General Question

JoyousLove's avatar

What are the legal rights of a biological parent regarding a child that has been adopted?

Asked by JoyousLove (1458points) September 19th, 2016

We live in California. My younger sister just turned 17 on the 13th. Her and her mother (my step-mother) got into a huge argument and my younger sister has decided to have her biological father pick her up, so she can spend the night at his house. She insists that because she has told them where she is going and she is 17, that she has the right to go to his house with or without the permission of her parents. The bio-dad claims he has a right to pick her up, in this situation, with or without the permission of her adoptive parents. Our dad has called the sheriff and is having her listed as a runaway… He is also talking to the sheriff about charging the bio-dad with kidnapping. Also, since my younger sister told them she was going with bio-dad for the night, our dad has been talking shit about bio-dad, her boyfriend, and her.

I have a few questions.

As a seventeen year old, in California, DOES my younger sister have the right to determine where she is going without parental consent?

Does bio-dad have a right to remove her from her adoptive parents’ home without their consent?

Assuming the answers to the above are no, what sort of legal action should bio-dad and little sister expect to be taken against them?

Would you agree with me that the adults in this situation are all behaving poorly?

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47 Answers

jca's avatar

In California, the “age of majority” meaning the age someone is legally considered an adult, is 18.

If it’s illegal to do what the bio-dad did, he can expect to get arrested. As for what the charges might be, only the district attorney and the police would know what they would be.

If this 17 year old is legally adopted, the bio dad has no parental rights. He has no say in anything that goes on with her, unless there’s some kind of special agreement, which is unlikely.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

What @jca said would apply where I am too (not in the US).

However, yes, the adults seem to behaving badly. Their emotions are getting the better of them by the sound of things. Your parents are undoubtedly feeling hurt. Your sister is also hurt. Her bio-father may be taking advantage of the situation OR perhaps she’s said things that make him worried about her and he thinks he’s doing the right thing. Is the bio-dad a problem? We don’t know why she was adopted, but he might be a perfectly great guy who has her best interests at heart. Unfortunately, what’s happening risks pushing her closer towards him without actually resolving whatever issues are at play. I hope your family work things out.

JoyousLove's avatar

@jca : That was my understanding of the situation as well. However, I’d like to add more information regarding the situation. Apparently during the course of the argument, my younger sister was struck. So now bio-dad is attempting to file charges against the adoptive parents and seek custody.

@Earthbound_Misfit : I can definitely tell emotions are running high on all sides of this issue. I’m not really sure about bio-dad’s motives in this, but I don’t think he’s a bad person. I think he genuinely cares about my younger sister’s welfare and it is likely that she has told him things that would make him concerned. Our parents are very “conservative” in their views and tend to reject and/or suppress anything that doesn’t agree with their view.

Bio-dad wasn’t actually really in the picture when she was adopted, to my knowledge. He showed up some years later. She was adopted because bio-mom did not feel she could care for a child, given her (then) current circumstances.

I sincerely hope things work out for the best. I’m offering my support to everyone in this, our parents, bio-dad, and younger sister. I’m doing my best to remain neutral and simply give each side the facts as I understand them regarding the law in this situation.

Except little sister… I told her very specifically that if she needs ANYTHING or feels endangered by ANYONE that she needs to call me immediately. She gets my full support. I love that little punk <3

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

Sounds like she has a great big sister in her corner. That’s a valuable asset for her. She’s a teenager and I’m not sure how old you are, but I remember being very emotional at that time, but I thought I knew exactly what was best for me. My parents were also very conservative so there wasn’t a lot of middle ground.

Time is a great healer. Try not to find yourself in the middle. If things don’t settle down and the opportunity arises, perhaps suggest getting a counsellor involved. A neutral outsider who can perhaps bring some rational thought to the whole picture. Right now everyone is seeing things from their perspective and they’re being driven by hurt.

All the best with this.

jca's avatar

“During the course of the argument, my younger sister was struck.” Parents do have the right to hit their children, as long as it’s within parameters. In the state I live and work in, you cannot use closed fist, you cannot use another object (like electrical cord, spoon, belt, etc) and you cannot leave marks (cannot hit hard enough to leave a mark). It’s not clear from what you wrote if the sister was hit accidentally in the course of an altercation or was she hit on purpose, for example as punishment?

The bio-dad has no rights. Even if terrible things were happening, the child would go to foster care, not just go back to the bio-dad. For a child to be removed from her parents, it’s a long and drawn out process. By that time, your sister will be the age of majority, 18, and she can legally do what she wants.

