IN RE ADOPTION OF: " BABY BOY" BORN APRIL 10, 2012
Heard in the Court of Appeals January 21, 2014.
Wake County. 12 SP 1911. Debra Sasser, Juge.
WAKE FAMILY LAW GROUP, by Katherine Hardersen King, for respondent-appellee.
Cheri C. Patrick for petitioner-appellants Laura and Richard Zug, Jr.
MANNING, FULTON & SKINNER, P.A., by Michael S. Harrell, for petitioner-appellant Amazing Grace Adoptions.
ELMORE, Judge. Judges McGEE and Robert C. HUNTER, concur.
Appeal by respondents from order entered 15 February 2013 by Judge Debra Sasser in Wake County District Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 21 January 2014.
Laura Catherine Zug and Richard Charles Zug, Jr. (the Zugs) and Amazing Grace Adoptions (the Agency) appeal Judge Sasser's order entered 15 February 2013 declaring Amy Marie Costin's relinquishment void. After careful consideration, we reverse.
The facts in this case are largely undisputed. Amy Marie Costin (the birth mother) is the biological mother of a baby boy (Baby Boy) born 10 April 2012 at WakeMed Cary Hospital. The biological father of the minor child signed a relinquishment placing " Baby Boy" in the care of the Agency and has made no attempt to revoke. The birth mother contacted the agency prior to Baby Boy's birth to discuss the possibility of placing the baby for adoption. Her primary contact at the Agency was social worker Hayley Walston (Ms. Walston). On 13 December 2011, approximately halfway through her pregnancy, the birth mother officially contracted for services with the Agency. The birth mother indicated to Ms. Walston that she wanted a closed adoption and did not want the baby to be placed nearby. Thereafter, the birth mother and Ms. Walston were in frequent communication regarding her desire to relinquish the child for adoption. On 6 February 2012, Ms. Walston informed the birth mother that the agency had identified a family who would agree to her terms.
One day after Baby Boy's birth, Ms. Walston went to the hospital to obtain the birth mother's relinquishment of Baby Boy to the Agency. Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 48-3-701(a), a birth parent " may relinquish all parental rights or guardianship powers, including the right to consent to adoption, to an agency." To complete the relinquishment process, Ms. Walston asked a notary employed by WakeMed, Ms. Darlene Durbin (" Ms. Durbin" or " the notary" ), to notarize the " Relinquishment of Minor for Adoption by Parent or Guardian" (the relinquishment). Ms. Durbin had been a notary for approximately three years and agreed to notarize the relinquishment, although she had never notarized an adoption form before and was unfamiliar with the legalities of the adoption process.
Ms. Durbin accompanied Ms. Walston to the birth mother's hospital room to witness the relinquishment. Ms. Durban testified that she stayed for " at least 30 minutes" as Ms. Walston completed the relinquishment procedure. As part of this procedure, Ms. Walston read aloud the relinquishment form and reviewed a twenty-six-question questionnaire with the birth mother that addressed all aspects of the relinquishment. The relinquishment begins, " I, Amy Marie Costin, being duly sworn, declare . . ." It also states, " I understand that my Relinquishment to Adoption of the minor may be revoked within 7 days following the day on which it is executed," and " I understand that to revoke my Relinquishment for Adoption, as provided in G.S. 48-3-706, the revocation must be made by giving written notice to the agency to which the Relinquishment was given."
The questionnaire begins with an acknowledgement: " All forms were read aloud by the staff member and were signed in the presence of Darlene Durbin, notary, and the following questions were asked in their presence." The birth mother's responses to the questions were recorded and included the following:
Q. Do you feel that your mind is perfectly clear?
Q. Has anyone told you that you must sign these papers?
Q. Has anyone coerced you in any way or applied pressure or unduly influenced you to make an adoption plan for your child(ren)?
Q. Did I persuade or coerce you in any way to sign a relinquishment, or has any of the Amazing Grace Adoptions staff members done so?
Q. Do you understand you may revoke your decision within 7 days of signing this document?
Q. Do you understand that if within 7 days you decide to revoke your release you must make your revocation in writing and deliver it to the director of the agency?
Q. Do you understand that when you sign these documents you are giving up all legal rights to this child(ren)?
Q. Have you read and do you fully understand all the documents ...