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COA: Inmate’s implied consent to adoption upheld but feels ‘unjust’

April 20, 2018

A conflicted Indiana Court of Appeals panel on Friday affirmed an adoption order in which a prison inmate who was the child’s biological father objected, but was deemed to have given implied consent for failing to put his name on the state’s Putative Father Registry. 

Father J.R.C. has been serving time in the Department of Correction for a meth conviction since before 4-year-old K.A.W. was born. In February 2016, adoptive parents filed their adoption petition.

The prior December, father had filed a motion to establish paternity and petitioned for a DNA test that confirmed he was the child’s father. He later filed a motion to contest the adoption, but the child’s mother later consented. J.R.C. did not register on the Putative Father Registry until late August 2017.

The Harrison Circuit Court found that because the father had not registered on the Putative Father Registry before the adoption petition was filed, his consent to the adoption was irrevocably implied. The Court of Appeals grudgingly affirmed in a pointed opinion in In Re the Adoption and Paternity of K.A.W., J.R.C. v. J.C. and D.C., 31A01-1712-AD-2797.

“Putative Father makes a compelling argument that the purpose of the Putative Father Registry is to ensure that putative fathers have notice if someone is seeking to adopt their child(ren). I.C. § 31-19-5-3,” Judge John Baker wrote for the panel. “In this case, Putative Father not only had notice, he was an active participant; first, he took the initiative to file a pro se paternity action and then, he actively took part in the adoption proceedings.”

“Here, therefore, there was no true reason that he had to register. Indeed, it feels as though this outcome is not only nonsensical, but unjust; it feels as though his action of filing the paternity cause should have been enough to preserve his right to object; it feels as though this is the ultimate ‘gotcha’ outcome,” Baker wrote. “In a perfect world, we would reverse. But this world is not perfect, and the statute says what it says, which is that the failure to register in a timely fashion leads to irrevocably implied consent. We are compelled to affirm the trial court given the plain language of the statute at issue.”J.R.C. also argued the adoption should not have been granted because adoptive parents did not submit an affidavit from the Department of Health stating whether he had registered as a putative father or had filed a petition to establish paternity.

“Putative Father is correct that such an affidavit is required, see I.C. § 31-19-11-1(a)(4), but in this case its omission was harmless. Everyone, including Adoptive Parents and the trial court, was on notice that Putative Father had filed a petition to establish paternity and, in the end, had registered as a putative father,” the panel held. “Moreover, Putative Father had actual notice of the adoption and was an active participant in the proceedings. Consequently, any departure from statutory procedure in this regard was harmless.”

The court did offer advice in a footnote to family law attorneys who may face such situations: “(T)he takeaway for practitioners (though we acknowledge that Putative Father instituted his paternity action pro se) is that the best course of action under circumstances similar to these would be to register with the Putative Father Registry contemporaneously with—or even before—the filing of a paternity action.” 

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