APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Madison County; the Hon.
MERLIN G. HISCOTT, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE KARNS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Rehearing denied February 21, 1978.
This is an appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of Madison County entered on the petition of Siglinde Hale to revoke her consent to the adoption of her infant son, Mark Hale, and to vacate the decree of adoption entered in favor of his paternal grandparents, Stephen and Alma Hale. In her petition, Siglinde alleged that her consent to the adoption of her son had been obtained from her on the basis of fraudulent misrepresentations made by her husband, Stephen Hale, Jr., and his parents. The lower court denied the petition on the grounds that Siglinde Hale had failed to sustain her burden of proof.
In 1972, Siglinde, a native of Germany, married Stephen, Jr., who was stationed in her country while on military service. A son, Mark Hale, was born to the couple on September 12, 1973. Siglinde and her infant son moved to this country in August 1974, at which time they moved into the home of the child's paternal grandparents. Following his discharge from the military, Stephen, Jr., joined his wife and son in his parents' home in October 1974. Soon after his father's arrival home, Mark began walking and the severe difficulties he experienced in this regard were the subject of several family discussions. Although the child frequently fell while learning to walk, there was never discovered to be anything physically wrong with the boy's feet as Siglinde was allegedly told by her husband and his parents.
Sometime in October 1974, the matter of the adoption of Mark by his grandparents was discussed by the parties although the nature and frequency of those discussions are disputed. At about this time the grandparents retained counsel for legal advice concerning the adoption of their grandson. The child's parents also met with the grandparents' attorney at this time and Siglinde, without her husband, went to the attorney's office three or four times thereafter.
As a result of these discussions, the parents appeared before Judge William Johnson on December 10, 1974, to consent to the adoption of Mark by his grandparents. Both parents were therein admonished by Judge Johnson of the permanent effects of their consent to Mark's adoption and both parents acknowledged to him that they understood that the consents were irrevocable. During these proceedings, Stephen Hale, Jr., and his parents' attorney, who had accompanied the couple, remarked that the child had a crippled foot to which Siglinde responded that the child was not crippled. When Siglinde inquired whether her son could someday be sent back to her, Judge Johnson explained to her that it would be possible but that the child's grandparents would need to follow the same procedures as they had, and that they would be under no obligation to do so. At the end of these proceedings the parents executed their consent to the adoption. On December 13, 1974, the child's grandparents filed a petition for the adoption of Mark Hale and included with their petition the consent forms executed earlier by the child's parents. After a hearing on their petition on January 24, 1975, the Circuit Court of Madison County decreed that Mark Hale was the adopted child of Stephen and Alma Hale.
On September 11, 1975, Siglinde Hale filed a petition to revoke her consent and set aside the adoption alleging that her consent to the adoption was obtained by fraud and duress on the part of her husband and the child's grandparents. She also alleged that the consent form she had executed was invalid because it failed to comply with the prescribed standards of section 10 of the Adoption Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 4, par. 9.1-10) in that it failed to inform her of the irrevocable nature of her act of consent.
At the time of the hearing on the petition on May 13, 1976, Siglinde was no longer living with her husband nor residing in his parents' home. At the hearing she attempted to show that at the time she consented to her child's adoption she was a naive youth, unfamiliar with the English language and completely dependent upon her husband and his parent's advice and support. She testified that they had intentionally deceived her as to the permanent consequences of the adoption and as to the nature of and reasons for the December 10, 1974, proceeding. Siglinde further testified that she first met the grandparents' attorney on the day she signed the consent to adoption before Judge Johnson and that her responses to the judge's questions at that proceeding were made at her husband's direction. She explained that she had told Judge Johnson that she understood the effects of her consent to her child's adoption because she had been instructed to do so by her husband.
