COA Says Adoption Order Erroneously Issued by Trial Court

Family Law Case Review

Case: In re the Adoption of A.G. & J.G., A.R. v. M.G. & J.G.
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: The granting of an adoption, which terminated Mother’s parental rights, was error because Mother’s right to have counsel during the proceedings was not properly afforded.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Father’s wife, along with Father, filed a petition to adopt Children. Mother was served as the natural parent of Children. Mother promptly filed a pro se objection to the adoption petition, along with a request for the appointment of a civil public defender to represent her. After a hearing, Mother’s request was granted, and Attorney was appointed to represent Mother.

As the adoption hearing approached, Attorney filed a motion to withdraw, citing Mother’s lack of cooperation and communication. Attorney’s motion to withdraw was granted, and the adoption hearing proceeded. The trial court ultimately decided to hold the adoption hearing, entertain the Petitioners’ testimony and evidence, but then left the record open for two weeks in the event Mother acquired private counsel. Mother never did so, and the adoption decree was subsequently entered.

Mother appealed.

The Court of Appeals noted that, whenever parental rights are being terminated, including in the course of an adoption, the parent has (1) the right to be represented by counsel, (2) the right to have counsel provided if they cannot afford one, and (3) the right to be informed of the two preceding rights.

Here, it was dispositive that Attorney’s withdrawal did not comply with the local rules. The applicable local rules permit an automatic withdrawal of counsel only if other counsel appears concurrently, counsel was plainly discharged by the client, or the party consents to the withdrawal; in all other circumstances, the attorney must show good cause, and give the client 21-day written notice of the intention to withdraw. Attorney’s withdrawal did not comply with these rules.

Since Mother’s right to counsel was violated by the procedurally improper withdrawal of Attorney, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the adoption decree for further proceedings. The Court was not persuaded by the appellee’s argument that Mother invited the error by not cooperating and communicating with Attorney.

Reversed and remanded.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In re the Adoption of A.G. & J.G., A.R. v. M.G. & J.G.

 

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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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