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Indiana Supreme Court rules on issue of consent in adoption cases

| Mar 19, 2021 | Adoption

In an adoption case, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s determination that the biological Mother’s consent was not required for the adoption because, for a period of one year, Mother failed to communicate significantly with her child and failed to support her child when able and required to do so.

In its review, the Indiana Supreme Court recited that the petitioner seeking an adoption carries the burden of proving the natural parent’s consent is unnecessary, and must do so by clear and convincing evidence. Various circumstances can dispense with the need for a natural parent’s consent, three of which were at issue in this case:

  • The child is adjudged to have been abandoned or deserted for six months or more immediately preceding the date of the filing of the petition for adoption;
  • For at least one year, the natural parent fails without justifiable cause to communicate significantly with the child when able to do so; or
  • The natural parent knowingly fails to provide for the care and support of the child when able to do so as required by law or judicial decree.

The Supreme Court reviewed three recent cases that addressed determinations of these conditions, which the Court summarized as follows:

“A parent who meets society’s expectations by maintaining a connection with her child and by financially supporting her child cannot have her legal relationship with the child severed without her consent. Conversely, when a parent fails to maintain a meaningful relationship with, or fails to financially support, that child, she loses her right as a natural parent to withhold consent to adoption.”

Applying these standards to the facts of the instant case, the Supreme Court found sufficient evidence that Mother failed to communicate significantly with Child without justifiable cause for at least one year, and that Mother failed to support Child when able and required to do so. The Court did not address the issue of abandonment, since the trial court’s order was properly based on these other grounds.

Clearly, the challenge of these cases is the highly fact-sensitive determination of what constitutes “significant” communication with the child, and/or whether a natural parent has the ability to support the child, but fails to do so.

The trial court’s order that Mother’s consent was not required for the adoption was affirmed.