Fathers Adoption Consent Needed as Mother Thwarted His Attempts at Relationship with Children

Case: D.D. v. D.P. 
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court acted within its discretion when it concluded that Father’s consent to Stepfather’s adoption was required. Even though Father had gone years without communicating with the children (which otherwise would have made Father’s consent to the adoption unnecessary), the record supported the trial court’s finding that Mother had thwarted Father’s attempt to establish a relationship with the children.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father divorced, with two young children, in 2004. Father relocated to the Washington, D.C., area. Though Father remained substantially current in his child support obligations, he maintained no direct relationship or contact with the children.

However, beginning shortly after the divorce and Father’s relocation, Father made numerous efforts to contact Mother about ways to establishing a parenting time schedule that would be least disruptive to the children. Father sent Mother over 60 emails on the subject, only five of which received a reply.

Mother remarried and, in 2009, Stepfather filed a petition for adoption of the children. [Lengthy and complicated litigation, including prior appeals, followed.] The crux of the case became whether Father’s consent to Stepfather’s adoption was required. Indiana statute provides that consent is not required if “[a] parent of a child in the custody of another person [] for a period of at least one (1) year . . . fails without justifiable cause to communicate significantly with the child when able to do so[.]”

After considering the evidence presented at a hearing, the trial court concluded that Father’s consent was required. The trial court’s order included a finding that Mother had thwarted Father’s attempts to communicate with the children. Stepfather appealed.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court did not err when it found that Mother had thwarted Father’s efforts to communicate with the children. The record demonstrated over 60 emails from Father to Mother on the subject, of which Mother replied to only five. This thwarting established “justifiable cause” for Father’s lack of communication directly with the children.

The Court also noted that to rule otherwise would essentially reward Stepfather for Mother’s interference with Father’s efforts to establish a relationship with the children.

The trial court’s order was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: D.D. v. D.P.

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The Indiana Family Law Update is a free service provided by the Matrimonial Law Group of 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.
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