A Guide to the Legal Terms in Wolf Play

In rehearsal, we’ve been digging into the feelings and intentions behind the characters’ actions, and how they affect young Jeenu. We have come to realize that while Jeenu’s situation is deeply complicated, the adults around him are all acting out of their own version of “extreme love.” Although Ryan and Ash both have reservations about getting a child from an unregulated internet forum, Robin says to Ryan, “Why? Because we’re bypassing some kind of institutional governmental system?” She sees Jeenu’s photo on the post online, and feels compelled to rescue him from the internet and bring him into their home. Regardless of how he wound up on this platform, he is there and in need of a family.

From the other side, we’ve learned about some of the reasons why Peter and Katie decided to re-home Jeenu using the internet, rather than working through official government channels. Peter says that if they went to court, “he might slip into the cracks of the system, so it’s just simpler, this way, it seems? And uh, affordable, a lot more.” The latter point speaks to the crux of why families, like the ones reported on in the Reuters exposé, turn to unregulated re-homing: adoption and family law can be wildly expensive. When Peter changes his mind, however, and his interactions with Shephard-Michaels clan escalate, we do see him place his faith into the court system, which he was originally so ready to renounce.

Because this practice is murky legally, it’s important for us to understand how it works, and just how much the characters in Wolf Play understand what they’re taking part in. This post serves as a glossary for some of the legal terms used in the play’s account of Jeenu’s re-homing. While not all reported instances of this phenomenon occur exactly the same way, these components are crucial in our understanding of what happens to Jeenu.

[Illustration by Dante Terzigni for City Journal]

Adoption dissolution: the termination of a previously legalized adoption. This phenomenon is often lumped together with the term adoption disruption, which more accurately is when an adoption already-in-process ends before it is legally finalized. For our purposes, Jeenu is going through the dissolution of his adoption by Peter and Katie and is in the process of being “re-homed” elsewhere.

Power of Attorney contract (pg. 11) – delegates authority for the care of a child (such as the right to consent to medical treatment for
the child and to enroll the child in school) to the new
caregiver. It is not intended to transfer custody permanently, and is most often employed when a parent cannot care for their child for a period of time, such as due to illness or military deployment. Also called durable power of attorney (pg. 88).

Affidavit of waiver of interest in child (pg. 13) – a formal document used in certain states when a parent desires to relinquish all parental rights to their child. Not official unless signed by a judge or court official. In Wolf Play, the affidavit that Robin signs is notarized by a government official in the state of Arizona, although it does not meet the state’s laws for adoption and custody transfers. Usually, both parties involved with the notarization of this waiver would need to be present at the time of signing, so in this circumstance we don’t exactly know how official this document actually is.

Information fraud (pg. 85) – the act of misrepresenting oneself and one’s personal information on any legal documents. Peter accuses Robin of lying about her marital status with Ash, and tries to use this as a way to prove their wrongdoing and inability to take care of Jeenu.

Domestic partner (pg. 88) – Peter describes Ash as Robin’s “domestic partner” which intentionally delegitimizes Ash and Robin’s marriage. Although what Robin states on page 87 is correct – “Under the federal laws, state laws forbidding joint adoption by same-sex couples is illegal,” the judge cites their “non-traditional family structure,” as a stress on Jeenu’s emotional wellbeing.

Petitioner (pg. 85) – the party who is bringing a case or argument to the court

Speculation (pg. 85) – an objection made in court when a witness is prompted to answer a question that they may not know the answer to, thus potentially creating false information.

Temporary custody of the state (pg. 88) – when parents lose custody of a child, or a child is without any familial guardian, the state in which the child lives must assume custody of the child until they are placed with an adoptive family. When in the care of a foster parent or home, treatment facility, or group home, the state usually retains custody of the child.

Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children – a contract between all 50 states that aims to keep track of the cases of children in the foster care and adoption systems, even when the child is being moved across different states. This ensures a structure for deciding who is responsible for the care of a child who is moved out of state jurisdiction.

In our production, we imagine that the scene in court takes place in California, because we see Jeenu back at home with Robin and Ash in San Francisco the next day. In the court systems of California, adoptions (both with an agency and independent) must be legalized in the presence of a licensed social worker and two witnesses. Also in both circumstances, a home-study of the adoptive family must be performed by the county or state department of social services (and this usually costs around $4,500 in fees, excluding attorney or counseling fees). So although we still have some questions regarding exactly how the exchange of Jeenu’s custody and the notarization of the documents manages to go unnoticed by the legal system, we know that his re-homing does not comply with California’s adoption laws.

At the center of these adults’ decisions, whether initiated out of this “extreme love,” or something else, is a human life, a boy. First brought to a new home in America from South Korea, and then released to whoever on the internet happened to find and connect with his post, Jeenu is on the hunt for stability and peace. Designed to keep children safe and cared for, the legal system, while imperfect, prevents a child like him from being put though any trauma or harm, and in Wolf Play, we see what happens when challenging the system goes too far out of bounds for an easy solution to come about.


Where We Begin

Last night we kicked off first rehearsal in Rabb Hall at the BPL, and joined together as a cast, artistic team, and staff to hear the script come to life.

As we head into the world of the play, we’d like to point your attention to a foundational piece of background information: an extensive 2013 special report by Reuters on the world of online adoption “disruption” and “re-homing.”

A warning: the 5-part series is heartbreaking, and necessary. It discusses in detail the real life Yahoo groups that served as a forum for families who sought to dissolve their adoptions and find new homes for the unwanted “difficult” children, often without background checks for the new custodial family, and certainly without involving authorities.

As a result of Reuters’ reporting, several states introduced legislation to address these unofficial dissolutions and better track the previously untracked movements of children over state lines. The Yahoo groups for adoption reforming were shut down shortly after the exposé, but the internet trade in disrupted adoptions didn’t go away, it just moved mostly underground, into secret Facebook groups, and via a whisper network of DMs on more public-facing adoption fora like this one.

The Reuters series talks about the traumas that these abandoned children have endured, and some of the lasting impacts. We’ll be going into more detail about those traumas in a future blog post.

First Rehearsal: Actor Minh-Anh Day and a mock-up of the Jeenu puppet

First Rehearsal: Actor Minh-Anh Day and a mock-up of the Jeenu puppet