The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that although a putative father's paternity petition should be dismissed, he could proceed as the next friend of the alleged daughter in her paternity petition.
"We acknowledge the apparent anomaly that a putative father barred by one statutory section from petitioning for paternity on his own behalf may nevertheless succeed in filing, under a different statutory section, substantially the same petition as next friend on behalf of the child," wrote Judge Margret Robb. "Yet where two statutes appear inconsistent in some respect, we must give effect to both if possible."
In today's opinion In the Matter of Adoption of E.L., and In Re: the Paternity of E.L. b/n/f R.J.; R.J. v. V.N., No. 49A05-0902-CV-152, the appellate court concluded alleged father R.J. hadn't registered as E.L.'s putative father when the adoption petition was filed by V.N.'s new husband and couldn't proceed with his paternity petition. V.N. was unmarried at the time she had E.L. and no father was listed on E.L.'s birth certificate. Both parties believed R.J. was the father.
Indiana Code Section 31-19-5-12(a) says a putative father must register 30 days after the child's birth, or the earlier date of the filing of a petition for adoption or termination of the parent-child relationship of the mother. A putative father who fails to file within the specific deadlines listed in the statute waives notice of an adoption proceeding and gives implied consent to the child's adoption.
R.J. argued that because he had timely filed a paternity action, the issue of filing with the Putative Father Registry was moot, but the appellate court dismissed this argument. Under I.C. Section 31-19-5-6(b), the filing of a paternity action by a putative father doesn't relieve him of the obligation of registering or the consequences of failing to register, wrote Judge Robb. Even if he had timely registered, his instant petition is likely time-barred because the general time limit for filing a paternity action is two years, subject to six exceptions. R.J. didn't file until after E.L. was older than two, and he doesn't fall under any of the exceptions.
The trial court erred, however, in dismissing E.L.'s paternity petition filed by R.J. as a next friend. Indiana hasn't statutorily defined "next friend" but the Court of Appeals has held that a putative father is a proper next friend for purposes of a paternity action. Even though R.J. was barred in filing his own action, he is not time barred by filing as next friend for E.L. The time limitations defined in statute don't apply when the petitioner is the child.
"Ultimately, the trial court erred in dismissing the paternity petition with respect to E.L. because no Indiana statute sets forth applicable grounds for dismissing a paternity petition filed on behalf of a minor child by a next friend," the judge wrote.
The Court of Appeals remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.