OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A 3-year-old girl will grow up in a different home from her older brother and sister following a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling Friday that determined the best interest of a child trumps biology in cases of child placement.
The state high court’s opinion involved the case of the girl, known only as Meridian H. in court filings to protect her identity. Meridian was placed in a Nebraska foster home weeks after her 2007 birth, and her mother’s parental rights were later terminated. Meridian’s father had died before she was born.
A Minnesota couple who had adopted Meridian’s two older siblings sought to take custody and eventually adopt the girl, citing public policy of preserving sibling relationships in foster and adoption cases. A psychologist retained by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said in 2009 that while both the foster parents and the Minnesota couple would make excellent adoptive homes for Meridian, she believed the girl “should grow up with the opportunity to have a close and loving relationship with her two biological siblings and extended family.”
But a child welfare worker also retained by the state’s child welfare agency said Meridian’s separation from her foster parents could prove harmful to the girl’s emotional development. Based on that assessment, the state agency opted to keep the girl with her Nebraska foster family.
The Minnesota couple filed an intervention on behalf of their children, Meridian’s biological siblings, with the Sarpy County Juvenile Court seeking to have Meridian placed in their home. The couple said their adopted children “have a fundamental liberty interest in the integrity of the family unit,” including a relationship with their biological sibling and that their children’s interests are constitutionally protected under the 14th Amendment.
The couple also had the support of Meridian’s maternal grandparents, who asked that the girl be placed in the home with her older brother and sister.
A trial was held, and Meridian’s guardian ad litem testified that the girl should remain with her foster parents, saying it “may not be in Meridian’s best interest to be removed from the only family that she’s known.”
Last September, the lower court ruled that Meridian should stay with her foster family, which also is seeking to adopt the girl.
The Minnesota couple appealed, and the girl’s grandparents cross-appealed.
On Friday, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling, saying that there is no constitutional protection or court precedent that would give the siblings or grandparents standing in the placement of the child.
The high court wrote that “no court has recognized a constitutionally protected right of one sibling to a relationship with another following termination or relinquishment of parental rights.”
Further, the girl’s maternal grandparents’ interest in the girl’s case “ceased to exist when the parental rights of their daughter … were terminated.”
Messages left Friday by The Associated Press for the Minnesota couple’s attorney and for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services were not immediately returned.
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