COA upholds denial of grandparents’ adoption petition

A request by grandparents to adopt a grandson found to be a child in need of services was properly denied, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday, upholding a trial court’s determination that adoption was not in the child’s best interests.

In November 2017, child E.M.M. was determined to be a child in need of services after the Indiana Department of Child Services received a report that his mother, C.P., and stepfather, N.P., had physically abused him. E.M.M.’s half-sibling also was adjudicated a CHINS, but the children were returned to C.P. and N.P. after a short time in foster care.

Then in February 2018, M.W., the half-sibling, was taken to the hospital with a broken leg and bruises on her face. The children were then then placed in the care of their grandparents, C.G. and D.G.

The mother and stepfather were eventually convicted of domestic battery, and DCS moved to terminate mother’s parental rights. E.M.M.’s father, O.M., was located in Arizona, so DCS changed the permanency plan to reunification between E.M.M. and O.M.

The grandparents, however, moved to adopt E.M.M., with his mother’s consent. The father did not respond to the adoption petition within the statutory timeframe, but he and DCS both later contested the adoption. The St. Joseph Probate Court dismissed the motions contesting the adoption but ordered that E.M.M. live with O.M. while the adoption petition was proceeding.

The probate court heard evidence on the adoption petition in June 2020, which included testimony from the court appointed special advocate. Ultimately, the adoption was found to not be in E.M.M.’s best interests and was denied.

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld that ruling Wednesday, with Judge Edward Najam noting that even though O.M.’s motion contesting the adoption was dismissed, the trial court was still required to make a best-interests determination.

“Here, Grandparents maintain that the evidence shows that the adoption is in Child’s best interests because Father was absent from Child’s life for many years and Child had a stable home with Grandparents,” Najam wrote. “But Grandparents’ contentions on appeal are merely a request that we reweigh the evidence, which we cannot do.

“The CASA testified, unequivocally, that adoption is not in Child’s best interests,” Najam continued. “The CASA described Child as happy living with Father and his extended family in Arizona. And the CASA testified that Child was doing well in school and enjoyed sports.

“Further, the trial court conducted an in camera interview with Child,” Najam concluded. “We cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion when it found that adoption is not in Child’s best interests and denied Grandparents’ adoption petition.”

The case is In the Matter of the Adoption of E.M.M.; C.G. and D.G. v. O.M., 20A-AD-1474.

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