Appellate court upholds denial of stepmother’s adoption petition

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A Hendricks County stepmother cannot adopt her husband’s son because the child’s mother was justified in her failure to regularly communicate with the child for several years, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

Stepmother J.P. is married to Co.P., the father of C.P., who received sole custody of the child due to mother M.W.’s drug use. J.P. petitioned to adopt C.P. in May 2018, arguing M.W.’s consent was not necessary under Indiana Code sections 31-19-9-8(a)(1), (2) and (11).

But Co.P. did consent to the adoption and told the Hendricks Superior Court that M.W. had not made efforts to arrange parenting time since January 2016. But M.W. did ask the court to grant her parenting time in February 2018, and during the adoption proceedings she told the judge she was off drugs, had another son and wanted “the chance to be in (C.P.’s) life again.” When asked why she did not have contact with C.P., M.W. said she “wanted to get things right.”

The trial court then denied J.P.’s adoption petition, agreeing with M.W. that it was in C.P.’s best interest that she not have contact with him while she resolved her substance abuse and criminal issues. Thus, the court held, the mother had justifiable cause not to significantly communicate with C.P.

J.P. appealed in In Re the Adoption of C.P., Minor Child J.P. v. M.W., 18A-AD-2947, arguing again that M.W.’s consent wasn’t required because her lack of communication wasn’t justified. J.P. further argued that she was the only mother C.P. had known, as he was only 1-year-old when he was removed from M.W.’s care.

But “(t)he trial court specifically found that Biological Mother’s testimony was convincing, that she had filed a request for parenting time prior to the filing of the petition for adoption, the parent-child relationship between Biological Mother and Child can be reestablished, and it is not in Child’s best interests that the adoption be granted,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote, upholding the trial court’s ruling.

“The trial judge is in the best position to judge the facts, and we will not reweigh evidence or assess the credibility of the witnesses,” Brown wrote. “We cannot say under these circumstances that Stepmother has met her burden to overcome the presumption the trial court’s decision is correct or that the evidence leads to but one conclusion and the trial court reached the opposite conclusion.”  

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