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In re Adoption of T.L.

Supreme Court of Indiana

March 11, 2014

IN RE ADOPTION OF T.L. AND T.L.; M.G., Appellant (Respondent below),
v.
R.J. AND E.J., Appellees (Petitioners below)

Page 659

Appeal from the Allen Superior Court. Nos. 02D07-1110-AD-155, 02D07-1110-AD-156. The Honorable Charles F. Pratt, Judge. On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 02A03-1208-AD-367.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Timothy E. Stucky, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Earl Raskosky, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Massa, Justice. Dickson, C.J., and Rucker, David, and Rush, J.J., concur.

OPINION

Page 660

Massa, Justice.

M.G. (" Father" ) challenges the trial court's ruling that his consent to the adoption of his children by their mother's new husband was not required pursuant to Indiana Code § 31-19-9-8(a)(2)(B) (2008). Because we find the evidence in the record sufficient to support the trial court's decision, we affirm the order of adoption.

Facts and Procedural History

Father has two children with R.J. (" Mother" ), and she has physical custody of them. In May 2002, the court ordered Father to pay child support of $30 per week retroactive to November 28, 2001, the date the support petition was filed. In December 2004, that amount was increased to $106 per week, retroactive to February 25, 2004, to account for the second child. The record shows Father paid only $390 total in support: $290 on November 19, 2002 and $100 on May 18, 2005. Father has been incarcerated for most of the past eight years; during a brief period of freedom, he was unemployed.

In January 2011, Mother married her long-time boyfriend, E.J. On October 28, they petitioned for E.J. to adopt the children. Father opposed the adoptions, but after a hearing[1] at which he appeared with counsel, the trial court granted both petitions. In its orders, which contained both

Page 661

findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court cited a statute that provides a parent's consent to an adoption is not required if that parent " knowingly fails to provide for the care and support of the child when able to do so as required by law or judicial decree." Ind. Code § 31-19-9-8(a)(2)(B). That judgment was entered on the chronological case summary on July 13, 2012. The clerk issued notice of the trial court's order to Father's attorney on July 17, 2012. Father's counsel forwarded the notice to Father along with a letter withdrawing representation and informing Father he would have to pursue any appeal on his own.

After losing his case and his lawyer, Father was transferred to Westville Correctional Facility, where he had access to neither a law library nor the forms and instructions required to perfect an appeal. Instead, he composed a letter entitled " Response to Petition for Adoption" and mailed it on August 13, 2012--exactly 30 days after the entry of judgment, meaning had it been a proper Notice of Appeal, it would have been timely filed. Ind. Appellate Rule 9(A)(1). In the letter, Father set forth his intent to appeal the trial court decision but noted his attorney was no longer willing to represent him. He requested a new attorney and a thirty-day extension to file a Notice of Appeal. Although the letter did not contain all the information required by Appellate Rule 9, the trial court ...


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