In re Christina L
In In re Christina L., 194 W. Va. 446, 460 S.E.2d 692 (1995), an abuse and neglect case in which the natural mother's parental rights to two children were terminated, this Court found it was reversible error for the Circuit Court of Wood County to authorize the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (hereinafter "DHHR") to consent to the children's adoption without addressing the father's parental rights.
Even though the father was named in the abuse and neglect petition filed by DHHR, and it was alleged in the petition that he resided "somewhere in Parkersburg" and had not been in contact with the children for a number of years, the circuit court failed to include him in the proceeding.
The Court identified two serious problems with the circuit court's approach in that case. First, it "strips the father . . . of any parental rights without affording him due process." Id. at 455, 460 S.E.2d at 701. Second, and "perhaps even more importantly, it leaves the status of the children dangling, and the validity of a future adoption subject to challenge." Id.
Based on this rationale, the Court forcefully rejected DHHR's argument that the father could move to protect his rights if and when persons to adopt the children were found:
"It would be ludicrous for this Court to allow this matter to linger while Christina and Kenneth are in foster care. Should they be fortunate enough to form a bond with their foster parents and the foster parents move for adoption, it would be all the more devastating to the children to have to go back into court to litigate whatever rights the natural father may possess. Dangling, unresolved parental rights also have a chilling effect on potential adoptive parents. We choose to resolve this issue in a timely manner rather than to leave this potential timebomb unresolved." (194 W. Va. at 456, 460 S.E.2d at 702.)