Bradey v. Children's Bureau of South Carolina, (Spartanburg County, S.C., Ct. C.P., Apr. 9, 1979),
rev'd, 275 S.C. 622, 274 S.E.2d 418 (1981).



Max Bradey, 


The Children’s Bureau of
South Carolina,

         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.
         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.


         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.
         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.
         Petitioner argues 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:

“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 persons.”

         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 parental custody.
         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 granted.
         IT IS SO ORDERED.

April 9, 1979

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)