Stepdad adopts boy against father's wishes

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 20, 2013

A 15-year-old boy has been adopted by his stepfather against the wishes of his natural father, in a rare move made by the High Court yesterday.

The man - who married the teenager's mother - will become his legal parent and his new son will also take his surname on his identity card after the High Court overturned a lower court's ruling yesterday, despite objections from the natural dad, who is in prison.

The boy had lived with his mother since 2000, when she separated from his natural father after a turbulent relationship. Now 39, the latter is serving a six-year jail term for a drug offence and is not due for release for another two years. He had also served a previous prison term for another offence.

The mum, now 33, found a new partner and they got married in 2004 and had a son together. The couple then sought to adopt her son from her previous relationship, but their request was turned down by the Family Court last year when the boy's natural father objected to the move. At the time, a district judge found he was not refusing consent "whimsically or arbitrarily or not in good faith".

The couple appealed in the High Court on April 17, when Justice Choo Han Teck adjourned the case to the following month for the natural father to attend. He did not show up.

Justice Choo made clear in judgment grounds yesterday that he did not disagree with many of the lower court's findings - including the point that the natural father's long jail term did not mean he was unable to physically provide for the child eventually. However, he overturned the lower court's decision and said: "The circumstances were unfortunate for the natural father but there are things that one cannot repair."

He stressed that "as the law stands, while the natural father's position should not be disregarded, it is the welfare of the child that is paramount".

The couple's lawyer V. Ramakrishnan had argued that an assessment probe and report by a senior child welfare officer from the Ministry of Social and Family Development had supported the adoption.

Justice Choo said the father stopped having access to the child in 2008 when he also ceased paying maintenance. The boy had lived without his natural dad "almost all through his growing years".

The judge said: "I interviewed the boy and found him to be mature, intelligent, sensible, well brought up and, above all, happy. He was perfectly happy with life as it has been for him with the couple."

Justice Choo added that the boy had "politely indicated he is not keen to see the father", and concluded: "The formal adoption could only add the seal to that happiness."

He said that if the natural father wanted to see his son, the Family Court "might still grant him access, although the prospect of a fulfilling relationship between them seems merely a hopeful one from the eyes of the natural father".

The parties cannot be named on legal grounds.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on July 20, 2013

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