Grandmother Denied Adoption Without Mother’s Consent

Case: E.W., O.W., v. J.W.
Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Grandmother’s petition to adopt Child was properly denied without Mother’s consent. While Mother had a history of drug abuse and instability, some recent improvements in Mother’s life led the trial court to correctly conclude that Mother’s consent to the adoption was required.

HELD: Trial court acted within its discretion when it denied Father’s request to terminate Mother’s parenting time. Again, the trial court had evidence to support its conclusion that Mother had been drug free in recent months, was no longer in an abusive relationship, and was receiving mental health treatment. These signs of progress supported its decision not to take the extraordinary step of terminating Mother’s parenting time.

HELD: In denying Father’s request for a civil protective order against Mother, the trial court failed to make special findings as required by Trial Rule 52. Therefore, that issue was remanded for further proceedings.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Mother and Father had one Child together. In 2010, Father became the primary custodian of Child due to Mother’s drug abuse and an abusive relationship she was in at the time. Thereafter, Mother had only limited, supervised parenting time opportunities.

In 2011, Mother petitioned to modify custody and expand her parenting time. It was denied after Mother refused to a take a drug test requested of her by the trial court. The trial court also issued orders that permitted Father to subject Mother to hair follicle drug testing, at Father’s discretion. In late 2012, Father requested a hair follicle test of Mother and, when Mother refused, Father unilaterally suspended Mother’s parenting time.

In subsequent weeks, Father filed a motion to terminate Mother’s parenting time, a motion for a civil protective order against Mother, and Grandmother filed a petition to adopt Child. After a hearing, the trial court denied all of these motions based upon some measurable improvements Mother was making to her life in the months leading up to the hearing. Father and Grandmother appealed.

As to Grandmother’s appeal, the Court of Appeals noted that, in an adoption, the consent of the natural parents is generally required. There are statutory exceptions to the consent requirement – specifically, in cases where the parent is “unfit,” lacks significant communication with the child, or fails to provide support for the child. Analyzing each of these exceptions, the Court of Appeals agreed that the trial court was within its discretion to determine that Mother’s consent was required for Grandmother’s adoption and, thus, Grandmother adoption petition was properly denied.

On Father’s appeal, the Court noted that terminating parenting time altogether is an extraordinary step, appropriate only where the parenting time would “endanger the child’s physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development.”  Here, the evidence supported the trial court’s finding that, leading up to its hearing, Mother “is drug free, is no longer in an abusive relationship and is receiving mental health treatment.” It was within the trial court’s discretion to deny Father’s petition to terminate parenting time.

Finally, the trial court denied Father’s petition for a civil protective order. Father had alleged incidents of Mother driving in front of Father’s home and honking her horn, yelling obscenities and threats at Father, and revving her engine. The trial court concluded these allegations were weak and self-serving and, even if they were true, the incidents likely arose from Father’s own unilateral withholding of Mother’s parenting time. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals observed that the trial court failed to comply with Trial Rule 52 and provide special findings on the requested protective order. Therefore, the matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

All of the trial court’s orders were affirmed, except for as to Father’s request for a protective order, which was remanded for special findings.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: E.W., O.W., v. J.W.

_________________________________________________________________________________

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

Leave a Reply