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
J.P. ("Stepmother") appeals from the trial
court's denial of her petition for adoption. We affirm.
and Procedural History
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); 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.
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.
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.
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.
On November 9, 2018, the trial court issued an order denying