TN 9 (07-09)

PR 01805.052 Virginia

A. PR 12-005 Reply to Your Request for a Legal Opinion as to Whether the Documentation Submitted by Bethany Christian Services Satisfies the Requirement, Pursuant to Virginia Law, that the Father of a Child Be Given Notice of an Entrustment Agreement for the Termination of Parental Rights.

DATE: October 19, 2011

1. SYLLABUS

In the State of Virginia an opinion was requested as to whether the documentation submitted by Bethany Christian Services on behalf of Ray, a minor child, pursuant to an entrustment agreement for the termination of paternal rights, satisfied the notice requirement pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903.

Based upon the review of the information provided and the relevant provisions of Virginia law, Bethany Christian Services should make additional efforts to obtain information concerning the whereabouts of the two possible birth fathers in order to provide them with notice of the entrustment agreement as required pursuant to Va. Code Ann § 63.2-903.

2. OPINION

QUESTION PRESENTED

On September 19, 2011, you requested our opinion as to whether the documentation submitted by Bethany Christian Services on behalf of A., a minor child, pursuant to an entrustment agreement for the termination of paternal rights, satisfied the notice requirement pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903.

SUMMARY

Based upon our review of the information you have provided and the relevant provisions of Virginia law, it is our opinion that Bethany Christian Services should make additional efforts to obtain information concerning the whereabouts of the two possible birth fathers in order to provide them with notice of the entrustment agreement as required pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. If Bethany Christian Services is unable to provide the possible birth father(s) with notice of the entrustment agreement, we recommend that it provide a summary of its efforts to ascertain the whereabouts of the possible birth fathers along with any supporting documentation.

BACKGROUND

For the background of this request, we refer you to our Memorandum of July 9, 2007, S9G-F3, concerning your request for a legal opinion as to whether an entrustment agreement signed by a birth parent(s) relinquishing custody of a child to an adoption agency would confer legal custody and responsibility of the child upon an adoption agency under Virginia law and eliminate the need for a court custody document to establish the adoption agency as a proper applicant for a Social Security Number on behalf of the child.1

Based upon the information that you have provided to us, it is our understanding that the only issue you have not been able to resolve is whether the documentation submitted by Bethany Christian Services satisfies the notice requirement pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903 (West 2007).

DISCUSSION

  1. Virginia Law

    Pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903, an entrustment agreement for the termination of all parental rights and responsibilities with respect to a child shall be valid notwithstanding the fact that it is not signed by the father of a child born out of wedlock if the identity of the father is not reasonably ascertainable, or if such father is given notice of the entrustment by registered or certified mail to his last known address and fails to object to the entrustment agreement within

    15 days of mailing of such notice. See also Va. Code Ann. §§ 63.2-1222 (West 2009), 63.2-1233 (West 2009).

    Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1250 (West 2009) provides in relevant part as follows:

    Except as otherwise provided in subsection C, 2 a man who desires to be notified of a proceeding for adoption of, or termination of parental rights regarding, a child that he may have fathered shall register with the Putative Father Registry before the birth of the child or within 10 days after the birth. 3 A registrant shall promptly notify the registry of any change in the information registered including but not limited to change of address. The Department shall incorporate all new information received into its records but is not required to obtain current information for incorporation in the registry.

    Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1222 provides in relevant part as follows:

    An entrustment agreement for the termination of all parental rights and responsibilities with respect to the child shall be valid notwithstanding that it is not signed by the birth father of a child born out of wedlock if the identity of the birth father is not reasonably ascertainable or such birth father did not register with the Putative Father Registry pursuant to Article 7 (§ 63.2-1249 et seq.) of this chapter or the birth father named by the birth mother denies under oath and in writing the paternity of the child. An affidavit signed by the birth mother stating that the identity of the birth father is unknown may be filed with the court alleging that the identity of the birth father is not known or reasonably ascertainable. A birth father shall be given notice of the entrustment if he is an acknowledged father pursuant to § 20-49.1, an adjudicated father pursuant to § 20-49.8, a presumed father pursuant to § 63.2-1202. or a putative father who has registered with the Putative Father Registry pursuant to Article 7 (§ 62.2-1249 et seq.) of this chapter. If the putative father’s identity is reasonably ascertainable, he shall be given notice pursuant to § 63.2-1250.

    Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1233 provides that “[i]f the identity of the birth father is reasonably ascertainable, but the whereabouts of the birth father are not reasonably ascertainable, verification of compliance with the Putative Father Registry shall be provided to the court.

  2. The Documentation Submitted by Bethany Christian Services Does Not Satisfy the Notice Requirement Pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903.

    Bethany Christian Services has submitted the following documentation in order to satisfy the notice requirement pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903:

    • Birth Mother’s Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity dated February 24, 2011, wherein Emily, the birth mother, named “Duncan” (no surname) with a home phone number of (~) ~ residing in Richmond, Virginia, as the possible birth father of Ray.

    • a request to search the Virginia Putative Father Registry submitted by Bethany Christian Services for an individual named “Duncan” (surname unknown) with a telephone number of (~) ~ and a notation of “unknown” for the putative father’s city and state of residence.

    • a Certificate of Search from the Department of Social Services, Virginia Putative Father Registry stating that no registration exists that matches the request to search for “Duncan Unknown Last Name”.

    • Birth Mother’s Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity dated February 24, 2011, wherein Emily, the birth mother, named “Raymond” with a home phone number of (~) ~ residing in Richmond, Virginia, as the possible birth father of Ray.

    • a request to search the Virginia Putative Father Registry submitted by Bethany Christian Services for an individual named “Duncan” (surname unknown) with a telephone number of (~) ~ and a notation of “unknown” for the putative father’s city and state of residence.

    • a Certificate of Search from the Department of Social Services, Virginia Putative Father Registry stating that no registration exists that matches the request to search for “Raymond.”

    • Bethany Christian Services’ statement that it completes internet searches in an effort to obtain valid addresses for any named birth fathers.

    • an internet search on www.intelius.com for Raymond, Ramon, Ramond, Ray, and Raymund, listing six individuals, none of whom reside in Virginia.

    • an internet search on www.whitepages.com for Raymond in Virginia listing a Raymond C., Raymond A. (two locations), Raymond A. (two locations), Johnnie, Jr., Ray, and L. Ray, none of whom reside in Virginia.

    • a cell phone search on www.whitepages.com for (~) ~, Raymond’s reported telephone number

    • a cell phone search on www.whitepages.com for (~) ~, Duncan’s reported telephone number

    • a reverse phone lookup on www.intelius.com for (~) ~, Raymond’s reported telephone number

Pursuant to Virginia law, a birth mother must first determine whether the identity of the father is not reasonably ascertainable. Va. Code Ann. §§ 63.2-903, 63.2-1222. Based upon the information you have provided to us, the birth mother has identified two possible birth fathers. If the identity of the birth father is reasonably ascertainable, but the whereabouts of the birth father are not reasonably ascertainable, verification of compliance with the Putative Father Registry is required. Va. Code Ann. §§ 63.2-1233.

The information you have provided to us shows that Bethany Christian Services requested searches on the Virginia Putative Father Registry for two possible fathers: an individual by the name of “Duncan” and an individual by the name of Raymond.

However, we believe that Bethany Christian Services could have been more diligent in its efforts to ascertain the whereabouts of the two possible birth fathers and that additional information could have been provided to the Virginia Putative Father Registry. We note that Bethany Christian Services submitted documentation showing that it did cell phone searches on www.whitepages.com using the telephone numbers for “Duncan” and Raymond provided by the birth mother. The information obtained from those searches provides the following links: “View Names & Addresses for current & previous owners of (~) ~” (Raymond’s reported telephone number) and “View Names & Addresses for current & previous owners of (~) ~” (“Duncan’s” reported telephone number). However, Bethany Christian Services has not provided any documentation showing that it opened the aforementioned links and what, if any information, it obtained. We believe that this is information that goes directly to the issue of whether the whereabouts of the birth fathers were reasonably ascertainable. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1233.

