July 3, 2019
- Issue: Whether the court erred ruling that RSA 170-B:4 does not authorize the unmarried petitioners to jointly adopt a child.
The trial court dismissed the petitioner’s motion and motion for reconsideration to allow the child’s natural father and unmarried partner to adopt the child. On appeal, the Court examined RSA 170 B-4 and Jason C. and concluded that the language of the statute did not contemplate two unmarried adults jointly adopting. The Court, relying on Jason C. and supported by the Uniform Adoption Act 1971 version, disagreed with the petitioner that the statute contemplated the “unmarried parent of a child to adopt the child jointly with another individual.” Historically, legitimate and illegitimate children were treated differently under the law and RSA 170-B:4 allowed an unmarried parent to adopt their own child. The Court concluded it did not permit an unmarried parent, regardless of the stability of the household, to adopt with another individual and that contemplating the otherwise would lead to results the legislature had not intended.
Finally, the Court reviews amicus curiae and dissenting arguments and found while considering adoption statutes liberally, with a view to effectuating policy, they are not permitted to rewrite the statute. Here, while the petitioner’s record is “sympathetic,” the statutory requirements are not met and they cannot grant a petition to adopt. Those requirements include: consent of a natural parent, which would terminate their own parental rights; “step-parent exception;” or adult adoption.
In contrast to the majority, the dissent believes that the petitioner’s adoption petition should be granted because it’s in the best interest of the child. The petition was brought jointly by the parties to retain the natural parent’s parental rights and the statute should be construed liberally. The dissent read RSA 170-B:5, I, :7 and :25 together finding that the parental right of the natural father should not be terminated and that in conjunction with RSA 170-B:19, IV (2014) where surrender has already been obtained, adoption is in the best interest of the child. Where the statute allows unmarried adults to adopt, allowing adoption in this instance would fulfill the legislature’s purpose of providing a “unified and stable household for the child.”