Once a trial court found a child’s natural parents to be unfit, the court did not need to revisit that finding at an adoption hearing, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.
The mother and father of J.M. lost custody of her and the mother’s three older children after the Indiana Department of Child Services removed the minors to foster care because of the natural parents’ continued alcohol and drug abuse, along with incidents of domestic violence.
Eventually, the paternal grandparents filed a petition for guardianship of J.M. and the natural parents consented. However, the foster parents objected to the grandparents’ petition and filed a petition to adopt J.M. The grandparents followed with a competing petition of adoption.
After a consent hearing, the trial court determined the natural parents were unfit and their consent was unnecessary.
Proceeding to the adoption hearing, the trial court granted the foster parents’ petition for adoption.
The natural parents appealed the court’s decision that their consent was unnecessary.
In , the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
The Court of Appeals rejected the natural parents’ argument that the trial court erred when it did not consider their fitness at the time of the consent and adoption hearings. Pointing to the mother’s and father’s continued difficulty with alcohol and lack of insight on the negative effects that alcohol has had on their lives, the COA panel found the trial court did not err by concluding they were unfit at the consent hearing.
“As for the adoption hearing, the Natural Parents’ argument that the trial court should have reevaluated their fitness at that time is merely a request for a second bite at the proverbial apple,” Judge John Baker wrote for the court. “Once the trial court concluded that the Natural Parents were unfit at the consent hearing, as stated above, the effect was the termination of their parental rights.”