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In re J.M.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 20, 2014

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF J.M.: J.P. AND J.M., Appellants-Natural Parents,
R.H. AND R.H., Appellees-Foster Parents

APPEAL FROM THE VANDERBURGH SUPERIOR COURT. The Honorable Brett Niemeier, Judge, The Honorable Jill R. Marcrum, Special Judge. Cause Nos. 82D07-1111-AD-171 and 82D07-1201-AD-10.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANTS: KAREN M. HEARD, Vanderburgh County Public, Defender's Office, Evansville, Indiana.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEES: JULIANNE L. FOX, Fox & Lutz, LLC, Evansville, Indiana.

BAKER, Judge. BARNES, J., and CRONE, J., concur.

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BAKER, Judge

In this case, appellants-natural parents Mother and Father (collectively, " the Natural Parents" ) had a relationship that was plagued bye substance abuse and domestic violence when JM was born in December 2009. The Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) removed JM from the Natural Parents when she was only a few months old.

JM was placed in foster care. Eventually, the DCS filed a petition to terminate parental rights. While that petition was pending, JM's foster parents (Foster Parents) filed a petition to adopt her. Several months later, JM's paternal grandparents (Grandparents), filed a competing petition to adopt JM, and the Natural Parents consented to Grandparents adopting JM.

The trial court determined that in light of the competing adoption petitions, a consent hearing was necessary. Following a hearing, the trial court determined that the Natural Parents were unfit and that their consent was unnecessary. After a change of judge, an adoption proceeding was held, and the trial court granted the Foster Parents' petition to adopt JM, emphasizing that because of a post-adoption agreement, the Grandparents would remain a part of JM's life.

The Natural Parents appeal the trial court's determination that their consent was unnecessary and that it was in JM's best interest to dispense with their consent. Concluding that the trial court did not err by dispensing with the Natural Parents' consent and refusing to hear additional evidence on the issue during the adoption proceeding, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


JM was born on December 23, 2009, to Mother and Father. At the time of her birth, JM was the youngest of four children born to Mother and the younger of two children born to Father. Father's

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oldest child lives with his biological mother in Evansville.

On April 20, 2010, the DCS removed JM and her three siblings from the Natural Parents because of their alcoholism and drug use, the conditions in the home, the children's school absences, and domestic violence. At that time, Father was incarcerated in the Indiana Department of Correction (DOC). The four children were found to be Children in Need of Services (CHINS) and placed in foster care with the Foster Parents; family members did not request placement until after petitions to terminate parental rights had been filed.

A disposition hearing was held on June 9, 2010, and Mother's parental participation plan was ordered. Three months later, when father was released from the DOC, his parental participation plan was ordered.

Although the Natural Parents had severe parenting issues, they did show progress. Nevertheless, the DCS filed Informations for Contempt on the Natural Parents for failure to comply with services. Specifically, Mother failed at least two different drug and alcohol treatment programs. Mother consumed alcohol when she had the children during the eleven-day trial home visit in August 2011, and she had alcohol in her home at the time of the consent hearing. Mother was on probation for driving while intoxicated at the time of the consent hearing.

Father was on probation during the pendency of the CHINS proceeding. Father continued to use alcohol and drugs during the pendency of the case. Father denied having an alcohol problem at the consent hearing, even though his criminal history is evidence of it.

Domestic violence was also an issue throughout the case; at least two DCS caseworkers observed bruising on Mother. The DCS was prepared to do a trial home visit but did not proceed because Mother appeared in court with unexplained bruises. Mother and Father were ordered to attend domestic violence classes but failed to attend. Mother and Father requested an opportunity to attend couples therapy but neglected to complete it. The eldest child in the household exhibited anger issues from witnessing the violence that had occurred in the home and needed therapy to overcome the issues associated with living in that environment.

Throughout the CHINS proceeding, housing was an issue. At the time of the consent hearing, Mother and Father were residing in a home provided by Father's father.

The DCS continued to work with the family until it filed its petition to terminate parental rights in August 2011, after the eleven-day trial home visit had failed. Relatives of Mother's three older children filed petitions for guardianship over those children. The Grandparents filed a ...

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