In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of M.N., A Minor Child, and M.C., Her Father L.N. and Heartland Adoption Agency, Appellants-Petitioners
Appeal from the Monroe Circuit Court. The Honorable Stephen R. Galvin, Judge. Cause No. 53C07-1404-JT-214.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Donald W. Francis, Jr., Michelle B. Domer, Francis Berry Domer, Bloomington, Indiana.
Mathias, Judge. Friedlander, J., and Bradford, J., concur.
[¶ 1] L.N. (" Mother" ) and the Heartland Adoption Agency (collectively " the Appellants" ) appeal the Monroe Circuit Court's order dismissing the Heartland Adoption Agency's petition to terminate M.C.'s parental rights.
[¶ 2] We reverse and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Facts and Procedural History
[¶ 3] M.N. was born on October 1, 2009. M.C. is M.N.'s biological father and established his paternity to M.N. M.C. has
paid child support intermittently since M.N.'s birth and has had minimal, sporadic contact with the child.
[¶ 4] Four-year-old M.N. is autistic and non-verbal. She communicates with her mother through sign language and her body language. M.N. exhibits anxiety and struggles with social interactions and sensory issues. L.N. (" Mother" ) has established a rigid and predictable schedule for M.N., which lessens M.N.'s anxiety and helps her cope with daily life.
[¶ 5] M.N. receives Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" ) because she is a disabled child. Her SSI payment is reduced if Mother's income increases. M.C.'s intermittent child support payments also reduce M.N.'s SSI payment in an amount greater than the child support amount. M.C.'s infrequent child support payments also result in burdensome paperwork that Mother must complete and submit to government agencies in a short period of time so that M.N. continues to receive her SSI payment.
[¶ 6] At Mother's request, on April 16, 2014, the Heartland Adoption Agency, a licensed child placement agency, filed a petition to terminate M.C.'s parent-child relationship with M.N. The petition alleged M.C.
has abandoned or deserted said child for at least six (6) months prior to the filing of this Petition, and he has for a period of at least one year, failed, without justifiable cause, to significantly communicate with the minor child or to provide support for the minor child's health, welfare or care. Further, Father is unfit.
Appellant's App. p. 4.
[¶ 7] On May 22, 2014, M.C. filed a voluntary relinquishment of his parent-child relationship to M.N. M.C. alleged that it was in M.N.'s best interests to terminate their parent-child relationship. On that same date, the trial court appointed a guardian ad litem (" GAL" ) for M.N. The GAL concluded that terminating M.C.'s rights to M.N. was in her best interests because M.C. " is not committed to being involved and getting to know his daughter's special needs." Id. at 13.
[¶ 8] The trial court held a hearing on the petition on July 24, 2014. The GAL, Mother, and M.C. testified that terminating M.C.'s rights was in M.N.'s best interests, that M.C. is not involved in M.N.'s care, he does not exercise parenting time, and he does not consistently pay his child support.
[¶ 9] The trial court questioned counsel concerning whether the petition to terminate M.C.'s parent-child relationship with M.N. was permitted under Indiana Code section 31-35-1-4. The trial court also expressed concern that public policy might prevent the court from granting the ...