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Grandparents lose adoption appeal in first-impression case

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Grandparents who filed late motions challenging a stepfather’s adoption of a 6-year-old are not entitled to relief based on their argument they didn’t receive legal notice, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in a family law case raising two issues of first impression.

The grandparents had been almost sole caregivers for B.C.H. from the time she was a newborn until she was about 27 months old, according to the record, during which time B.C.H’s teenage mother visited about once a week.

In 2010, mother married the father of her second child, and the couple adopted B.C.H. Grandparents didn’t receive legal notice of the adoption or consent, but they were aware stepfather had filed the adoption petition, which was granted in August 2011. But the grandparents continue to seek custody in ongoing proceedings.

In In the Matter of the Adoption of B.C.H., a Minor, 41A04-1308-AD-388, the Court of Appeals panel affirmed trial court orders denying the grandparents’ motions for relief from judgment and motions to correct error that aimed to set aside the trial court’s adoption decree.

Judge Rudy R. Pyle III noted the issues of first impression in this case: “(1) whether the phrase 'lawful custody' is equivalent to the phrase 'legal custody' for purposes of Indiana Code § 31-19-9-1, such that a lawful custodian must be court ordered; and (2) whether Grandparents qualified as lawful custodians by meeting the statutory qualifications for being de facto custodians.”

"In light of ... common law history of disfavoring the right of any party other than a child’s parents to object to an adoption, we hold that the adoption statute’s use of the phrase “lawful custody” under Ind. Code § 31-19-9-1(a)(3) is equivalent to “legal custody,” that is, court-ordered custody. Absent clear language from the Legislature, it is not our place to create a right where it has never before existed.

"Likewise ... we also will not create a right for parties without legal custody of a child to receive notice of adoption proceedings," Pyle wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Cale Bradford, holding that the grandparents do not qualify as legal guardians or lawful custodians.

Judge Paul Mathias in a separate opinion wrote that he would have required stepfather to obtain grandparents’ consent for the adoption, but because grandparents had actual notice of the proceedings and didn’t attempt to contest the adoption, he concurs with the majority.

Mathias disagrees with the majority’s equivalence of the statutory terms “lawful custody” and “legal custody.”

“Mother voluntarily relinquished custody of B.C.H. to Grandparents shortly after the child was born. Because Grandparents were B.C.H.’s primary caregivers, lived with and financially supported her, the Johnson Juvenile Court determined that Grandparents qualified as B.C.H.’s de facto custodians. Under these circumstances, and under the plain meaning of the term “lawful,” I would conclude that Grandparents had “lawful” custody of B.C.H., and therefore, notice of Stepfather’s adoption petition and Grandparent’s consent to B.C.H.’s adoption was required," Mathias wrote.

That said, circumstances here didn’t warrant such determinations, Mathias concluded.

"Although Grandparents’ consent to the adoption was not sought, Grandparents had actual notice that Stepfather had initiated adoption proceedings. But Grandparents failed to intervene in or to contest the adoption proceedings; therefore, I would hold that Grandparents cannot challenge the decree of adoption at this late date. For this reason, I concur in the result reached by the majority."

 
 



 

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  1. Bob Leonard killed two people named Jennifer and Dion Longworth. There were no Smiths involved.

  2. Being on this journey from the beginning has convinced me the justice system really doesn't care about the welfare of the child. The trial court judge knew the child belonged with the mother. The father having total disregard for the rules of the court. Not only did this cost the mother and child valuable time together but thousands in legal fees. When the child was with the father the mother paid her child support. When the child was finally with the right parent somehow the father got away without having to pay one penny of child support. He had to be in control. Since he withheld all information regarding the child's welfare he put her in harms way. Mother took the child to the doctor when she got sick and was totally embarrassed she knew nothing regarding the medical information especially the allergies, The mother texted the father (from the doctors office) and he replied call his attorney. To me this doesn't seem like a concerned father. Seeing the child upset when she had to go back to the father. What upset me the most was finding out the child sleeps with him. Sometimes in the nude. Maybe I don't understand all the rules of the law but I thought this was also morally wrong. A concerned parent would allow the child to finish the school year. Say goodbye to her friends. It saddens me to know the child will not have contact with the sisters, aunts, uncles and the 87 year old grandfather. He didn't allow it before. Only the mother is allowed to talk to the child. I don't think now will be any different. I hope the decision the courts made would've been the same one if this was a member of their family. Someday this child will end up in therapy if allowed to remain with the father.

  3. Ok attorney Straw ... if that be a good idea ... And I am not saying it is ... but if it were ... would that be ripe prior to her suffering an embarrassing remand from the Seventh? Seems more than a tad premature here soldier. One putting on the armor should not boast liked one taking it off.

  4. The judge thinks that she is so cute to deny jurisdiction, but without jurisdiction, she loses her immunity. She did not give me any due process hearing or any discovery, like the Middlesex case provided for that lawyer. Because she has refused to protect me and she has no immunity because she rejected jurisdiction, I am now suing her in her district.

  5. Sam Bradbury was never a resident of Lafayette he lived in rural Tippecanoe County, Thats an error.

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