Appeal from the Switzerland Circuit Court. The Honorable W. Gregory Coy, Judge. Trial Court Cause No. 78C01-1310-AD-4.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: Jennifer A. Joas, Madison, Indiana.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: Leanna Weissmann, Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
Brown, Judge. Riley, J., and Friedlander, Sr. J., concur.
[¶1] M.A. (" Appellant" ), the biological father of E.A., appeals the trial court's decree granting the petition for adoption of E.A. by D.B. (" Adoptive Father" ). Appellant raises one issue which we revise and restate as whether the court erred in granting Adoptive Father's petition for adoption over the objection of Appellant. We affirm.
Facts and Procedural History
[¶2] On February 5, 2009, E.A. was born to R.B., the mother (" Mother" ), and Appellant. Appellant had been arrested for burglary previous to the birth, but he bonded out and was present at E.A.'s birth and signed a paternity affidavit pursuant to Ind. Code § 16-37-2-2.1. Following the birth, Appellant, Mother, and E.A. lived with Appellant's mother. On March 16, 2009, when E.A. was six weeks old, Appellant was re-arrested on burglary charges. Appellant has two other children who met E.A. once, when E.A. was three months old.
[¶3] During the pendency of Appellant's burglary case, he was held at the Jefferson County Jail. While there, Mother kept in contact with him, and the two had an understanding that they would remain in a relationship. On July 21, 2010, Appellant was sentenced to fifteen years on the burglary conviction and transferred to the Department of Correction (the " DOC" ), and contact between then one-year-old E.A. and Appellant waned. Appellant " may have sent a birthday card the first birthday that [E.A.] had after [Appellant] went to prison," but no further contact was had. Transcript at 21. Mother stopped sending Appellant pictures of E.A. after E.A.'s second birthday. The last time Appellant saw E.A. was immediately after he was sentenced on July 21, 2010 when the court arranged for a visit.
[¶4] Mother started dating Adoptive Father in the fall of 2010. On April 13, 2011, Mother married Adoptive Father.
[¶5] On October 17, 2013, Adoptive Father filed a petition for adoption of E.A. alleging that Appellant: (A) has abandoned E.A.; (B) has failed to contact or support E.A. for at least one year; and (C) has not established paternity or has failed to register with the putative father registry. On November 14, 2013, Appellant filed a Verified Motion to Contest Adoption, as well as a Petition to Establish Paternity and Provide Support.
[¶6] On March 31, 2015, the court held a hearing on Adoptive Father's petition. Adoptive Father testified that he has lived with E.A., who at that point was six years old, since 2010, that they have a father-son relationship and E.A. calls him " Dad," and that he is the only father E.A. has ever known. Id. at 9. He stated that during his time living with E.A., there had not been any contact between Appellant and E.A. When asked whether Appellant had been hindered in contacting E.A., Adoptive Father testified that they kept the address Appellant had until almost 2012, and that no mail had been sent to E.A. by Appellant at that address: He further noted that " when we got the papers from the Court after we filed this, that [E.A.] was about to have a birthday, Christmas and he knew the address because he sent us the paperwork. He still didn't send [E.A.] a birthday card or Christmas card or letter." Id. at 10. He also testified that when the couple moved from the address Appellant had on file, they had their mail to that address forwarded to their new residence. He stated that he and Mother have another child and that E.A. helps to take care of her and " loves her to death . . . ." Id. at 13.
[¶7] Mother testified that Appellant wrote her " a couple of letters" after sending the birthday card for E.A.'s second birthday, but she lost contact with him during that year. Id. at 21. She indicated that at the time the petition for adoption was filed Appellant had not filed anything to establish paternity, and she never received any monetary support from him, nor from any of Appellant's family on his behalf. She testified that she had had contact with Appellant's sister five or six times but " not in the past two years . . . ." Id. at 24. Mother testified that, after Appellant was arrested, on multiple occasions she attempted to make arrangements to visit with Appellant's mother with E.A., but Appellant's mother " always had a reason not to." Id. at 32.
[¶8] On cross-examination, Mother indicated that she changed her cell phone number " numerous times," the first time being " shortly after" Appellant was incarcerated, and she did not provide Appellant with her new phone number. Id. at 26. She acknowledged that she " did nothing really to encourage [Appellant] to continue contacting" her. Id. at 27. She testified that Appellant's sister attempted to make contact with her at her place of employment at a restaurant, but she avoided the sister by going into the kitchen. She indicated that it was " fair to say" she avoided telephone calls from Appellant's family. Id. at 30. She also testified that Appellant's sister ...