Court Concludes Mother’s Consent Unneeded in Adoption Proceeding

Family Law Case Review

Case: In re Adoption of E.B.F., J.W. v. D.F.
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: In an adoption case, the trial court properly concluded that Child’s genetic mother failed without justifiable cause to communicate significantly with Child for one year when she was able to do so – thus dispensing with the need for her consent as part of adoption proceedings.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:  A genetic parent’s consent is generally required before an adoption petition may be granted. An exception to that rule is: “if for the period of at least one  . . . year the parent . . . fails without justifiable cause to communicate significantly with the children when able to do so[.]”

Here, Mother and Father had Child in 2003 and never married. Mother was Child’s primary custodian for Child’s first 10 years of life.

In 2013, Father initiated a paternity action. As part of those proceedings, Father assumed primary physical custody of Child. Mother was given parenting time “at such times and upon such conditions as the parties are able to mutually agree.”  After seeing Child on Christmas Day of 2013, Mother withdrew from Child, apparently due to Mother’s opioid dependency and other personal problems. Just over a year later, Father’s wife of nine years initiated a step-parent adoption of Child. After a hearing, the trial court concluded that, based upon Mother’s absence for a year, Mother’s consent was not required to proceed with the adoption and, later, the trial court granted step mother’s adoption of Child. Mother appealed.

The Court of Appeals focused on the fact that, during a 13-month period, Mother was aware of ways to communicate with Child, she was not denied contact with Child by Father, yet Mother put forth minimal effort to maintain any communication with Child during this period. Mother did see Child occasionally, but mostly as a result of chance interactions at stores or other public places, not because Mother initiated an effort to see Child. The Court was unpersuaded by Mother’s argument that her ten years of custodial parenting of Child should have been factored into the trial court’s analysis; the statute focuses on the year leading up to the petition.

Mother offered an alternative argument that it was unfair that, because she took a year to “get back on her feet,” she is now being punished by losing Child. However, the Court stressed that the analysis is focused on the best interests of the child, not of the best interests of the parent.

The trial court’s adoption order was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In re Adoption of E.B.F., J.W. v. D.F.

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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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