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Visitation-adoption agreement not allowed

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State law doesn't allow for post-adoption visitation that's contingent upon a voluntary termination of parental rights, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled.

In In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of M.B. And S.B. (Children);T.B. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, No. 34S02-0904-JV-147, the justices agreed mother's parental rights remain terminated; however, they reversed termination of her post-adoption visitation rights at a review hearing the mother wasn't notified of. The court remanded to the trial court with instructions that should the state continue to seek termination of mother's visitation rights, the court consider the request at a hearing that meets state requirements. Justice Theodore Boehm issued his separate opinion that concurred with the result.

The case involves a mother's relationships to two children born respectively in March 2000 and June 2002, and were later removed from the mom's custody in August 2002 after she was arrested and jailed on drug charges. No other suitable family members could care for the children. After about a year-and-a-half following the mother's release in October 2005, the state petitioned that her parental rights be terminated involuntarily because she hadn't found adequate housing or employment, or complied with the court orders to get drug treatment.

Though the mother initially disputed the allegations, she later agreed to voluntarily give up her parental rights. Her attorney drew up a form that stipulated the mother consented to giving up her parental rights "subject to the Court granting post-adoption privileges and the adoptive parents consenting to post-adoption contact" between the mother and the children.

The court allowed it and adoption followed, and the mother visited with the children for about two hours every two weeks at first. A three-month CHINS periodic review hearing was conducted but the mother and her attorney weren't notified; the state requested the mother's visitation rights be terminated based on their interference with the children's bonding with the adoptive family. The court terminated those rights, and then told the mother about this for the first time during her regularly scheduled visitation two days later that it would be her "goodbye visit," according to the court records.

After that, the mother moved to set aside the voluntary termination of her parental rights, which the trial court denied. She appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's denial last year.

In deciding the issue on transfer, the justices reversed the trial judge's decision but didn't grant the mother full restoration of her parental rights. Instead, the court determined that she is entitled to a termination hearing because she hadn't received adequate notice.

"Conditioning the voluntary termination of parental rights on continuing post-adoption visitation irreconcilably conflicts with Indiana adoption law and is not permitted," Justice Frank Sullivan wrote, saying that it's inconsistent with the state's open adoption statutes and overrides the authority provided by Indiana Code Section 31-19-16-2.

In his separate opinion, Justice Boehm wrote that he would have treated this issue as a matter of contract - one that involved her termination consent but also contained a written condition that violated several state statutory provisions.

"In short, I do not agree that Mother's written consent is enforceable, but in this case she clearly waived any right to assert a bulletproof right to visitation, and the termination is no longer open to question," he wrote.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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