeable San Diego family law attorney about your options.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that the two minor children were placed in the dependency system. They were then cared for by their paternal grandmother. The grandmother formally adopted both children but was having considerable difficulties caring for them. As such, she contacted an adoption agency and requested that the children be re-placed for adoption. She stipulated, though, that the children must continue to be a part of her family and that the adoptions must be open. Subsequently, the adoptive parents signed an open adoption contract.

Allegedly, after the court finalized the adoption, disagreements arose between the adoptive parents and the grandmother. The grandmother then discovered that the agreement had not been submitted to the adoption court and had not been considered or included in the original adoption order. As such, she filed a petition to amend the final judgment of adoption to include the agreement that was signed by the parties prior to the adoption. The Trial Court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction over the matter because the court that granted the adoptions failed to make the appropriate judicial decisions as to whether the post-adoption contact arrangement was entered into willingly and was in the best interests of the children. Therefore, it deemed the agreement invalid. The grandmother appealed.

Amending Adoption Contracts

The Court of Appeals ultimately ruled that family law courts are courts of equity. As such, they have the right to amend final adoption contracts where equity demands it, and evidence of deliberate or intentional misrepresentation is not needed for the doctrine of equitable estoppel to apply.

The Court of Appeals explained that, in the interests of fairness and justice, the ┬áTrial Court may have used its equitable powers to revise the judgments to include the parties’ agreement. The Trial Court also erred in holding that the grandparents needed evidence of fraud or an intentional or deliberate misrepresentation to prove the adoptive parents were precluded from objecting to the change under the law of equitable estoppel. As such, the Court of Appeals overturned the Trial Court’s decision.

Meet with a Knowledgeable California Family Law Attorney

Parties can sometimes make mistakes in family law cases, but simply because an order is deemed final does not mean that it cannot be modified, and anyone with concerns regarding a custody or adoption agreement should contact an attorney. The knowledgeable San Diego family law attorneys of Doppelt and Forney APLC do not practice in adoption, but we are adept at handling a variety of family law disputes, and if you hire us, we will diligently pursue the best legal outcome possible. You can reach us by calling 800-769-4748 or by using the form online to set up a free and confidential meeting.




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