In an unpublished decision recently rendered by the Court of Appeals of Virginia, Virginia’s standards of proof in contested adoption cases was again addressed.
In the case of Gregory v. Martin, the Court considered an appeal from a Circuit Court ruling which limited the evidence to that which occurred after the date when the Petitioner received custody of the child. If it had been a custody case, this would have been appropriate, for it is well settled law in Virginia, that relevant evidence in custody cases is limited to what as occurred since the last custody order.
However, the evidence in a contested adoption case is governed by its own standards of proof, contained in Code Section 63.2-1205, and is not governed by standards of proof used in custody cases. In a contested adoption case, the court is required to consider the quality of any previous relationship between the parent and the child, including the relationship which existed prior to the last custody order.
Quoting also the requirements for the Home Study Investigation and Report contained in Section 63.2-1208, the Court of Appeals correctly stated that a more expansive analysis of the best interests of a child is required in an adoption case than is required in a custody case. The reason for this should be clear. An adoption involves termination of parental rights and cannot be reversed, whereas a custody case is by definition temporary, in that custody issues can always be brought back before the court upon a showing of a material change in circumstances.