Findings not made to dispense with biological father’s adoption consent

The Indiana Court of Appeals has remanded a granted adoption petition after finding a trial court failed to make findings that would allow for the children’s biological father’s consent to be dispensed with.

While incarcerated, D.T. occasionally saw his two children when their mother brought them to visit. However, when mother, L.M., began dating J.M., the visits stopped. The two eventually got married, and J.M. petitioned to adopt the children.

Meanwhile, D.T. continued to write letters and cards to his children and attempted to call them, which L.M. did not pass along to them. When D.T. objected to the adoption, and a hearing was held and L.M. admitted to thwarting his communication attempts with the children. Although it concluded that D.T.’s consent was required for the adoption, the St. Joseph Probate Court ultimately granted the adoption petition in J.M.’s favor.

The Indiana Court of Appeals remanded that decision in D.T.’s favor, finding that the trial court erred in granting the adoption petition.

“In order to dispense with Biological Father’s consent pursuant to [Indiana Code] Section 31-19- 9-8(a)(11) and grant the adoption, the court was required to assess the best interests of the children at two stages: (1) a finding that Biological Father is unfit and that it is in the best interests of the children to dispense with Biological Father’s consent pursuant to Section 31-19-9-8(a)(11) and (2) a finding that adoption by Adoptive Father is in the children’s best interests pursuant to Section 31-19-11-1(a),” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote. “The trial court’s order appears to have conflated the first best-interests inquiry with the second.”

The appellate court therefore remanded with instructions for the trial court to first determine whether D.T. is unfit to be a parent and, if so, whether it is in the best interests of the children to dispense with his consent.

“Only if the court makes these first two determinations should it move on to the best-interests analysis required under Section 31-19-11-1(a),” the appellate court concluded in D.T. v. J.M., 19A-AD-1334.

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