Illegal Guatemalan Adoption Not Recognized in U.S.
We’ve blogged about legal translation services for international child custody disputes and the need to obtain certified translations of court orders from foreign courts in such proceedings. In Maria G. v. Commissioner of Children and Families, a Connecticut case, the petitioner sought custody of a minor child she brought into the United States from Guatemala. However, as discussed below, the petitioner was denied custody due to fraudulent activity by the petitioner and the child’s biological mother.
Spanish to English Translation of Birth Certificate
In 2009, the petitioner, a citizen of Argentina and a legal U.S. resident, brought a child from Guatemala into the United States illegally. In doing so, the petitioner used a fraudulent passport and birth certificate stating that the petitioner and her husband were the child’s birth parents. This was false. The child’s biological mother actually resided in Guatemala.
In 2012, the Commissioner of Children and Families (“Commissioner”) obtained temporary custody of the child pursuant to a court order, and the child was placed in a foster home.
Petitioner Seeks Custody of Child
In 2013, the petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus seeking custody of the child. The petitioner argued that the Commissioner was violating her constitutional rights, as well as the child’s rights, by refusing to return the child to her care. The petitioner also claimed that keeping the child in foster care was contrary to his best interests. In response, the Commissioner moved to dismiss the petition on the grounds that the petitioner lacked standing. The Commissioner argued that the petitioner had no right to sue for the child’s return because the petitioner was neither the child’s biological mother nor his adoptive parent. Furthermore, the petitioner had not claimed to be the child’s legal guardian.
The petitioner argued that a Guatemalan court had recognized the child’s birth certificate and had determined that the petitioner was the child’s parent. The court, however, issued a ruling stating that “the mere assertion by the petitioner that she is the legal guardian of the child under [Guatemalan] law, without more, is insufficient to confer standing.” The court then ordered the petitioner to provide proof that she was the child’s guardian at an evidentiary hearing.
Guatemalan Court Grants Custody to Petitioner
Before the evidentiary hearing occurred in Connecticut, the child’s biological mother asked a Guatemalan court to grant custody of her child to the petitioner. The following day, the Guatemalan court awarded the petitioner “parental rights, custody, and representation” of the child. In awarding custody of the child to the petitioner, the Guatemalan court relied on an affidavit from the child’s biological mother which conveyed custody to the petitioner as well as the admittedly false birth certificate.
Evidentiary Hearing in Connecticut
Several months after the Guatemalan court awarded custody to the petitioner, the evidentiary hearing took place in Connecticut. During the hearing, the petitioner provided the court with a copy of the Guatemalan court proceedings, along with testimony from a Guatemalan attorney who represented the child’s biological mother during the proceedings in Guatemala. The parties then submitted post-hearing briefs. The Commissioner argued that the court should not recognize the Guatemalan custody decree due to irregularities in the underlying process and because the Guatemalan decree was based on a birth certificate which was admittedly false.
The court ultimately found that the petitioner had demonstrated prima facie evidence of standing but explained that this was not a guarantee that the petitioner would prevail on the merit.
Parties File Motions for Summary Judgment
After the court found that the petitioner did have standing, the parties then filed separate motions for summary judgment. The petitioner argued that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to her legal right to custody of the child. In response, the Commissioner argued that the court should not recognize the Guatemalan court decree since it was based on a fake birth certificate and because the Commissioner had not been afforded notice of the Guatemalan proceedings.
The trial court granted the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment and denied the petitioner’s motion for summary judgment. The court applied the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act and declined to recognize the Guatemalan court decree on the grounds that it was based on fraudulent and illegal conduct, a false birth certificate, and was obtained without providing any notice to the Commissioner. The court based its decision on the fact that the petitioner had obtained custody of a newborn that was not legally adopted and brought the child into the United States with a false birth certificate and a fraudulent passport. The petitioner then appealed to the Connecticut Court of Appeals.
Court of Appeals Affirms Trial Court
On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment. The court explained that while “judgments of courts of foreign countries are recognized in the United States because of the comity due to the courts and judgments of one nation from another…a decree will not be recognized by comity where it was obtained by a procedure which denies due process of law in the real sense of the term, or was obtained by fraud, or where…it offends the public policy of the state in which recognition is sought.” Citing Schmidt v. Yardney Electric Corp., 4 Conn. App. 69, 74, 492 A.2d 519 (1972).
In affirming the trial court’s decision, the court of appeals agreed that the trial court was not required to enforce the Guatemalan court’s judgment as it was based on a fraudulently obtained birth certificate. The court of appeals also agreed that it would be against public policy to enforce such a judgment. Specifically, the court held that the petitioner and the child’s biological mother “knowingly agreed to engage in subterfuge to evade the strictures of federal adoption laws and achieve more expeditiously their own goals, albeit admirable ones.” The court explained that “accepting the wishes of the petitioner and the biological mother as to who [the child’s] mother should be would be tantamount to enforcing the illegal agreement between them and…contrary to the public policies underlying adoption laws of both this country and of Guatemala.” The court of appeals also held that the Commissioner had not been provided with adequate notice of the Guatemalan court proceedings.
What Constitutes a Legal International Adoption?
According to the State Department’s website, adoptions are governed by three different sets of laws: U.S. federal law, the laws of the prospective adoptive child’s country of origin, and the laws of the adoptee’s U.S. state of residence.
Children residing in countries part of the Hague Convention (of which Guatemala is a member), must meet a number of requirements in order to be legally adopted and immigrate to the U.S. Such requirements under the Hague Convention include:
1) submitting a valid form 1-800 petition;
2) being adopted by a married U.S. citizen and spouse jointly or by an unmarried U.S. citizen at least 25 years of age, habitually residing in the United States who has been found suitable and eligible to adopt;
3) determined to be eligible for adoption by the central authority of the child’s country of origin;
4) obtaining a revocation/termination of parental rights by the child’s natural parents; and
5) have parents incapable of providing proper care for the child.
The case is Maria G. v. Commissioner of Children and Families, Court No. AC 40692, decided on January 29, 2019 in the Court of Appeals of the State of Connecticut.
*** This translation blog article should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult a lawyer regarding your specific legal needs. ***
Contact All Language Alliance, Inc. to obtain apostille translation services and certified document translation of legal documents from Spanish, Arabic, French, German, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese to English for an international adoption, including apostille translated birth certificates, apostilled marriage certificates, apostille adoption decrees, and to schedule a legal interpreter in any language for an attorney-client meeting.
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