Custody battle forewarns moms yielding child for adoption
MANILA, Philippines – The failed struggle of one mother who sought to reclaim custody over her child now serves as a warning to couples and single mothers looking into giving up their children for adoption.
Petitioner Christina Caram failed to regain parental authority over her biological son, after the Supreme Court (SC) ruled in early August that she was invoking an inapplicable court order to her case.
The SC ruled that a writ of amparo was the wrong legal remedy. Caram sought the writ in a July 2010 bid before the Quezon City regional trial court Branch 106 that was later on denied.
"Since it is extant from the pleadings filed that what is involved is the issue of child custody and the exercise of parental rights over a child, who, for all intents and purposes, has been legally considered a ward of the State, the Amparo rule cannot be properly applied," read the SC decision, upholding the ruling of the trial court.
The 9-page decision was penned by Associate Justice Martin Villarama, in a case that is one of its kind.
Caram had "an amorous relationship" with one Marcelino Gicano Constantino III and "eventually became pregnant with the latter’s child without the benefit of marriage."
She, however, made Constantino believe "that she had an abortion when in fact she proceeded to complete the term of her pregnancy."
She later on executed a deed of voluntary commitment (DVC), surrendering custody over their child Julian to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Grace period of 3 months
Lawyer Minerva "June" Ambrosio, who was part of the DSWD legal team that argued against the mother, explained that parents and mothers who execute a DVC have only a limited period of time to appeal their relinquishment of parental rights.
Article 2, Section 4 of the Domestic Adoption Act of 1998 or Republic Act 8552 gives the biological parents 6 months to reconsider their decision before it "becomes irrevocable."
The subject provision was later on amended by a different law passed in 2009.
The 6 months were cut to 3, essentially speeding up the time from when a couple executes a DVC to the time their birth child is declared legally available for adoption.
A rarity as lawyer Ambrosio considered it, Caram's case involves taking her child back even after the 3-month period lapsed. In fact, Caram wanted Julian back in her life two years after she gave him up for adoption.
"That's the only case that I know of (where the mother wanted the child back after 6 months)," said Ambrosio, whose legal services with the DSWD started in 1992. (READ: IBP volunteer-lawyers help fight abuse of women, children)
She added that there is no legal remedy explicitly outlined in RA 8552 for parents wanting their child back after the period for which they can challenge the validity of the DVC lapses.
As a lawyer, Ambrosio said she would have advised Caram to file a civil case in court. Even then, she said a favorable ruling would be hard to come by.
Maricel Bringas, social welfare officer 3 with the DSWD, explained that the process prior to the execution of a DVC involves a "thorough" series of counseling sessions with the birth mother.
Ambrosio also explained that all available options and alternative set-ups are explored in the counseling, including if the child can stay with a close relative instead.
"Steps shall be taken by the Department to ensure that no hurried decisions are made and all alternatives for the child's future and the implications of each alternative have been provided," the law demands.
Bringas said this thorough counseling usually takes a day or two depending on the decisiveness of the birth parents.
The pros and cons of committing their child to state custody for eventual adoption are provided to the parents, Bringas added.
All these steps are necessary to ensure that the act of the parents are voluntary, Ambrosio explained.
Single mother, limited choices
In Caram's case, she was a single unwed mother when she bore baby Julian. It was her second pregnancy out of wedlock.
Looking into her motivations based on case records, the SC ruling said Caram gave up her son for adoption "to avoid placing her family in a potentially embarrassing situation for having a second illegitimate son."
Ambrosio said those who voluntary yield their kids through a DVC are usually single mothers, victims of rape, and those financially incapable of raising children on their own like Caram.
Asked if these external circumstances influence the voluntary nature of a DVC, Ambrosio admitted there is a "sense of compulsion."
But she said it is voluntary "in the sense that no one forced them to do it."
She added it is in juxtaposition to "involuntary commitment," where the state strips a parent of custody over a child due to neglect or abuse.
Child's best interest
What eventually caused Caram's change of heart was a conversation she had with parents of Constantino, baby Julian's biological father.
Constantino died in 2009, prompting Caram to admit to his parents that baby Julian existed and was surrendered for adoption due to financial distress and initial embarrassment.
Learning about this, the grandparents were willing to subsidize the costs of rearing Julian.
They were "taken aback by the revelation and sympathized" with Caram, vowing "to help her recover and raise the baby."
But now given the court's ruling, it may well be too late for them.
In the end, Ambrosio said, what must be considered is what's in the best interest of the child.
A child's care is also compromised if he or she is taken back and forth from one set of guardians to another.
A 2000 US study found that "children who experience numerous changes in placement may be at particularly high risk" of behavior problems. The study, however, concluded that these behavior problems may both be a cause and a consequence of the constantly changing guardianship.
It would be speculative at best to presume what would have happened if Caram exhausted all options prior to giving up her custody of baby Julian, including being truthful to Constantino and his parents early in her pregnancy.
But her case is a helpful reminder of how important mechanisms in place must be enforced, forewarning mothers of the consequences of one life-altering contract. – Rappler.com
Image of newborn baby hand from Shutterstock