Bethany Christian Services also provided documentation showing that it did a reverse phone lookup on www.intelius.com for Raymond reported telephone number but did not provide any documentation showing that it did a reverse phone lookup on www.intelius.com for “Duncan’s” reported telephone number. We also note that although the birth mother provided Bethany Christian Services with information that “Duncan” resided in Richmond, Virginia, Bethany Christian Services submitted a search request to the Virginia Putative Father Registry with a notation of “unknown” for the putative father’s city of residence. To facilitate review, it would be helpful for Bethany Christian Services to provide a summary or an explanation detailing the steps taken to ascertain the possible birth fathers’ whereabouts along with any relevant documentation. Bethany Christian Services should also address the questions that have been raised herein with respect to the links obtained from the www.whitepages.com search and any efforts to do a reverse phone lookup on www.intelius.com for “Duncan’s” reported telephone number. In the event that Bethany Christian Services obtains any additional information that could lead to the whereabouts of the two possible birth fathers, it should submit this information to the Virginia Putative Father Registry.

We have approached this request with caution given the birth mother’s responses on her affidavits acknowledging paternity. With respect to the affidavit naming “Duncan” as a possible birth father, the birth mother stated that “Duncan” knew of her pregnancy. The birth mother also answered “no” to the following question: “Do you believe the birth father is or would be supportive of the adoption plan?” In response to a question asking the birth mother to explain why she could not supply any identifying information, she stated, “I don’t know.” We believe that it may be helpful for Bethany Christian Services to obtain a more definitive response from the birth mother concerning these issues.

With respect to the affidavit naming Raymond as a possible birth father, the birth mother stated that they were introduced by a friend. We believe that it may be helpful to question the birth mother as to whether this friend may have any information concerning the whereabouts of Raymond. We also note that the birth mother provided the address where she resided with Raymond. We believe that it may be helpful to explore with the birth mother whether Raymond still resides at this address or whether the postal service has a forwarding address for Raymond. In addition, the birth mother stated in her affidavit that Raymond knew of her pregnancy and answered “no” to the following question: “Do you believe the birth father is or would be supportive of the adoption plan?” In response to a question asking the birth mother to explain why she could not supply any identifying information, she stated, “I don’t know.” We believe that it may be helpful for Bethany Christian Services to obtain a more definitive response from the birth mother concerning these issues.

In summary, we believe that Bethany Christian Services should provide a statement summarizing (1) its efforts to ascertain the whereabouts of the two possible birth fathers, including any internet searches it initiated and the results obtained; (2) any efforts to obtain additional information through internet search engines such as www.intelius.com including, but not limited to, the reverse phone lookup for “Duncan”; and (3) any additional information obtained upon further questioning of the birth mother. Should any of these efforts yield additional information, such as an address, we believe that Bethany Christian Services should give notice of the entrustment agreement to the possible father(s) by registered or certified mail as required pursuant to Virginia law, Va. Code Ann. §§ 63.2-903, 63.2-1222. 63.2-1233. Should Bethany Christian Services obtain any additional information that could lead to the whereabouts of the possible birth fathers, it should submit additional search requests to the Virginia Putative Father Registry and provide the results to us.

CONCLUSION

Based upon the information that you provided and our review of the relevant provisions of Virginia law, we believe that Bethany Christian Services should make additional efforts to ascertain the whereabouts of the two possible birth fathers. If Bethany Christian Services obtains the address of the possible birth father(s), notice of the entrustment agreement should be given as required pursuant to Virginia law. If Bethany Christian Services obtains any other information that could lead to the whereabouts of the possible birth father(s), Bethany Christian Services should submit additional search requests to the Virginia Putative Father Registry. If Bethany Christian Services is unable to obtain additional information leading to the whereabouts of the two possible birth fathers, we recommend that it provide a summary of its efforts to locate the possible birth fathers along with any relevant documentation.

Eric P. Kressman
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
By:/s/_____________________
Beverly H. Zuckerman
Assistant Regional Counsel

B. PR 09-128 Reply to Your Request for a Legal Opinion as to Whether a Document Entitled "Entrustment Agreement for Permanent Surrender of Child in the Commonwealth of Virginia" Signed by the Birth Mother Entrusting the Child, Emily J. M~, to the Care and Custody of a Virginia Adoption Agency, Is Sufficient to Confer Legal Custody Under Virginia Law to Establish the Adoption Agency as a Proper Applicant for a Social Security Number (SSN) on the Child's Behalf.

DATE: June 26, 2009

1. SYLLABUS

The documentation submitted in this case would not be adequate to eliminate the need for a court custody document. The entrustment agreement submitted does not satisfy all requirements under Virginia law. There is no evidence of an affidavit from the birth mother indicating that the identity of the birth father is not reasonably ascertainable; or, if the identity of the birth father is reasonably ascertainable, that he has been given notice of the entrustment agreement.