Sneki95's avatar

“Would you agree with me that the adults in this situation are all behaving poorly?”

I think your dad is overreacting a bit. Unless the bio-dad is actually problematic, I don’t understand why is your dad that upset.

The bio-dad said he is going to pick her up. She said she is going to her father. What exactly is kidnapping there?

jca's avatar

@Sneki95: If the adoptive dad says no, there may be an issue.

JoyousLove's avatar

@Earthbound_Misfit : Unfortunately, dad seems to be doing his best to put me in the middle and make me feel like I’m involved and that her and bio-dad are in effect harming me as well. And thank you… I’ve always tried to do my best to be there for my siblings. A counselor would be a great idea, but I have serious doubts about the willingness of anyone but my younger sister to go see one. Thanks for your well wishes.

@jca : I checked the law in California and my understanding of it indicates that corporal punishment is, “unlawful if the punishment was not reasonably necessary, or was excessive, under the circumstances.” I’m not sure where this particular instance would fall, but my dad says the sheriff said that since there was no bruising or bleeding, that they are safe. She was hit intentionally as a reaction to her mouthing off. I guess she said “fuck you” several times.

I advised my younger sister about the lack of rights that bio-dad has in this situation and what position he’d be putting himself in if he, in effect, kidnapped her.

@Sneki95 : Dad is a very conservative Christian. What dad doesn’t like about bio-dad is that bio-dad is a very liberal atheist.

And it’s kidnapping only in that it is removing the child in question from the custody of the legal parents without their consent and in fact in direct violation of what they’ve said.

Sneki95's avatar

@jca @JoyousLove Oh. didn’t know that.

jca's avatar

@JoyousLove: Kidnapping is not something anybody wants to be charged with, so if I were bio-dad, and the adoptive dad says “she can’t go with you” then he’d be smart to back off. He’ll be sitting in a jail cell hoping there’s bail and it’s bail he can afford and then trying to get himself a lawyer. Whatever our opinion is of the crime not being as serious as perhaps if she were kidnapped by a stranger, it’s still kidnapping.

Seek's avatar

Having escaped an abusive, conservative Christian household myself, I’d probably encourage your sister to stick it out for the few months until her 18th birthday, then celebrate by delivering a rousing chorus of Fuck this shit, I’m out while she packs her stuff and moves on to greener pastures.

JoyousLove's avatar

@jca : That’s basically what I tried to make clear to her. I am concerned about the ramifications of their actions, and trying to convince her to find an alternative solution.

@Seek : I grew up, in part (I was between my mother and father’s households, growing up), in the same abusive, conservative Christian household she is in. They have always been more lenient with her than they were with my older sister and I, but I suspect that it has been an awful experience for her as well. I wish there was something I could do to get her out of that situation, but unfortunately they wouldn’t allow her to leave with me either. I’m a bad influence, after all.

jca's avatar

Sis has a year to go before she turns 18 (almost a year, actually six days short of a year). I know when you’re young like that, a year can seem like an eternity. Maybe they can all come to some sort of an agreement before then. Maybe they can get some intervention from family therapy or one of the systems it seems they’re becoming involved with (family court, etc.). `

jca's avatar

@JoyousLove: What was the big argument about if you don’t mind my asking? Maybe that can help us get a better understanding of what the adoptive dad is so upset about.

JoyousLove's avatar

@jca : I’m hoping that counseling or therapy is something that results from this current situation… And unfortunately, I actually don’t know what the original argument was about. I’m asking, now.

Seek's avatar

The trick is that the mother and adoptive father have all the legal power and none of the incentive to take advantage of intervention.

Why should they go to counseling? The daughter is already their property for another year, and if they choose they can make Bio-Dad’s life many flavors of hell with a couple of phone calls.

If they’re actively beating her, something that would be a crime were it anyone other than a minor child that legally belonged to them, my best advice is for her to dance to their tune for as long as they can legally force her to, and in the meanwhile make plans for her life without them.

She should absolutely not stay there a moment longer than she has to, though.

If counseling/therapy/whatever is possible, awesome, but I’m not holding my breath.

jca's avatar

If she’s being beaten, she should tell the authorities and she can be removed legally, at least that’s the way it works in New York State. I don’t hear anything that says she’s being beaten from what the OP wrote. She wrote that the sister was hit after saying “fuck you” several times. If the sister was being beaten and the police intervened, she should let them know.