Siglinde went on to relate that her child's difficulty in walking had been explained to her by her husband and his parents to be caused by a foot problem that required immediate corrective surgery to prevent her son from being crippled. She said that in late November 1974, her husband and mother-in-law told her that because she and her husband, Stephen Jr., could not afford to take Mark to a doctor she should sign a paper so that her father-in-law's medical insurance would pay for the necessary operation. Siglinde testified that her mother-in-law repeatedly warned her that the child would be crippled if he did not have the operation and that she asked her daily to sign the paper. She stated that three days before she signed the consent she was first told the paper was an adoption consent form and that by means of the adoption her son would be able to have the operation. Her mother-in-law, according to Siglinde, assured her that Mark would be returned to her after the operation was performed. Out of fear that her son would otherwise be crippled, Siglinde finally agreed to consent to the adoption.
Judge Johnson, over the objections of Alma and Stephen Hale, testified on Siglinde's behalf at the hearing on the petition to revoke the consent and vacate the adoption decree. He testified that at the consent to adoption proceeding Siglinde spoke broken English and appeared to have difficulty understanding all that was said, often looking to her husband for advice and counsel. He also stated that at some time prior to or immediately after his taking of the consents that he had a discussion with Siglinde and her husband regarding the purpose of the adoption. This discussion, he related, indicated to him that the child's grandparents intended to adopt Mark so as to cause his grandfather's medical insurance policy to pay for the child's necessary medical treatment. After the medical treatment the grandparents were to consent to the return of the child to his natural parents by means of another adoption. According to Judge Johnson, when he told Siglinde that neither he nor she and her husband could force the grandparents to return the child she became very upset and her husband began to console her. The foregoing discussion was private and off the record.
Siglinde's husband and his parents testified in response to her allegations of fraud and duress that they had never pressured her into consenting to the adoption nor had they told her that the child would be crippled unless he had corrective surgery performed on his foot. Moreover, their factual version of the events leading up to Siglinde's consent to the adoption revealed that not only was Siglinde's consent voluntarily given, but that she had promoted the idea to them.
Stephen Hale, Jr., testified that he and Siglinde first discussed the subject of Marks' adoption by his grandparents while the couple was still living in Germany. He stated that Siglinde did not want the child and had hoped that his parents would adopt him so that they would be free to travel around the United States upon their return from Germany. He further testified that approximately two weeks after his discharge from the military he and Siglinde asked his parents if they would adopt Mark. He stated that thereafter Siglinde repeatedly asked Alma Hale if she and her husband would adopt the child. According to Stephen Hale, Jr., he worried about Mark's difficulty in learning to walk and in discussing this with Siglinde he often suggested that the boy be taken to a doctor. He stated, however, that he had never represented to her that the child had a physical problem that required corrective surgery and that in his opinion Siglinde was not overly concerned about the child's supposed foot problem. According to his testimony, Siglinde was aware at the time she consented to the adoption that he had a medical insurance policy that covered the child and that, in fact, Siglinde had filed a claim under the policy for a minor operation performed on Mark soon after he and his mother arrived in this county. He further testified that Siglinde was fully aware of his monthly income of $560 from State unemployment compensation and the military.
Alma and Stephen Hale both testified at the hearing that they had never believed nor represented to Siglinde that anything was physically wrong with Mark's feet that would necessitate immediate medical treatment. They admitted that they had discussed Mark's difficulties in learning to walk with Siglinde, but that they had told her the child was simply a slow learner. According to their testimony, Siglinde first asked them if they would adopt the child a few days after she and the infant arrived in this country in August 1974. Siglinde explained to them that she wanted to give up Mark so that she and her husband would be free to travel and have a good time. They testified that they frequently discussed the matter of Mark's adoption with Siglinde and their son and that they sought to ensure that they wanted to give up the child. The couple further testified that when they first sought legal advice concerning the adoption in late October 1974, Siglinde and their son accompanied them to the lawyer's office.
Several other witnesses testifying on behalf of Alma and Stephen Hale stated that Siglinde rarely cared for Mark after she and the child moved into the Hale's home, leaving the daily care of Mark in Alma's hands. They also corroborated the Hale's contentions that Siglinde understood English well and that she conversed in the language with little difficulty.
During the hearing on her petition, the trial court at one point forbade Siglinde's appointed interpreter from continuing a discussion with Siglinde's attorney at the counsel's table because of the disruption caused while the adoptive parents were presenting evidence. At the commencement of the next day's proceedings the court reversed its earlier ...