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Court reverses interstate surrogate adoption

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The Indiana Supreme Court reversed an adoption order granted to a New Jersey man of twin girls born by a surrogate in Indianapolis, ruling the Indiana trial court failed to comply with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children.

In the case In the matter of the adoption of Infants H.; Marion County Division of Indiana Department of Child Services v. Stephen, No. 29S02-0904-CV-140, Stephen filed a petition for adoption of twin girls born in Indianapolis to a woman from South Carolina using donor sperm and eggs. The twins were released to Stephen by the trial court in Hamilton County pending a final hearing and waived the statutory requirement of prior written approval of a licensed placement agency or the Marion County Office of Family and Children, now the Department of Children.

Later, it was discovered that Stephen wasn't a resident of Indiana but was living and working in New Jersey. Stephen initially claimed the twins were biracial and hard to place, but they were not; he later said they were hard to place because they were a sibling group. Adoptions to non-Indiana residents can be approved for statutorily defined "hard to place" children.

The Department of Children became involved in the case when hospital workers called the organization after Stephen visited the hospital with a pet bird and had bird feces on his coat and seemed unconcerned about potential health risks. Marion Superior Court ordered the twins as children in need of services and placed them in the custody of DCS. It was after the CHINS investigation that Stephen claimed the twins were hard to place.

The trial court ordered at a final hearing a six-month period of supervision of the placement of the twins with Stephen, entered a final decree of adoption, dismissed the CHINS case, and ruled consent to adoption by the DCS wasn't required.

The justices decided to leave open the residency question and instead looked at three other issues in the case.

Hamilton County wasn't the proper venue for this adoption hearing as Stephen, the children, nor the placing agency were living or located in Hamilton County. In situations such as this case, the adoption court should transfer the matter to the county where the children are located, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

The adoption court also erred by dispensing, solely on Stephen's request, DCS's statutory role to provide prior written approval of the adoption before DCS even knew about the adoption. DCS only learned of the adoption because of the CHINS proceeding.

Finally, the adoption court failed to completely comply with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, which is used when children are sent to live with adoptive parents in another state. There are certain conditions for the placement of children set forth in the compact which are designed to provide complete and accurate information regarding the children and their adoptive parents. Indiana's central Compact office contacted New Jersey's Compact office to evaluate Stephen's suitability as an adoptive parent, but he declined to participate saying he was an Indiana resident. There is also nothing in the record that a New Jersey home study was sent to the adoption court saying the adoption would or wouldn't be in the best interest of the children, wrote the chief justice.

Indiana retains jurisdiction over the twins because of the compact, wrote Chief Justice Shepard. The final order of adoption is reversed for want of compliance with the compact and remanded with direction to comply with it and thereafter issue a further judgment accordingly. The order granting Stephen preliminary custody remains in effect pending completion of this directive and any eventual orders the trial court may enter.

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