Thursday, May 8, 2014

Meeting with the Family Court Justices

I have arrived in Korea two days ago.

Yesterday I had the honor and a privilege of visiting the Family Court and had a good meeting with the two of the four justices handling the adoption cases.  The other two judges, both females, were not available due to conflicting schedules. While not going into the particular details on how I was able to meet with the judges and who they are by names, I will share with you what I learned from this valuable meeting.
It appears that the judges are being rotated anywhere from one to two years, and one of the judges came in to take over the case loads from another judge that has been reassigned.  This took place in late February during the height of Hyunsu O'Callaghan's tragic story broke out while the EPs were temporarily were on hold.  This new judge had to take over the case loads that went back to December of 2013, and had to be brought up to speed on processing the adoption cases.  His first hearing took place in April 25th. And some folks have written to me with the question as to why one of the judges was so slow in processing the case, and this rotation in February was the main reason.

But the families that have met this new judge have expressed how they were pleased with him once they met him in the court.  The families felt that he was a gentleman with caring heart for children and families, and pleased the way he handled the court hearings even the families had to wait so long.  When I met this judge yesterday I passed on the compliments I have received from several families and he was very appreciative.

I learned that the adoption documents are submitted to the court by the agencies, and a clerk at the court assigns the cases to each of the four judges evenly in the order the documents are received.  The judges are not assigned to handle any one particular agency documents exclusively, but assigned with the documents from all three agencies.

In addition to the adoption matters, the judges are assigned with other non-adoptive family related matters.  In other words, they are not assigned to devote full time to handle adoption related cases.

I asked one of the judges on what a typical time span would be to process a family through the court, and he said that he tries to keep the whole process within three months.  The first month to review and ask the associated agency to provide additional or missing information, the second month to serve the notice (through the certified mail) to the birthmother of the impending adoption of her child and wait for her response (this process can take some time as many birth mothers are slow to respond or not respond at all). A notice is sent to the birth mother that her child is being finalized for adoption and whether she wishes to remain in contact to receive the notices from the court or not.  The birth mother can check off her response and send it back to the court. 

The judges stated that based on their experiences, only a few birthmothers choose to stay informed as most of them don't want to receive any more information updates, meaning they really want to give up their children for adoption and this can shorten the process time somewhat.  The third month is for the adoptive parents to show up at the court for a hearing, and after a favorable ruling the 14-day appeal period clock starts.  The rights to appeal is sent to the birth mothers regardless of whether they checked off to receive the updated information from the court or not.  By law this is done not just on adoption matters but in all family-related court cases. This means that there is no way to avoid the two travels that some families need to make to pick up their children. 

After the Hyunsu O'Callaghan's tragedy, the court mandated some psychological evaluations such as MMPI from adoptive parents.  While there was a confusion at the beginning on what tests to be done and by who, the adoptive parents have accepted this lmited test as one of the realities of the long drawn out process.  And the justices are aware that no matter how restricive the process is there is no guarantee that another Hyunsu-like tragedy won't happen.  I also informed them that the filicide rate for non-adoptive biological families is ten times higher than that happens in the adoptive families, and they were aware of this statistics.  I commented that this is due to the already existing home study process that the agencies use to find the right parents, but it is not perfect.

Lastly I thanked the judges for taking their valuable time to meet with me, and I conveyed to them that there are many adoptive parents in overseas that are holding onto the pictures of their waiting children and everyday they wish that their children would come home soon.  I asked them to continue with their good works, and mentioned them the longer the children wait the more harms it will cause in their development and asked for their due dilligence in speedy process to unite the children with their families.