ILNews

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. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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