COA Says Adoption Order Erroneously Issued by Trial Court

Case: In Re: the Adoption of S.O., A.O., and N.O., P.P. v. A.O.
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Trial court erroneously issued an adoption order when it dispensed with the statutorily required background check, and did not consolidate a pending paternity action involving the same children with the adoption proceeding.

HELD: An adoption court is required to consolidate any paternity cases involving the child before ruling on the adoption petition.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Father and Biological Mother had three children together, out of wedlock. Father’s paternity was established in 2012; as part of that proceeding, Father did not know Biological Mother’s address, so she was served by publication and did not attend the hearing. The paternity matter awarded Father physical and legal custody of the children, as well as a child support and parenting time order for Biological Mother.

Biological Mother would go on to have limited involvement with the children, seeing them roughly once a month when they were at her mother’s home. She also gave them birthday presents.

Father remarried in 2009, and, in 2015, his wife, Adoptive Mother, filed a verified petition to adopt the children. Biological Mother learned of this, and filed both an objection in the adoption court, and a motion to set aside the paternity order in the paternity court – citing lack of personal jurisdiction over her.

After a hearing, the adoption court granted Adoptive Mother’s petition to adopt the children, concluding that Biological Mother’s consent was unnecessary because she failed to support the children in a meaningful way for over a year. Biological Mother appealed.

The Court of Appeals had various issues with how this adoption was handled, but found one to be dispositive: Ind. Code 31-9-2-22.5 requires a particular background check for any would-be adoptive parent. The Court concluded that the limited check in this case did not substantially comply with the statute and, because the underlying policy for the background check is the safety of the children, Father’s argument that Biological Mother invited this error was unpersuasive.

The Court also decided, in a matter of first impression, that any paternity case involving a child must be consolidated into an adoption proceeding involving the child. When an adoption case and paternity case involving the same child are pending at the same time, the adoption court acquires exclusive jurisdiction. If the paternity matter were not consolidated into the adoption matter, then the adoption could be granted and then closed, leaving the paternity matter open but in limbo because of its lost jurisdiction over the child. If the adoption court always consolidates the paternity matter into it, it can issue consistent orders that resolve both adoption and paternity.

The trial court’s adoption order was reversed, and remanded with instructions to consolidate the paternity matter and to undertake a statutorily compliant background check.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here:
In Re: the Adoption of S.O., A.O., and N.O., P.P. v. A.O.

 

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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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