Adoption of Hugo

700 N.E.2d 516 (1998)

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Adoption of Hugo

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
700 N.E.2d 516 (1998)

Facts

Upon Hugo’s birth in September 1994, the Department of Social Services (DSS) (plaintiff) filed a care-and-protection petition, known as a dependency petition in other jurisdictions, in the juvenile court. DSS unsuccessfully attempted to place Hugo with L, a foster mother who had custody of Hugo’s sister, Gloria. Instead, DSS placed Hugo with a different foster mother. In Hugo’s first year of life, the court adjudicated him to be in need of care and protection, and Hugo was diagnosed with severe disabilities that required special care and therapy appointments. In mid-1996, DSS learned that while Hugo’s foster mother did not want to adopt him, Hugo’s aunt, J, did. DSS did not investigate the possibility of J’s adoption of Hugo because DSS had already decided that Hugo should be placed with L, where he was placed in August 1996. In January 1997, when Hugo was about two and a half years old, his birth parents (defendants) and DSS agreed for the juvenile court’s order to be vacated and for the matter to be heard by another judge. In the fall and winter of 1997, the new judge held a new trial concerning the care-and-protection petition. Hugo had been in L’s care for about one year, along with Gloria and two other foster children, with more foster children to join them. During that year, Hugo had bonded with L and Gloria. L had been taking Hugo to his therapy appointments but had given him no special care to improve his well-being. DSS recommended Hugo’s adoption by L, but Hugo’s birth parents recommended his adoption by J. In February 1998, the court held that Hugo was a child in need of care and protection because of the birth parents’ unfitness. The next month, the court announced its extensive findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order containing an adoption plan. The court found that Hugo’s best interests would be served by J’s adoption of him. The court reasoned that while his transfer to J’s custody would be difficult for Hugo because of his bond with L and Gloria, J and her extended family could better help Hugo reach his full potential. DSS appealed. One of its arguments was that the court gave too much weight to the birth parents’ recommended adoption plan. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the birth parents’ recommendation was too risky. The birth parents appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Marshall, J.)

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