Family Law Case Review: Petition for Adoption Denied

Case: In the Matter of the Adoption of J.T.A.; R.S.P. v. S.S.
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: While it appears the trial court may have misunderstood the application of Indiana’s adoption statute, the trial court was nevertheless within its discretion when it denied a woman’s petition to adopt her fiancé’s child from a previous relationship.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Child was born to Mother in 2000, and was initially cared for by Mother and Child’s maternal grandmother. Mother apparently had ongoing struggles with substance abuse, so several years later, Child went to live with Father and Father’s fiancée (“Fiancée”). In 2004, this arrangement was formalized, with Father awarded legal custody and Mother ordered to pay child support to Father. Fiancée became Child’s primary caretaker.

In 2010, Fiancée filed a petition to adopt Child, concerned that, if anything were ever to happen to Father, Fiancée would have no legal relationship with Child. Prior to this petition being filed, Mother had paid no child support to Father (Mother was incarcerated for a portion of this term). Prior to the adoption petition, Mother also had not formally exercised any parenting time with Child, but apparently Child informally spent time at his maternal grandmother’s home, during which Mother and Child had regular interaction.

After a hearing on Fiancée’s adoption petition, the trial court denied it. Fiancée appealed.

On appeal, Fiancée argues that the trial court misunderstood Indiana’s adoption statute insofar as the trial court determined that granting Fiancée’s petition would have terminated not just Mother’s parental rights, but Father’s, as well. The Court of Appeals reviewed the applicable statute and the plain reading of the statute might support this conclusion – because Father and Fiancée were not married. However, the Court of Appeals reviewed related case law, including the In re: Adoption of K.S.P. case, which stands for the proposition that the divesting statute does not apply where the would-be adoptive parent and the biological parent are living as part of the same family unit.

Fiancée next argues that Mother’s consent was not required to the adoption. Consent to adoption is not required if it is proven that the natural parent has either: (a) abandoned the child for the 6-month period leading up to the filing of the petition for adoption; or (b) the natural parent has knowingly failed to provide support for the child, despite having the means to do so, for a period of at least one year. Reviewing the record, the Court of Appeals concluded that Fiancée failed to prove either of these conditions to be true. As to the first, Mother had regular contact with Child while Child was spending time with the maternal grandmother, which was sufficient to overcome Fiancée’s abandonment argument. As to the second condition, while the record established that Mother had not paid child support, no evidence was presented to establish that Mother ever had the means to do so. Thus, Mother’s consent to the adoption was required in the absence of proving either of these conditions..

Because Mother’s consent to the adoption was required, but never provided nor implied, the trial court was correct in denying Fiancée’s petition for adoption. (The Court of Appeals noted, however, that nothing in the decision foreclosed Fiancée from filing another petition for adoption in the future.) The trial court’s order was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In the Matter of the Adoption of J.T.A.; R.S.P. v. S.S.

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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.

The Matrimonial Law Group of Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP is one of the largest full-service matrimonial and family law practices in the State of Indiana. We represent clients in a wide spectrum of family law matters, including premarital agreements, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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