Family Law Case Review: Paternity of GW, Unsigned Birth Certificate

Case: In the Matter of the Paternity of G.W., J.W. v. R.M.
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: By failing to register timely with the putative father registry, to sign the child’s birth certificate or a paternity affidavit, or to file a paternity action, a putative father waives the right his right to object to adoption of the subject child by a third party.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:  Child was born to Mother on July 27, 2010. Prior to her pregnancy, Mother was in a relationship with R.M. R.M. and Mother never married, R.M. never signed Child’s birth certificate or a paternity affidavit, and he did not register with the putative father registry. R.M. was aware of Mother’s pregnancy, attended doctor appointments with her, and was present at Child’s birth. R.M. visited with Child regularly for the first nine months of Child’s life, at which time Mother terminated the informal visitation arrangement.

Mother subsequently married Husband in 2011, and thereafter Husband filed a petition to adopt Child in Floyd Circuit Court, to which Mother consented. Although R.M.’s name was recited in Husband’s adoption petition as the “biological father,” a search of the putative father registry did not locate R.M. and he received no notice of the proceedings.

Concurrently, R.M. was working with the Clark County prosecutor on a paternity petition. In fact, R.M. signed the petition to establish paternity nearly two weeks before Husband’s adoption petition was filed in Floyd Circuit Court; however, R.M.’s paternity petition was not actually filed until four days after Husband’s adoption petition. Mother filed an objection to R.M.’s paternity petition, and R.M. filed an objection in the adoption case.

The adoption and paternity matters were consolidated, and Mother filed a motion to dismiss R.M.’s paternity case. Following a hearing, Mother’s motion to dismiss was denied, from which she sought and was granted interlocutory appeal.

On appeal, Mother argued that, as a matter of law, R.M.’s failure to timely register with the putative father registry, sign the birth certificate or a paternity affidavit, or file a paternity action results in a lack of standing to contest the adoption or to seek paternity.

The Court of Appeals reviewed the putative father registry statute, noting that a putative father who registers within 30 days of a child’s birth or the filing of an adoption petition – whichever occurs later – is entitled to notice of the adoption. Failing to register timely has far-reaching implications, including implied consent to adoption by a third party.

R.M. argued on appeal that he was statutorily excepted from the putative father registration requirement because Mother had disclosed his name to the attorney handling the adoption; however, the statute provides for such an exception only where the mother provides BOTH the putative father’s name AND his address, which did not occur in this instance.

Citing the underlying public policy objective of ensuring that children have parents, the Court of Appeals concluded that “[a]s R.M. acknowledges that he never registered, we must necessarily conclude that he is not entitled to notice of the adoption proceeding, and has irrevocably and implicitly consented to the adopt of his minor child….”

The trial court’s decision not to grant Mother’s motion to dismiss R.M.’s was reversed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In the Matter of the Paternity of G.W., J.W. v. R.M.

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The Indiana Family Law Update is a free service provided by Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP. While significant efforts are made to ensure an accurate summary and reproduction of each opinion, readers are advised to verify all content and analysis with a traditional case law reporter before relying on the content and analysis offered here.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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