If she were my seventeen year old and she said “fuck you” to me several times, I’d probably hit her, too.

JoyousLove's avatar

@Seek : You’re absolutely right that they probably wouldn’t go to counseling… And that her best option is probably to just play along until she can legally leave. I’m just hoping that things don’t get worse before they get better.

@jca : If it is for her, the way it was for my older sister and I… I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that physical violence is regularly the punishment for just about any infraction.

And as far as I’m concerned, corporal punishment is never justified… But I’d rather not get into a moral debate about it.

Seek's avatar

And if you hit someone who said “fuck you” to you a few times in the grocery store, you could be arrested for assault.

JoyousLove's avatar

@Seek : Actually, I believe under California law, that would be considered simple battery. What I’ve read indicates that assault is the attempt to use force or violence on someone else, while battery is the actual use of it on someone else.

Still… You make a very good point, in that it would absolutely not be tolerated. Certainly, no sheriff would tell the offender that since there were no bruises and was no blood, that they’re perfectly fine and justified in what they did.

jca's avatar

@Seek: Yes, you’re right.

In the case of a parent, at least in New York, it’s different than it is for a stranger in the supermarket.

JoyousLove's avatar

Ah… So I had asked both dad and younger sister about what the topic of the argument was. Dad finally responded, saying that it was, “Because she wanted to spend the night down town after a weekend in town with friends, because it’s boring and lonely in Loma Rica. Then she told [mom] f u twice. She scratched [mom’s] arm up and screwed door to car up too.” Loma Rica is the middle-of-nowhere town that they live in, and it IS extremely boring and lonely there. Also, I’m assuming that she got hit after saying “f u”, but before reacting physically. I also get the impression I’m not getting the whole story, because the beginning is pretty vague and then suddenly younger sister is supposedly flying off the handle and committing all these terrible acts without any provocation. Which would be extremely unlike her.

Seek's avatar

Yeah, that’s how it goes, usually. You should ask them again tomorrow and see how much the story changes.

JoyousLove's avatar

@Seek : That’s not a bad idea at all. :) Thanks.

@ALL: And thanks everyone, for your valuable and insightful responses.

jca's avatar

It sounds like a time of high emotion. In a few days, things will calm down.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

@JoyousLove, if you don’t live at home, can your sister spend more time with you? If you can encourage her to stay where she is until she’s 18, that’s going to perhaps avoid some truly awful legal confrontations for everyone.

Knowing she can spend some time with you and out of her current situation might help her to stay for now. And we are all different and react in different ways. My sister and I went through similar horrible events, she became an alcoholic, I did not. We handle things in our own ways and have our own tolerance limits.

kritiper's avatar

They shouldn’t have any.

JoyousLove's avatar

@Earthbound_Misfit : Unfortunately, I am seen as a bad influence. I actively encourage my younger siblings to explore various beliefs, question things that don’t make sense to them, and arrive at their own conclusions. Plus I’m trans, so I’m automatically some sort of heretic/sinner/miscreant. Her and I only get to spend time with each other on special occasions or while I am doing favors for our parents.

I worry about her a lot. She’s not as tough as I was, growing up. Ya know? She’s more sensitive to the verbal/emotional abuse than I ever was.

jca's avatar

@JoyousLove: How old are you? I’m confused. You live with these parents (the adoptive ones)?

JoyousLove's avatar

@jca : No, I live about an hour and a half away, by car. I am 28.

Earthbound_Misfit's avatar

Yes, I do know. That’s so hard for you. You seem to have your head well and truly screwed on. Well done you. I hope you can persuade her to stay at home for a few more months. After that, she can make her own choices. Make sure you look after yourself too. It sounds like you’re in a very unpleasant and hurtful place too.

JoyousLove's avatar

@Earthbound_Misfit : Thanks, I like to think that being the “black sheep” in my family really just means being the rational one out of the bunch. Ha… I’ll be trying to convince her to wait it out, but it’s going to be more than a few months. She’ll be 18 next September. And… I’ll be fine. My problems are fairly manageable.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

The child does not have the right to leave home without parental permission. The parent who allowed his child to be adopted has no legal rights to the child or the child’s estate.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I read some, but not all, of the comments.

In Kansas, the bio dad has no more rights than a complete stranger. He signed away his rights, end of story. So your father has every legal right to proceed any way he wants.

