Transfer petition in adoption case splits Indiana justices

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The Indiana Supreme Court’s denial of a petition to transfer a challenge to an adoption that was allowed to proceed without the parents’ consent drew a dissent from two justices who argued that forgoing the biological parents’ permission was “inconsistent with the purpose of the CHINS scheme at large.”

Three justices voted to deny transfer to In the Matter of Adoption of K.T. (Minor Child), J.J. (Father) and C.T. (Mother) v. G.C. and C.B., 20A-AD-02102. Justice Steven David wrote a dissent, which Chief Justice Loretta Rush joined.

The foster parents who had cared for K.T. since birth filed a petition for adoption while the minor was the subject of a child in need of services case. The Fulton Circuit Court ultimately decided K.T.’s biological parents were “too unfit” and that dispensing with their consents to the adoption was in the child’s best interests.

A unanimous Indiana Court of Appeals found the trial court did not err. Characterizing the mother’s arguments as misunderstanding Indiana’s caselaw, the appellate panel cited Lake County Division of Family and Children Services v. T.B., (In re Adoption of T.B.), 622 NE.2d 921 (Ind. 1993), which allowed an adoption matter to move forward simultaneously with the adjudication of a CHINS proceeding.

However, David pointed out that in T.B., the adoption petition was granted after the parental rights had been terminated. Here, not only had the parental rights not been terminated, but K.T.’s CHINS proceeding was focused on reuniting the child with the biological parents.

David noted that the trial court’s basis for finding the parents unfit — their criminal history, substance abuse and lack of meaningful relationship with their child — were all being addressed in the CHINS reunification plan.

“This decision on parental consent in the adoption proceeding is entirely inconsistent with the notion that the CHINS was primarily seeking reunification,” David wrote. “If a reunification plan eventually fails and it is in the best interest of the child to be adopted, the CHINS proceeding can change its primary permanency plan to adoption, and the adoption and the CHINS proceedings may proceed concurrently. However, having the adoption and CHINS proceedings simultaneously progress with conflicting primary goals circumvents the established CHINS procedures for terminating parental rights.”

David argued for transfer to clarify to the trial courts how to proceed where there are simultaneous CHINS and adoption proceedings with conflicting primary goals.

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