Bar News - May 17, 2017
Opinion: Adoption Celebrations Shine Light in Dark Dockets
By: Hon. Susan Carbon
Sometimes an event is so evocative, so moving, that it cannot be contained – it has to be shared. Such is the genesis of this article.
I am a Circuit Court Judge, assigned to the Family Division, by choice. Always have been, always hope to be. With bountiful respect for the work of other divisions and courts in New Hampshire, I believe the work of the Family Division is the most important. The Family Division docket includes cases involving children who are neglected or abused in unspeakable ways, and those cases take their toll on judges and court staff alike. The enormous responsibility entrusted to us as we work on these cases requires us to be healthy in every respect – physically, emotionally, and mentally.
At the other end of the spectrum, I would argue that we in the Family Division also have the most joyous type of case in the entire court system: adoptions. Adoptions are all about creating “forever families,” and they are especially exciting when a child is being adopted out of foster care.
Adoption hearings are a small part formality followed by a big dose of festivity. The courtroom is decorated, stuffed animals are assembled for the kids, and a cake is brought in for family and friends. The formal part of the hearing includes the caseworker from the NH Division of Children Youth and Families and the Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer offering a few words of congratulations and best wishes. After confirming with the parents that they wish to adopt the child and understand that, once adopted, the child is theirs forever, the child gets involved.
No matter their age, children come up to the bench to sign their own papers, even if it means just marking an “X” on their signature line. The adoption becomes final with the pounding of the gavel. To most kids (especially little boys), a gavel is but a fancy-looking hammer – and they have little difficulty using it to hit their signature marking the official moment of adoption. Invariably, family and friends spontaneously erupt in applause and the festivities begin.
The most recent adoption in my courtroom was what I was so compelled to share.
The courtroom was full of people. Families are welcome to bring as many guests as they wish, and this case was no exception. Relatives came from California; there were so many friends, we had to change courtrooms.
But it was the love of this little boy’s soon-to-be sister that made this case so unforgettable. The family had one 10-year-old daughter. At first, she was hesitant to surrender the coveted “only child” status in the household. But soon enough, she took her new brother under her wing and they are now inseparable, so much so that she insisted she have a part in his adoption.
With the help of the DCYF caseworker, she wrote her own Adoption Agreement. This was a first. I invited her up to the bench to read it aloud to the packed courtroom, but it was clear she was focused on her new brother, a 5-year-old who asked to have his name changed to “Isaac” because it meant “happy.” Emma read:
“I, Emma, agree that Isaac is my forever brother and I am his forever sister. I promise I will always be the best big sister I can be. I promise to love [him] always. I will treat him with respect, dignity, kindness, and grace. I will watch out for and protect him, at least until he is bigger than me – then I promise to let him watch out for and protect me. Even though we both might make mistakes, I will continue to love [him], and promise to offer, and receive, forgiveness. I even promise to share my gum with him. I understand that adoption is forever, and that our family is forever. Signed, Emma.”
She brought the house down. A profound statement, especially coming from a 10 year old. One of our clerks was so touched by the little girl’s Adoption Agreement that she made her a Big Sister Certificate!
After picking out stuffed animals, taking hundreds of pictures, and cutting the cake, the real celebration began. It was the beginning of a new life for this little boy. This extraordinary family has opened their hearts and made their home his home.
Nope, there’s no case that gets any better than this.
Judge Carbon sits in the 9th Circuit – Family Division in Manchester. She was appointed in 1990, served as Bar President in 1993-94, and was President of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in 2007-2008.