Biological father wins in stepfather’s bid to overturn paternity, adopt child

A stepfather seeking to vacate a paternity determination and adopt his wife’s child was not permitted to do so after the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded that the biological father’s consent to the adoption was required.

At the time of their child’s birth in 2013, mother M.J. and father S.R. executed a paternity affidavit indicating that S.R. was the baby’s biological father. From that point on, S.R. exercised parenting time and paid child support.

After M.J. married J.L.J. in 2019, S.R. filed a petition to establish paternity, custody and child support in Sullivan Circuit Court. When both parties admitted S.R. was the biological father, the court granted him visitation and ordered mediation for the remaining issues.

But while those issues were pending, J.L.J petitioned to adopt the child, arguing that S.R. was not the biological father and that his consent was not required. Additionally, the stepfather asked the trial court to consolidate the paternity case with the adoption case and to order the parties to undergo DNA testing.

The trial consolidated the two cases and allowed J.L.J. to intervene in the paternity action “for the limited purpose of allowing the parties to proceed with the Motion to Dismiss in the Adoption cause of action.”

During a hearing on the issues, M.J. flipped on her previous testimony and testified that she was three months pregnant with the child when she met S.R., that he was not the biological father and that S.R. knew he was not the biological father. She further admitted that she lied when she previously testified that S.R. was the biological father.

But the trial court denied J.L.J.’s request for DNA testing and granted S.R.’s motion to contest and dismiss the petition, also doing away with J.L.J.’s motion to vacate the paternity determination. The trial court noted that it was unwilling to “de-parent” the child because “mother has found a new husband and now wants to undo what she previously has done.”

An appellate panel affirmed in In the Matter of the Adoption of R.A.K.R.: J.L.J.; In the Matter of the Paternity of R.A.K.R.: S.R., M.J., J.L.J., 21A-AD-187.

The panel acknowledged that, as J.L.J. pointed out, there is a substantial public policy in correctly identifying parents and their offspring.

“But here, we do not have a man alleging to be Child’s biological father petitioning the court to establish paternity; rather, we have a prospective adoptive parent trying to set aside paternity in order to obviate the requirement for Father’s consent,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the appellate court.

The court further concluded that because S.R.’s paternity had already been established, Indiana Code § 31-14-21-8(b)(2) did not allow the stepfather to request DNA testing. Nether could he request it under § 31-14-21-9.1(a).

“Because Stepfather cannot seek to rescind or set aside the paternity affidavit in order to obviate the requirement for Father’s consent, the paternity affidavit stands. Accordingly, Father’s consent to the adoption of Child is required. Because Father has not given that consent, the trial court properly dismissed Stepfather’s petition to adopt Child,” the appellate court concluded.

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