2. OPINION

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Program Operations Manual System (POMS) at RM 00202.005(D)(5) requires a court custody document to establish a state agency, or a state-licensed agency as a proper applicant for a SSN on behalf of a child. You requested our opinion as to whether an entrustment agreement signed by the birth mother giving legal and physical custody of the child, Emily J. M~, to Bethany Christian Services (BCS), a Virginia adoption agency, would be sufficient to confer legal custody of the child upon the adoption agency under Virginia law and would eliminate the need for a court custody document to establish the agency as a proper applicant for a SSN on behalf of the child as required by the POMS.

SUMMARY

We do not believe that the documentation you submitted to us would be adequate to eliminate the need for a court custody document in this case. We have reviewed the information that you provided and have researched the relevant provisions of Virginia and federal law. Based upon this information and our research, we continue to hold the opinion that a Virginia adoption agency, such as BCS, need not present a court custody document to qualify as a proper applicant who may file an application for a SSN on behalf of another individual so long as the agency has established that it is a state agency, or a state-licensed agency, and has obtained an entrustment agreement executed in accordance with Virginia law. (See Memorandum of July 9, 2007, which we have attached with our response to your request for a legal opinion). In this case, however, there is an issue with respect to whether the identity of the birth father is reasonably ascertainable and, if so, whether he has been given notice of the entrustment agreement.

BACKGROUND

You have asked that we review a notarized agreement entitled "Entrustment Agreement for Permanent Surrender of Child in the Commonwealth of Virginia," signed by Estefani J. M~, the mother of Emily J. M~, on November 13, 2008.

The entrustment agreement contains several clauses that are relevant to whether it has been properly executed in accordance with Virginia law. Specifically, the agreement includes clauses:

stating that the birth mother has surrendered legal and physical custody of the child to BCS;indicating that the birth mother has been provided with counseling;

providing for revocation by either the birth parent or BCS at any time prior to the child's placement into the physical custody of the adoptive parents;

indicating the birth mother's understanding and acknowledgment that the agreement will constitute her permanent separation from and termination of all legal rights and obligations with respect to the child from the effective date of the agreement, in this case, November 21, 2008;

stating that the birth mother grants to BCS legal and physical custody of the child with all rights and responsibilities to plan for her future care, protection, and maintenance, including the right to place the child for adoption in accordance with Virginia law;

providing that BCS accepts full custody and assumes full responsibility, including financial responsibility for the child;

providing for the birth mother's consent to and approval of all medical and surgical treatment necessary to the welfare of her child while under the care of BCS.

You also provided us with an SS-5 application for Emily J. M~ signed by Jadiece K. B~, who described her relationship to the child as "Legal Guardian". The SS-5 application states that Estefani J. M~ is the mother of Emily J. M~. The name of the child's father is reported as "unknown" on the SS-5 application.

You have not provided us with a copy of a license issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia, which shows that BCS is a licensed Child Placing Agency in Virginia. We note, however, that you previously provided us, in connection with another request for a legal opinion concerning BCS, with a copy of a license issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Social Services, which shows that BCS is a licensed Child Placing Agency in Virginia, and that its license is effective from December 18, 2008 through December 17, 2011, unless revoked for violations of the provisions of law, or for the failure to comply with the limitations set forth on the license. We assume for the purposes herein that you will associate the copy of the license, which you previously obtained, with the documentation attached to this request for advice, or that you will obtain another copy of the license from BCS.

You also provided us with a copy of a Certificate of Live Birth, which states that Emily J. M~ was born on November 11, 2008, and that the name of her mother is Estefani J. M~. This document was filed on November 25, 2008, and issued on January 5, 2009. The name of the child's father is not shown on the copy of the Certificate of Live Birth.

DISCUSSION

1. The Applicable Regulations and POMS Provisions

Please see the POMS provisions cited in the July 9, 2007, Memorandum, which we have attached with our response to your request for a legal opinion.

2. Virginia Law

Pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1817, a licensed child-placing agency shall have the right to accept, for any purpose not contrary to the limitations contained in its license, such children as may be entrusted or committed to it by the parents, guardians, relatives or other persons having legal custody thereof, or committed by a court of competent jurisdiction. The agency shall, within the terms of its license and the agreement or order by which such child is entrusted or committed to its care, have custody and control of every child so committed and accepted, until he or she is lawfully discharged, has been adopted, or has attained his or her majority. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1817.

