Mother’s consent to adoption not required, appeals court rules

A trial court properly determined that a mother’s consent was not required to the adoption of her child, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled, finding that even though she had a difficult year in which she had no communication with her child, the law requires her to continue to foster her parental relationship.

In the case of In re Adoption of E.B.F., J.W. v. D.F., 28A05-1702-AD-257, M.F. brought a paternity action for his child, E.B.F., that resulted in a custody order allowing he and J.W., the child’s mother, to continue sharing legal custody, with M.F. assuming primary physical custody and J.W. paying nothing in child support. Further, J.W. was given parenting time “at such times and upon such conditions as the parties are able to mutually agree.”

J.W. saw E.B.F. on Christmas Day 2013, one year before D.F., the child’s stepmother, filed an adoption petition on Jan. 2, 2015. During that time, E.B.F. lived with M.F. and D.F. and had little contact with J.W. Additionally, J.W. was unemployed, struggled with substance abuse, moved frequently and was in an abusive marriage during much of that time period.

During a consent hearing, the Greene Circuit Court determined J.W.’s consent to her child’s adoption was not required, then later determined the adoption would be in the child’s best interests and granted D.F.’s adoption petition. J.W. appealed, challenging the ruling that her consent was not required.

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld that decision Friday, finding J.W. failed to communicate significantly with E.B.F. for one year without justifiable cause. Specifically, Judge Paul Mathias referenced the trial courts findings, which found J.W. had not sent her child and letters of cards since Christmas 2013 and further discredited her testimony that D.F. had denied her the ability to contact E.B.F.

J.W. argued that her one-year lapse in communication should not overcome the 10 years she spent as E.B.F.’s sole physical custodian. But the purpose of the adoption statute is “’to foster and maintain’” parent-child communication, Mathias said, so it would be contrary to the statute “to excuse a parent from fostering and maintaining communication with her child simply because, before the one-year period, her communication was not poor.”

J.W. further argued the evidence did not support the trial court’s finding that she had no justifiable cause for her lack of communication, but the appellate panel disagreed, noting the trial court found she only made “minimal effort(s)” to have significant communication with E.B.F. Further, although D.F. testified in court that she would not let J.W. take the child if the child did not want to go with her, such a statement is not enough to show J.W.’s communication efforts were actually thwarted by D.F., the court said.

“We do not deny the difficulties Mother faced and overcame in 2014 in freeing herself from an abusive marriage and from her drug dependencies,” Mathias wrote. “…However, our law puts the burden on Mother to continue to foster and maintain her relationship with Child, no matter the inconvenience to her in doing so, and does not permit her simply to take a one-year hiatus from parenting without consequence, no matter that she used that year to improve her circumstances.”

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