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Indiana Supreme Court hears disputed adoption of 2 boys

March 17, 2015

An attorney for a woman who's challenging her two grandsons' adoption by their maternal grandmother told the Indiana Supreme Court on Monday that their adoptions should never have happened because the other woman's felony conviction disqualifies her from being an adoptive parent.

Steven Ripstra, an attorney for the boys' paternal grandmother, said a Vanderburgh County court erred last year in approving the adoption of the two boys by their maternal grandmother, who was convicted on a neglect of a dependent charge in 1997.

Ripstra said Indiana law clearly forbids someone with such a conviction from adopting children. He noted that the maternal grandmother's fiance has multiple out-of-state burglary and armed robbery convictions, although those don't preclude him from adopting because more than five years have passed since those convictions.

"If you're looking out for the best interests of the child, number one they got it wrong because they granted the adoption to people who under the statute had felonies that disqualified them from the adoption," Ripstra told the justices.

The Indiana Court of Appeals in October upheld the county court's approval of the boys' adoptions, but the state Supreme Court has taken up the case on appeal.

The boys' paternal grandmother is seeking to have the adoption overturned and wants to adopt the boys herself.

The boys' maternal grandmother pleaded guilty in 1997 to felony neglect of a dependent and admitted that she had left her daughter, then a minor, alone with the child's father despite knowing that he had previously sexually molested her.

She received a 2-year suspended sentence and successfully completed probation and family counseling. She also divorced her husband of 18 years.

Court documents state that the woman's now adult daughter and her daughter's husband have been methamphetamine users and lost their parental rights in 2013.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush asked Julie Fox, the maternal grandmother's attorney, why she had not sought during the adoption proceedings to have her client's conviction expunged, reduced to a misdemeanor or taken other steps, given the woman's felony conviction.

Fox said her client's conviction never came up before the trial court and wasn't an issue until the case went before the state Court of Appeals.

Justice Steven David told Fox that Indiana law clearly includes "a forever bar" on people with child neglect convictions from adopting children.

Fox agreed that's the case, but said the trial court considered testimony from a case manager with the state's Department of Child Services and a court-appointed child advocate who both said adoption by the maternal grandmother and her fiance was in the boys' "best interests."

"We don't know what's going to be in the best interest of these children. The trial court is in the best position to determine that," she said.

Fox noted that the maternal grandmother has also adopted the boys' two older half brothers.

In October's ruling, the appellate court recapped testimony before the trial court by stating that, "All felt that keeping the four brothers together was of prime importance."

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