COA: Mother didn’t abandon child, consent needed for adoption

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A northern Indiana mother has won a reversal on an adoption petition granted to her child’s stepmother after the Court of Appeals of Indiana concluded she did not abandon her child and her consent was required for the adoption.

C.A.W. was born in October 2008 to mother J.R. and father S.W. The couple executed a paternity affidavit and the child remained in the mother’s custody until 2015, when C.A.W. was adjudicated as a child in need of services.

Father filed a petition to modify custody, and in 2016, the parties entered into an agreed order providing: (1) joint legal custody of the child; (2) S.W. having primary physical custody of the child; (3) “a child support order in the amount of $0.00” because the parties agreed to “contribute to the minor child’s expenses equally”; and (4) mother having “liberal parenting time of every other weekend and at all other time[s] as parties may reasonably agree.”

S.W. and C.A.W. lived with stepmother L.W. for three years, and father and stepmother married in September 2020.

J.R. visited with C.A.W. once or twice a month and last saw her child a few days after his birthday in October 2020. Mother then spoke with the child the week before Christmas 2020 to make arrangements to see him for the holidays.

The mother, however, received a text message from S.W. that she would not be allowed to see or talk to the child and that the father was blocking her telephone number. J.R. has been unable to speak to or see C.A.W. since that time despite efforts to see the child at his school and at S.W.’s residence.

In June 2022, the St. Joseph Probate Court granted L.W.’s petition to adopt C.A.W., concluding J.R. had not seen or communicated with the child since October 2020, had a “very sporadic role” in the child’s life and “would abandon” the child for significant time over the years.

Upon review, the Court of Appeals found the petition shouldn’t have been granted without the consent of J.R.

First, the COA found that the evidence was clear that S.W. thwarted communication between J.R. and her child, citing E.B.F. v. D.F., 93 N.E.3d 759 (Ind. 2018), in concluding the trial court erred on the abandonment claim.

Further, the judges found the mother did provide some items to the child while the stepmother was asking to reweigh the evidence regarding failure to provide support.

“Under these circumstances, we cannot say the trial court erred in concluding that Indiana Code Section 31-19-9-8(a)(2) did not provide a basis by which to dispense with the consent requirement,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote.

The case is In the Matter of the Adoption of C.W.; J.R v. L.W., 22A-AD-1804.

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