Bradey v. Children's Bureau of South Carolina,
(Spartanburg County, S.C., Ct. C.P., Apr. 9, 1979),
S.C. 622, 274 S.E.2d 418 (1981).
STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS
COUNTY OF SPARTANBURG
The Children’s Bureau of
Petitioner, who now
resides with his family, at Oxnard, California, was born in South Carolina
on February 6, 1947. Thereafter, his natural mother placed him for
adoption with The Children’s Bureau of South Carolina.
From the information provided
by the Bureau, Petitioner now knows that he was born out of wedlock and
that his natural father purportedly was married other than to his mother
at his birth.
With the approval
of the Bureau, he was adopted on August 19, 1948, by Herbert W. Bradey
and his wife of Landrum, South Carolina. He was reared by the Bradeys
who had no other children. Herbert Bradey is now deceased and the
adoptive mother makes her home with her son, the Petitioner.
The testimony shows
that Petitioner for a number of year [sic]
has made a genuine and sincere effort to determine the true identity of
his natural mother and/or parents. While the Bureau has cooperated
in providing him considerable information, it has been precluded by law
from divulging the names of the biological parents, and Petitioner’s efforts
have been to no avail.
Petitioner seeks in
this proceeding to have the Court direct the Bureau to divulge to him the
true identity of his natural parents insofar as its records show, and to
outline the manner in which this should be done in justice to all concerned
in the matter. In this respect, Petitioner said under oath if his
mother were living, for example, and did not wish to see him, he would
abide that decision.
to this Court that his sincere and genuine desire to learn the truth of
his birth and to have the knowledge that will bring him peace of mind and
contentment constitute “good cause” for the Court to assist him in the
matter, and thereby alleviate future emotional pain and anguish for him.
This brings into focus
the adoption process which is and has been controlled by statute, since
such a proceeding was unknown to the common law.
Adoption usually has
its genesis in the tragedy and trauma of a child, born into the world without
status, without home and often under an almost insurmountable stigma from
society as an illegitimate. Emotional distress more often than not
reaches laterally to many others involved to some degree in the trauma
such as the very young mother, financial destitution, and family embarrassment.
It is for this reason
that the law of South Carolina and other states has been concerned fundamentally
with the welfare of the child in preference to the concerns for all others.
This principle applies to all children and their custodians including adoptive.
The Court cannot review
in detail the history of the adoption law in South Carolina, as interesting
as it might be. But since this action involves a novel proceeding
and constitutes to some extent a Constitutional challenge to the law, some
reference to the law itself is warranted.
The Court does not
agree with the argument of the Bureau that:
The touchstone of the
adoptive process is, first, the welfare of the child, and, secondly, the
guarantee to the adoptive parents of freedom from molestation in performing
the responsibility given to them by the law in approving the change of
“Anonymity of the natural parents is the touchstone of the
adoption process. It must be preserved at all costs in order to insure
that these infants will be placed in the hands of suitable and qualified
Anonymity is important
at the time of adoption for the child and adoptive parents and not so much
for the natural parents.
This case is a classic
illustration of that. Here the natural mother saved her own money
to live in a maternity home, although she had a large family; and it -12-
was she who chose to allow the adoption of her child. The father
was a resident of another state, married and had a child by his wife.
He most assuredly at the time was not entitled to much consideration and
was not a party to the proceeding.
The law, therefore,
was not designed primarily to protect the natural parents. Indirectly,
the law did two things. It gave a mother some consolation in the
sadness of parting with her child to know that it would be well cared for,
and it did, in fact., relieve her of a responsibility she could not meet
at the time, for whatever reason--money, family, friends, future or whatnot.
But she had to forego her right to keep in touch with the child.
It, too, must be recognized
that The Children’s Bureau does not have the exclusive right to make adoption
judgments in South Carolina. Courts have handled adoptions under
various statutory procedures for many years. While the statistics
are not before the Court, it is likely that the Bureau would handle less
than 25% of all adoptions in the State of South Carolina. No such
strict rule of secrecy applies in other cases.
The undersigned in
twenty years of law practice in the State handled many adoptions and the
ratio for his cases would be about 15% Bureau cases. The true facts
on most adoptions in South Carolina are easily procured from judgment rolls
recorded in the offices of the Clerks of Court.
The Bureau does a most
outstanding work in the adoption of children, and it is to be commended
for its dedication through the years. The benefits to children and
adoptive parents are beyond measure.
The law of South Carolina
Section 15-45-140(c), Code of Laws, 1976, provides in the case of Bureau
adoptions that the records shall remain confidential and be withheld from
inspection except upon Order of the Circuit Court for good cause shown.
The law simply had
to recognize as it must everywhere that the truth at times must take priority.