An entrustment agreement for the termination of parental rights and responsibilities shall be executed in writing and notarized, should divest the birth parent(s) of all legal rights and obligations with respect to the child, and shall be revocable prior to entry of an order finalizing the agreement upon proof of fraud or duress, or after the placement of the child in an adoptive home upon written mutual consent of the birth parents and prospective adoptive parents.

Va. Code Ann. §§ 63.2-903, 63.2-1221, 63.2-1817. For the purposes of Va. Code Ann.

§§ 63.2-903, 63.2-1817, a parent who is less than 18 years of age shall be deemed fully competent and shall have legal capacity to execute a valid entrustment agreement, including an agreement that provides for the termination of all parental rights and responsibilities, and shall be as fully bound thereby as though such parent had attained the age of 18 years. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. An entrustment agreement for the termination of all parental rights and responsibilities shall be valid notwithstanding the fact that it is not signed by the father of a child born out of wedlock if the identity of the father is not reasonably ascertainable, or if such father is given notice of the entrustment by registered or certified mail to his last known address and fails to object to the entrustment agreement within 15 days of mailing of such notice. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. An affidavit provided by the mother that the identity of the father is not reasonably ascertainable shall be sufficient, provided there is no other evidence that would refute the affidavit. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. However, the absence of such an affidavit shall not be deemed evidence that the identity of the father is reasonably ascertainable. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. Prior to the placement of a child for adoption, the licensed child-placing agency shall counsel the birth mother or, if reasonably available, both birth parents, concerning the disposition of their child. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1224.

A valid entrustment agreement terminating all parental rights and responsibilities to the child shall be revocable by either of the birth parents until (i) the child has reached the age of 10 days and (ii) seven days have elapsed from the date of execution of the agreement; and shall also be revocable by either of the birth parents if the child has not been placed in the physical custody of the prospective adoptive parents at the time of such revocation. 23 Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1223.

The provisions of the Virginia Administrative Code, which address the minimum standards for licensed child caring institutions, are instructive insofar as they address the documentation that must be made part of the case record, including a copy of a court commitment and/or entrustment agreement, which shall include information concerning financial responsibility, and consent for necessary medical and surgical treatment and hospitalization. 22 Va. ADC 40-100-350. In addition, the entrustment shall only be entered into once it has been determined that the placing person has legal authority to do so. 22 Va. ADC 40-100-350.

3. The Entrustment Agreement Does Not Appear to Satisfy All Requirements of Virginia Law.

We note that there may be an issue with respect to whether the identity of the birth father is reasonably ascertainable. The name of the child's father is not shown on the SS-5 application or on the Certificate of Live Birth. Virginia law states that an entrustment agreement for the termination of all parental rights and responsibilities shall be valid notwithstanding the fact that it is not signed by the father of a child born out of wedlock if the identity of the father is not reasonably ascertainable. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. An affidavit provided by the mother that the identity of the father is not reasonably ascertainable shall be sufficient, provided there is no other evidence that would refute the affidavit. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. However, the absence of such an affidavit shall not be deemed evidence that the identity of the father is reasonably ascertainable. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. Therefore, if the identity of the birth father is not reasonably ascertainable, we recommend that the birth mother provide an affidavit stating that the identity of the birth father is not reasonably ascertainable. If you should obtain any documentation indicating that the identity of the birth father is ascertainable, we recommend that the birth father be given notice of the entrustment agreement by registered or certified mail to his last known address. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. If the birth father is given notice of the entrustment agreement and fails to object within 15 days of mailing such notice, this requirement would be met. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903.

We also note that Virginia law allows revocation of an entrustment agreement. Pursuant to 23 Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1223, a valid entrustment agreement terminating all parental rights and responsibilities to the child shall be revocable by either of the birth parents until (i) the child has reached the age of 10 days and (ii) seven days have elapsed from the date of execution of the agreement; and shall also be revocable by either of the birth parents if the child has not been placed in the physical custody of the prospective adoptive parents at the time of such revocation. We of course have no information that the birth mother revoked her consent to the entrustment agreement as allowed pursuant to 23 Va. Code Ann § 63.2-1223 and assume for purposes hereof that there was no such revocation.

