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In re Adoption of C.P.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

June 21, 2019

In Re the Adoption of: C.P., Minor Child J.P., Appellant,
M.W., Appellee.

          Appeal from the Hendricks Superior Court The Honorable Robert W. Freese, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 32D01-1805-AD-24

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Elizabeth M. Smith Poynter & Bucheri, LLC Mooresville, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Glen E. Koch, II Boren, Oliver & Coffey, LLP Martinsville, Indiana

          BROWN, JUDGE.

         [¶1] J.P. ("Stepmother") appeals from the trial court's denial of her petition for adoption. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] C.P. ("Child") was born to Co.P. ("Father") and M.W. ("Biological Mother") in December 2013. The Department of Child Services ("DCS") became involved in 2015 when Child was one year old due to Biological Mother's drug use. Paternity was established during the DCS case. Biological Mother's sister was given temporary custody of Child, and Father was later awarded physical custody of Child. DCS closed its case in January 2017. On May 18, 2018, Stepmother filed a petition for adoption alleging that she was twenty-three years old; she and Father were married in August 2017; Biological Mother has not consented to the adoption and her consent is not required pursuant to Ind. Code § 31-19-9-8(a)(1), (2), and (11)[1]; Father had consented to the adoption; Child resided with her and Father for the prior two years; and there is a paternity matter regarding Child in Morgan County under cause number 55C01-1607-JP-261 ("Cause No. 261") and a zero-dollar support order was in effect under that cause.[2]

         [¶3] On October 23, 2018, the court held a hearing at which Stepmother was present with counsel and Biological Mother appeared pro se. Father testified that DCS became involved because Biological Mother "had drug use in his room at the house he was in" and Child was one year old at that time. Transcript Volume 2 at 5-6. When asked "was [Biological Mother] having parenting time with" Child during the time DCS was involved, he replied "not at all" and indicated she was not making requests for parenting time. Id. at 6. When asked the last time Biological Mother had contact with Child, he answered "I believe it was January after he turned two . . . ." Id. He indicated Biological Mother has not made efforts to contact him to arrange parenting time since January 2016, he had not received any letters or birthday or Christmas cards for Child, and Biological Mother did not actively participate in the DCS matter. He indicated there was "a zero-dollar child support order" and he did not receive any financial assistance from Biological Mother. Id. at 7. When asked, "[s]ince the last time that she communicated with [Child] in 2016, when did you first hear anything from [Biological Mother] again," he answered "once before DCS closed out, asking if she could see him without them knowing about it but . . .," and when asked "[y]ou said before DCS closed out so that would have been prior to 2017," he replied "[y]es." Id. at 7-8. He indicated that Biological Mother requested parenting time under Cause No. 261 in February 2018. He stated he had been married to Stepmother for two years and that she had been in Child's life "since the beginning of the DCS case when we started dating." Id. at 9.

         [¶4] Stepmother testified that she has been involved in Child's life for several years, has had the opportunity to bond with him, and lived with Child, Father, and their three-month-old son. When asked if she was aware of any effort by Biological Mother to see Child, she replied "one" and "[i]t was before DCS closed out . . . she was advised to talk to DCS about it." Id. at 11. She testified Child "had a hard time bonding with females" and "I think he is great now." Id. at 12.

         [¶5] Biological Mother testified:

I don't, I just really wanna see [Child] and that why I put in to Court, that's why I did the court date in Martinsville and I don't want to take him away from anything cause I am really glad he is doing good and I struggled for a long time with drugs but I am not anymore and I am doing really good, you know and I have son too, he just turned a year and I want him to be apart [sic] of his life, and I really regret all the stuff that, you know, I couldn't get better sooner but I just, I want the chance to be in his life again.

Id. at 14-15. She presented a letter from her probation officer stating:

[Biological Mother] was sentenced on November 1, 2017. She was ordered to 365 days to serve. She had 99 actual days credit of jail time and then was placed on home detention for 81 actual days. She completed her home detention successfully. On January 29, 2018, she began her probation time of 545 days. [She] has not had any violations since November 1, 2017. She is an active participant in our woman's group What Was I Thinking. She is currently employed . . . in Spencer, Indiana.

Exhibit 2. The court asked Biological Mother why she did not have contact with Child, and she testified "I was really trying to get . . . I was on house arrest for a little while and I wanted to get off house arrest and I wanted to get things right," "I was having a hard time getting my life on track and I just wanted to have everything together cause I didn't want to take any chances, you know, going back," and "I really regret that it took this long though." Id. at 15-16. When asked "[w]hen you say you didn't want to take chances of going back, you mean going back to," she answered "[n]ot being around him, I just wanted to make sure that everything would be ok." Id. at 16. Biological Mother argued "I don't want her to adopt him, you know, I'd rather, I wanna have visits with him and even if it is supervised at first, I just want to be a part of his life." Id. at 17. The court took the matter under advisement and also stated "if I grant the petition it . . . pretty much does away with" Cause No. 261 and asked, "if I deny the petition, what's the status of" that cause, and Stepmother's counsel replied there had been a hearing in that cause "and it was ordered that she under go [sic] drug testing and those results have come in and there has been no action since that time as the adoption was filed." Id. at 18.

         [¶6] On November 9, 2018, the trial court issued an order denying the ...

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