If a mother who had allowed adoption through the Bureau became wealthy
and by her will left wealth to her child who was unknown to her, could
the Court or any law take from this child what had been bequeathed to him
by his natural mother? If the law could do this, it would be a gross
taking of property without due process of law. The identity would
have to be disclosed as a matter of higher justice.
This is not to say
that the law must adjectly [sic] reject consideration of all other facts
and persons. Consideration of others can be made within Constitutional
parameters, and in the above case if the child were of tender years when
the gift was made, the law would be justified in preserving the gift until
the child himself reached maturity so as not to disrupt him or his adoptive
family in their love and relationship.
A law that imposes
secrecy forfeits the truth and in a -14- free society
must always have an unfavored status. Obviously, the General Assembly
recognized this when it vested in the Courts of South Carolina the responsibility
to determine good cause. And it is likely that this provision only
permits the statutory requirement of secrecy to meet constitutional roll
call. Otherwise, it would be grossly discriminatory and may well
transgress the constitution even with this provision.
Children who are adopted
belong to a special class. They are entitled to equal treatment under
the law, including the pursuit of truth as to heritage, history or whatever.
If the laws of adoption allow some of the class to obtain a lawyer who
can go to the judgment rolls in the Courthouse and get the truth for them
but denies the right to others of the class to seek and find like truth,
there is a serious malfunction of the law which may herald its downfall.
The Court has carefully
considered this case. It finds that the emotional distress, anxiety
and the earnest desire for the truth constitute good cause under the Statute.
Petitioner is now of legal age and fully vested with the constitutional
rights of a citizen of the United States. His unquestioned sincerity
in seeking the truth of his past, justifies, even commands that the Court
provide assistance, with, however, fullest consideration of others.
The Court finds as
a fact from the evidence that Petitioner has no ulterior motive or unsavory
purpose in his -15- seeking the truth. To deprive
him of the truth will be to sentence his life to a period of darkness,
and it is doubtful that the law has the prerogative to do this under the
circumstances of this case.
The Court recognizes,
as is so well argued in the brief of the Bureau, that disclosing such information
can bring distress and upset to others. These others would primarily
be the natural parents who may now be well settled in a life that could
be greatly disturbed.
But on the other hand
there are clear legitimate concerns of a child for his parents, both natural
and adoptive. If the son is concerned that his parents, one or both,
may be destitute and that he could help, should the law deny him the truth
and abridge his free right to offer aid to one whom he loves and from whom
he is descended? Even if a parent’s life changes by a later happy
marriage, and there are other children it is a legitimate concern of a
half-blood kin to know the truth about his other kin. We have not
yet reached a robot society.
Since there are no
procedural guidelines to assist the Court, some will be offered.
Courts for years have made in camera inspections of confidential
documents to determine relevancy and admissibility. In a case of
this kind the Court should first make an in camera inspection to
obtain the information.
When this information
is provided it is the intent of the Court to call confidentially upon SLED
to ascertain certain -16- facts. When this
information is provided and verified as the Court deems proper the Court
will hold a further hearing with the attorneys before disclosing information
to Petitioner. After such hearing, unless compelling reasons appear
to the contrary, Petitioner will be given the background information on
his birth and his natural family. The Court reserves the right to
attach specific conditions to the disclosure.
This Court has the
power to enjoin Petitioner in any way it deems proper, and will not hesitate
to do so when considering the welfare of all concerned in this case.
Petitioner has shown
“good cause” to the Court. The relief sought is granted initially
to this extent. The names and record information on the natural parents,
such as last known address, shall be proved in a confidential sealed container
to the Court within a reasonable time for which the Court will receipt
the Bureau. The Court will confidentially inform the Bureau of its
actions following the in camera review, and likewise advise the
attorneys of its actions. The Court will in a final order conclude
the matter and outline the restrictions imposed on Petitioner, if any are
deemed right and proper.
The law must be consonant
with life. It cannot and should not ignore broad historical currents
of history. Mankind is possessed of no greater urge than to try to
understand the age-old questions: “Who am I” “Why am I?” Even now
the sands and ashes of the continents are being -17-
sifted to find where we made our first step as man. Religions of
mankind often include ancestor worship in one way or another. For
many the future is blind without a sight of the past. Those emotions
and anxieties that generate our thirst to know the past are not superficial
and whimsical. They are real and they are “good cause” under the
law of man and God.
The petition is conditionally
IT IS SO ORDERED.
April 9, 1979
WADE S. WEATHERFORD, JR.
Resident Judge, Seventh Judicial
This electronic version of this case
should be cited as:
Bradey v. Children's Bureau
of South Carolina, (Spartanburg County, S.C., Ct. C.P., Apr. 9, 1979)
(visited Month Day, Year) .
Visit Bastard Nation: The Adoptee
© 2000 Christopher Philippo