Pursuant to 23 Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1221, an entrustment agreement shall be revocable prior to entry of an order finalizing the agreement (i) upon proof of fraud or duress, or (ii) after the placement of the child in an adoptive home upon written mutual consent of the birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. Section 63.2.-1221 of the Virginia statutes was amended on April 8, 2009, to include the foregoing language regarding revocation. Therefore, we believe that any entrustment agreement executed after April 8, 2009, should contain language that addresses the additional conditions for revocation as set forth in the amended statute. In this case, this is not an issue because the entrustment agreement that you have submitted to us for review was executed in October 2008.

For the foregoing reasons, we believe that further development is required in this case.

CONCLUSION

We do not believe that the documentation you submitted to us would be adequate to eliminate the need for a court custody document in this case. The entrustment agreement that you have submitted to us does not appear to satisfy all requirements under Virginia law. There is no evidence of an affidavit from the birth mother indicating that the identity of the birth father is not reasonably ascertainable; or, if the identity of the birth father is reasonably ascertainable, that he has been given notice of the entrustment agreement. Therefore, we believe that further development is required in this case.

Eric K~
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
By:_____________________
Beverly H. Z~
Assistant Regional Counsel

C. PR 09-127 Reply to Your Request for a Legal Opinion as to Whether a Document Entitled "Entrustment Agreement for Permanent Surrender of Child in the Commonwealth of Virginia" Signed by the Birth Mother Entrusting the Child, LaShawn D~, to the Care and Custody of a Virginia Adoption Agency, Is Sufficient to Confer Legal Custody Under Virginia Law to Establish the Adoption Agency as a Proper Applicant for a Social Security Number (SSN) on the Child's Behalf.

DATE: June 26, 2009

1. SYLLABUS

For an entrustment agreement to be valid in the State of Virginia all requirements under Virginia law must be satisfied. In this case, there is no evidence of an affidavit from the birth mother indicating that the identity of the birth father is not reasonably ascertainable; or, if the identity of the birth father is reasonably ascertainable, that he has been given notice of the entrustment agreement. Therefore, we believe that further development is required in this case.

2. OPINION

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Program Operations Manual System (POMS) at RM 00202.005(D)(5) requires a court custody document to establish a state agency, or a state-licensed agency as a proper applicant for a SSN on behalf of a child. You requested our opinion as to whether an entrustment agreement signed by the birth mother giving legal and physical custody of the child, LaShawn D~, to Bethany Christian Services (BCS), a Virginia adoption agency, would be sufficient to confer legal custody of the child upon the adoption agency under Virginia law and would eliminate the need for a court custody document to establish the agency as a proper applicant for a SSN on behalf of the child as required by the POMS.

SUMMARY

We do not believe that the documentation you submitted to us would be adequate to eliminate the need for a court custody document in this case. We have reviewed the information that you provided and have researched the relevant provisions of Virginia and federal law. Based upon this information and our research, we continue to hold the opinion that a Virginia adoption agency, such as BCS, need not present a court custody document to qualify as a proper applicant who may file an application for a SSN on behalf of another individual so long as the agency has established that it is a state agency, or a state-licensed agency, and has obtained an entrustment agreement executed in accordance with Virginia law. (See Memorandum of July 9, 2007, which we have attached with our response to your request for a legal opinion). In this case, however, there is an issue with respect to whether the identity of the birth father is reasonably ascertainable and, if so, whether he has been given notice of the entrustment agreement.

BACKGROUND

You have asked that we review a notarized agreement entitled "Entrustment Agreement for Permanent Surrender of Child in the Commonwealth of Virginia," signed by Tina M. D~, the mother of LaShawn D~, on October 15, 2008.

The entrustment agreement contains several clauses that are relevant to whether it has been properly executed in accordance with Virginia law. Specifically, the agreement includes clauses:

stating that the birth mother has surrendered legal and physical custody of the child to BCS;

indicating that the birth mother has been provided with counseling;

providing for revocation by either the birth parent or BCS at any time prior to the child's placement into the physical custody of the adoptive parents;

indicating the birth mother's understanding and acknowledgment that the agreement will constitute her permanent separation from and termination of all legal rights and obligations with respect to the child from the effective date of the agreement, in this case, October 24, 2008;

stating that the birth mother grants to BCS legal and physical custody of the child with all rights and responsibilities to plan for her future care, protection, and maintenance, including the right to place the child for adoption in accordance with Virginia law;

providing that BCS accepts full custody and assumes full responsibility, including financial responsibility for the child;

providing for the birth mother's consent to and approval of all medical and surgical treatment necessary to the welfare of her child while under the care of BCS.

