While Circuit Courts in Virginia have long had the authority to grant an adoption without the Consents of the Birth Parents of the child, in 1995 the General Assembly adopted Section 63.2-1205 of the Code of Virginia, which establishes standards of proof which the Court is directed to consider in making this extremely important decision. Because granting an adoption over the objection of parents means terminating their parental rights, many judges have commented that this is one of the hardest decisions which they are ever called upon to make. It is therefore essential that the standards of proof be properly understood, not just with respect to their meaning, but also with respect to their purpose.
The standards of proof can only be understood in the context of the psychology of child development. While it is not required to have an expert witness in these cases, it is often helpful for a qualified child psychologist withknowledge of the principles of attachement and bonding to evaluate the child, and his or her relationship with both the prospective adoptive parents and the birth parents. Before addressing the standards themselves, it is important to understand the general principles of attachment and bonding.