However, it sounds to me like the 17 year old is acting like a 17 year old. To me, the real question is, are all of those involved acting in the best interest of your sister? Legal age or not, at 17 you have to give the kid quite a bit of leeway. You can’t “force” a 17 year old to bend to the rules the way you can a 2 year old.
My daughter ran away from home at 16. I tracked her, knew where she was (she was always in town,) and after a week she was tired and finally came home.

JoyousLove's avatar

@Dutchess_III : From what I can tell of the situation… The only person who is trying to act strictly in her best interest is me. But anyways, there’s more information about what’s going on with this situation now.

Bio-dad had come to see her and talk with her, last night. Afterwards, she went with our parents and was going to go home with them. Then at some point after she was picked up from bio-dad and before they got home, she apparently became suicidal (I was given no details on what precipitated this, but bio-dad assures me that she was not feeling that way when she left his company and was in fact, at that time, feeling better about life in general… I can only assume that our parents had some nasty things to say to her on the car ride, which would not be out of form or character for them). She was taken to a local hospital, where she was held in the mental health ward. She spoke to a psychiatrist and based on what she told him, they decided to hold her over night. She is likely going to be placed in a foster home, pending the outcome of a CPS investigation.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well then, that’s that. It’s a big bump in the road of her life. I am so glad you’re standing by her and not being yet another asshole in her life, pulling her this way and that. It sounds like you’re the only one acting like a grown up. Thank you for that.

JoyousLove's avatar

@Dutchess_III : I remember the custody battles between my mother and father, when I was growing up. I remember hearing both sides having nothing but negative garbage to say about each other, and each side doing their best to “win” my support. What I remember most about that is how alone I felt, in the world. I love my little sister dearly, and while this situation is slightly different… It’s very similar. Thanks for saying what you said.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, I’ve been there. I spent 3 years fighting my oldest daughter’s bio mom, pressuring her to let me adopt (she was my husbands daughter from his first marriage.) I had her from the time she was 18 months old. Formally adopted when she was 6.
When my ex and I split up, when she was 13 years old, he started playing dirty. Really dirty. He was telling her things like she didn’t have to do what I said because I wasn’t her real Mom.
It really fucked her up.
But I stood fast. I never trashed him. In the end, she came back to me. She’s 37 now.
Your sister needs at least one real adult in her life. Someone to stand fast. Sounds like You’re It.

Hang in there.

And keep us updated, please.

But, to answer your question, if your dad wants to behave like an asshole, unfortunately the law is on his side.

JoyousLove's avatar

@Dutchess_III : I’m sorry that you went through that with your daughter… And I’m glad that she eventually went to you, because it sounds like you handled the situation way better than the father.

I’ll hold on. I know that things will work out alright, in the end, even if they don’t turn out the way any of us expect. I just hope that my little sister doesn’t end up trapped in foster care until she’s 18 over this nonsense… Or trapped at our parents’ house, being punished for the next year.

I’ve been doing my best to reason with my dad, while also trying not to offend him or seem like I am “against him” on the issue.. But it’s difficult. I want him to see reason, but I don’t want to further compromise our already tenuous relationship.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Is there any way she could move in with you?

JoyousLove's avatar

@Dutchess_III : I wish. Our parents would never allow that and they have all the legal rights in this situation as her legal guardians.

Dutchess_III's avatar

At 17 she has a voice in court.

jca's avatar

@JoyousLove: You can advocate for yourself in court.

JoyousLove's avatar

@Dutchess_III @jca : I see. I’ll look into this… After I talk to her and see what she thinks about it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Good luck. (((Hugs)))

Judi's avatar

When my daughter was 17 she decided she was moving out. I threw fits and said I was going to call the police.
My husband had a calmer reaction and convinced me that in the interest of our long term relationship I should take a deep breath and let her go.
We gave her all the savings bonds she had received throughout her life, and let her go. She stopped going to school but eventually got her GED. She’s married with three kids and doing well.
She’s 32 now and probably my best friend.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My son moved out when he was 17. He and some friends rented a really crappy trailer. I was sure he’d be back in a month, so I really wasn’t upset. I didn’t realize I was saying good bye for real. ;( Well, good bye that that part of our life. ;( —Getting tears in my eyes…)

He didn’t drop out of school, but he enrolled in an alternative school where you work at your own pace, and finished all his credits for graduation 6 months early.

He’s 29, married and owns his own home. I don’t suppose you want to see pictures of his 4 kids…... :D

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