You also provided us with an SS-5 application for LaShawn D~ signed by Jadiece K. B~, who described her relationship to the child as "Legal Guardian". The SS-5 application states that Tina M. D~ is the mother of LaShawn D~. The name of the child's father is reported as "unknown" on the SS-5 application.

You have not provided us with a copy of a license issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia, which shows that BCS is a licensed Child Placing Agency in Virginia. We note, however, that you previously provided us, in connection with another request for a legal opinion concerning BCS, with a copy of a license issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Social Services, which shows that BCS is a licensed Child Placing Agency in Virginia, and that its license is effective from December 18, 2008 through December 17, 2011, unless revoked for violations of the provisions of law, or for the failure to comply with the limitations set forth on the license. We assume for the purposes herein that you will associate the copy of the license, which you previously obtained, with the documentation attached to this request for advice, or that you will obtain another copy of the license from BCS.

You also provided us with a copy of a Certificate of Live Birth, which states that LaShawn D~ was born on October 14, 2008, and that the name of her mother is Tina M. D~. This document was filed on October 24, 2008, and issued on December 11, 2008. The name of the child's father is not shown on the copy of the Certificate of Live Birth.

DISCUSSION

1. The Applicable Regulations and POMS Provisions

Please see the POMS provisions cited in the July 9, 2007, Memorandum, which we have attached with our response to your request for a legal opinion.

2. Virginia Law

Pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1817, a licensed child-placing agency shall have the right to accept, for any purpose not contrary to the limitations contained in its license, such children as may be entrusted or committed to it by the parents, guardians, relatives or other persons having legal custody thereof, or committed by a court of competent jurisdiction. The agency shall, within the terms of its license and the agreement or order by which such child is entrusted or committed to its care, have custody and control of every child so committed and accepted, until he or she is lawfully discharged, has been adopted, or has attained his or her majority. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1817.

An entrustment agreement for the termination of parental rights and responsibilities shall be executed in writing and notarized, should divest the birth parent(s) of all legal rights and obligations with respect to the child, and shall be revocable prior to entry of an order finalizing the agreement upon proof of fraud or duress, or after the placement of the child in an adoptive home upon written mutual consent of the birth parents and prospective adoptive parents.

Va. Code Ann. §§ 63.2-903, 63.2-1221, 63.2-1817. For the purposes of Va. Code Ann.

§§ 63.2-903, 63.2-1817, a parent who is less than 18 years of age shall be deemed fully competent and shall have legal capacity to execute a valid entrustment agreement, including an agreement that provides for the termination of all parental rights and responsibilities, and shall be as fully bound thereby as though such parent had attained the age of 18 years. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. An entrustment agreement for the termination of all parental rights and responsibilities shall be valid notwithstanding the fact that it is not signed by the father of a child born out of wedlock if the identity of the father is not reasonably ascertainable, or if such father is given notice of the entrustment by registered or certified mail to his last known address and fails to object to the entrustment agreement within 15 days of mailing of such notice. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. An affidavit provided by the mother that the identity of the father is not reasonably ascertainable shall be sufficient, provided there is no other evidence that would refute the affidavit. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. However, the absence of such an affidavit shall not be deemed evidence that the identity of the father is reasonably ascertainable. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. Prior to the placement of a child for adoption, the licensed child-placing agency shall counsel the birth mother or, if reasonably available, both birth parents, concerning the disposition of their child. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1224.

A valid entrustment agreement terminating all parental rights and responsibilities to the child shall be revocable by either of the birth parents until (i) the child has reached the age of 10 days and (ii) seven days have elapsed from the date of execution of the agreement; and shall also be revocable by either of the birth parents if the child has not been placed in the physical custody of the prospective adoptive parents at the time of such revocation. 23 Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1223.

