Father’s Due Process Rights Violated in Proceeding That Would Terminate His Parental Rights

Case: In Re the Adoption of K.W.: M.W. v. S.L. and T.L.
Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Father’s due process rights were violated when the trial court failed to rule on Father’s request for appointed counsel in an adoption proceeding that would terminate Father’s parental rights.

Child was born to Mother in 2004. In 2008, Mother was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Mother died in 2009 as a result of a lethal dose of pain medication administered by Father, who was an EMT. Father was arrested and Child’s maternal grandmother (“Grandmother”) acquired guardianship of Child. Father later pleaded guilty to charges related to Mother’s death, and was sentenced to 12 years.

In 2013, Grandmother and her husband (“Grandparents”) filed a petition to adopt Child, and notice of same was issued to Father. Father responded with a pro se appearance, as well as a motion to have counsel appointed for him based upon indigence. The trial court never ruled on this motion.

At a subsequent hearing on Grandparents’ adoption petition, Grandparents appeared and Father appeared pro se telephonically. The trial court determined that Father’s consent to the adoption was not required, and granted the adoption in favor of Grandparents, thereby terminating Father’s parental rights. Father appealed.

The Court of Appeals noted that Ind. Code 31-32-2-5 provides that a parent is entitled to counsel in a proceeding that terminates parental rights. Thus, Father was entitled to counsel in the Grandparents’ adoption matter.

The trial court’s adoption order was reversed, and remanded with instructions to determine whether Father is indigent and, if so, to appoint counsel to represent Father at a new adoption hearing.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In Re the Adoption of K.W.: M.W. v. S.L. and T.L.


James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, 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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