A TV family stands in front of a judge to adopt their son. What does this really look like? Judge Beene gives an inside look at adoption day:
After serving on the Arizona Superior Court in Maricopa County for nearly eight years, I must confess that the individuals that found themselves in my courtroom were never happy to be there. Whether involved in a proceeding such as a criminal trial or a divorce hearing, the litigants in these cases were never pleased to be in court. That feeling is entirely different, however, if they find themselves in court awaiting a hearing to adopt their foster child. The feeling of dread and apprehension that is usually experienced while waiting to testify is not felt when the testimony you provide will result in the adoption of a new member of your family.
So much has happened in the lives of the foster families leading up to adoption day that I often find that the most relaxed person in the courtroom is the child. Foster families have been anxiously awaiting this day for a long time. What seemed like an endless and often confusing process is finally coming to a conclusion, and at the end of this court hearing the entire family will be together- forever.
For me, the best day to be a judge is the day I’m able to preside over an adoption hearing. Before I enter the courtroom for the hearing, I look over the case file that has been prepared by the court staff. I make sure that all the necessary documents are in the file and have been filled out correctly. Once these ministerial duties are completed, I enter the courtroom to conduct the hearing. The actual proceeding isn’t that long. The hearing begins when the courtroom clerk administers the oath to the parents and the adoption case manager. The attorney then asks the parents a few questions about themselves, the child and their willingness to adopt. The case manager also provides testimony regarding the adoption and how it will serve the best interests of the child. After hearing this testimony, I make the necessary legal findings, and then I have the distinct honor and pleasure to announce, for the first time, that the adoption is final and the child is now a member of their new family. The proclamation of this new forever family is met with a round of applause, a lot of hugs and quite a few teary eyes (usually mine as well). The celebration can now begin in earnest. Don’t be afraid to take a lot of pictures, I know that the judges don’t mind- I certainly don’t.
Since 2009, I have probably presided over more than a hundred adoption hearings and I always find myself getting emotional during the proceeding. There were more than a few times that I had to fight back the tears and compose myself so that I could get through the hearing. I begin to feel this way when I realize the gravity of what is transpiring in the courtroom. In comprehending how this child’s life is about to be altered in such an amazing and profound way, I can’t help but be affected by the remarkable display of unconditional love exhibited by the foster families. Those of us in the child welfare system are all too familiar with the unfortunate and sometimes tragic circumstances that bring these innocent kids into our lives. And I know that if it wasn’t for these foster families, that have stepped into the breach and sacrificially loved these children in such a unique and amazing way, these kids would remain in unhealthy and potentially dangerous environments. Words simply can’t describe the respect and admiration I have for the foster parents I’ve had the pleasure to meet over the past several years.
So, to all the foster families that are preparing for this special day, my advice to you is to relax during the hearing. It’s all good and it will be over before you know it. But, also, please take the time to reflect on what you’ve done for your kiddo. How you’ve forever changed the trajectory of their lives- for the better. Know that you’re their hero, and honestly, mine as well.
Judge James P. Beene
Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One