The provisions of the Virginia Administrative Code, which address the minimum standards for licensed child caring institutions, are instructive insofar as they address the documentation that must be made part of the case record, including a copy of a court commitment and/or entrustment agreement, which shall include information concerning financial responsibility, and consent for necessary medical and surgical treatment and hospitalization. 22 Va. ADC 40-100-350. In addition, the entrustment shall only be entered into once it has been determined that the placing person has legal authority to do so. 22 Va. ADC 40-100-350.

3. The Entrustment Agreement Does Not Appear to Satisfy All Requirements of Virginia Law.

We note that there may be an issue with respect to whether the identity of the birth father is reasonably ascertainable. The name of the child's father is not shown on the SS-5 application or on the Certificate of Live Birth. Virginia law states that an entrustment agreement for the termination of all parental rights and responsibilities shall be valid notwithstanding the fact that it is not signed by the father of a child born out of wedlock if the identity of the father is not reasonably ascertainable. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. An affidavit provided by the mother that the identity of the father is not reasonably ascertainable shall be sufficient, provided there is no other evidence that would refute the affidavit. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. However, the absence of such an affidavit shall not be deemed evidence that the identity of the father is reasonably ascertainable. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. Therefore, if the identity of the birth father is not reasonably ascertainable, we recommend that the birth mother provide an affidavit stating that the identity of the birth father is not reasonably ascertainable. If you should obtain any documentation indicating that the identity of the birth father is ascertainable, we recommend that the birth father be given notice of the entrustment agreement by registered or certified mail to his last known address. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903. If the birth father is given notice of the entrustment agreement and fails to object within 15 days of mailing such notice, this requirement would be met. Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-903.

We also note that Virginia law allows revocation of an entrustment agreement. Pursuant to 23 Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1223, a valid entrustment agreement terminating all parental rights and responsibilities to the child shall be revocable by either of the birth parents until (i) the child has reached the age of 10 days and (ii) seven days have elapsed from the date of execution of the agreement; and shall also be revocable by either of the birth parents if the child has not been placed in the physical custody of the prospective adoptive parents at the time of such revocation. We of course have no information that the birth mother revoked her consent to the entrustment agreement as allowed pursuant to 23 Va. Code Ann § 63.2-1223 and assume for purposes hereof that there was no such revocation.

Pursuant to 23 Va. Code Ann. § 63.2-1221, an entrustment agreement shall be revocable prior to entry of an order finalizing the agreement (i) upon proof of fraud or duress, or (ii) after the placement of the child in an adoptive home upon written mutual consent of the birth parents and prospective adoptive parents. Section 63.2.-1221 of the Virginia statutes was amended on April 8, 2009, to include the foregoing language regarding revocation. Therefore, we believe that any entrustment agreement executed after April 8, 2009, should contain language that addresses the additional conditions for revocation as set forth in the amended statute. In this case, this is not an issue because the entrustment agreement that you have submitted to us for review was executed in October 2008.

For the foregoing reasons, we believe that further development is required in this case.

CONCLUSION

We do not believe that the documentation you submitted to us would be adequate to eliminate the need for a court custody document in this case. The entrustment agreement that you have submitted to us does not appear to satisfy all requirements under Virginia law. There is no evidence of an affidavit from the birth mother indicating that the identity of the birth father is not reasonably ascertainable; or, if the identity of the birth father is reasonably ascertainable, that he has been given notice of the entrustment agreement. Therefore, we believe that further development is required in this case.

Eric K~
Acting Regional Chief Counsel
By:_____________________
Beverly H. Z~
Assistant Regional Counsel


Footnotes:

[1]

In response to your question, we concluded that a state-licensed Virginia adoption agency need not present a court custody document to qualify as a proper applicant who may file an application for a Social Security Number on behalf of another individual so long as the adoption agency presents a valid entrustment agreement properly executed in accordance with Virginia law.

[2]

Subsection C refers to those situations where a man is led to believe through the birth mother’s fraud that the pregnancy was terminated or the mother miscarried when in fact the baby was born, or that the child died when in fact the child is alive. Neither of these situations appears to apply to this case.

[3]

A “‘Putative father’ means an alleged father; a person named as the father of a child born out-of-wedlock but whose paternity has not been established.” 22 Va. Admin. Code § 40-880-10 (2002).


To Link to this section - Use this URL:
http://policy.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/1501805052
PR 01805.052 - Virginia - 11/15/2011
Batch run: 11/15/2011
Rev:11/15/2011