“Unfit” Father’s Consent Not Required in Adoption Proceeding

Family Law Case Review

Case: In re Adoption of D.M. Michael Mendez v. Brent L. Weaver
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: In an adoption proceeding, the trial court’s determination that Father’s consent to the adoption was not required was affirmed based upon a finding that Father was an “unfit” parent. Father was previously convicted of molesting Child’s half-sister and served several years in prison prior to the initiation of the adoption proceedings.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:  Child was born to Father and Mother in 2010. Mother’s daughter from a previous relationship also lived part-time with them. In 2012, Father was arrested for molesting Child’s half-sister. He later pled guilty to a class C felony and was sentenced to sixteen years with eight suspended. Mother divorced Father concurrent with the criminal proceedings.

Mother began dating Step-Father in 2013, and they married in 2016. Step-Father filed a petition for adoption, and Father filed an objection. After a hearing, the trial court determined that this matter involved one of the exceptions for the requirement that a parent consent to adoption. Specifically, consent is not needed where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the natural parent is “unfit to be a parent” and the best interests of the child would be served by dispensing with the parent’s consent.

On appeal, much of the discussion focused on the meaning of “unfit.” A primary argument of Father was that he was convicted of a class C felony, and that another subpart of the consent statute states that only class A or class B convictions trigger a potentially automatic dispensing of the need for consent. The Court of Appeals found this argument unpersuasive, in that rendering a class A or a class B conviction a potentially automatic waiver of consent, it does not follow that the circumstances underlying a class C conviction cannot lead a determination of unfitness.

Determining that the evidence most favorable to the trial court’s decision did not contradict its conclusion, the trial court’s decree of adoption was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In re Adoption of D.M. Michael Mendez v. Brent L. Weaver



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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