Adoption challenged by biological father upheld on appeal

An Evansville man who was proven to be the father of a child adopted by foster parents, but whose paternity was never formally established by a court, lost his appeal Wednesday challenging the adoption.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the Vanderburgh Superior Court’s adoption decree in In the Adoption of K.H., D.R. v. M.M. and C.M., 20A-AD-337.

D.R. challenged the adoption of K.H., who became the subject of a child in need of services petition three days after he was born in April 2017. After the birth mother’s parental rights were terminated about a year later, foster parents M.M. and C.M., who had cared for the child since days after his birth, filed a petition to adopt.

D.R. objected, claiming that he was the child’s father, even though he had not registered through the Indiana State Department of Health Putative Father Registry. D.R. testified he had been in custody for a DUI and an assault at the time of K.H.’s birth, and that when he went to the hospital, he was told the baby wasn’t his.

“When asked if he did not have any contact with K.H. for the first eighteen months of his life, (D.R.) answered: ‘Right, ‘cause I was told that it wasn’t mine so I left it alone. I ain’t gonna go around looking for a kid,’” the record says. The opinion says D.R. claims to be the father of eight children ranging in age from 2 to 18. Though D.R. was established as the biological father through K.H.’s CHINS case, there has been no formal adjudication by a court of K.H.’s paternity.

While D.R. did visit with K.H., case workers said he refused to participate in services and missed several required drug screens, among other things.

In granting the adoption petition, the trial court made numerous findings that D.R.’s consent to the adoption was not required. Among others, the court found he was unfit to parent K.H. and the adoption was in the child’s best interest, to which the COA agreed.

“The trial court was in the best position to judge the facts, and we will not reweigh evidence or assess the credibility of the witnesses,” Judge Elaine Brown concluded for the appellate panel. “We cannot say under these circumstances that D.R. has met his 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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