The Indiana Supreme Court has agreed with an appeals court in overturning a St. Joseph County judge's decision to let a Mishawaka woman adopt her stepchild over opposition from the girl's mother.
The stepmother, referred to only as "A.W." in court records, in June 2009 sought to adopt the then-8-year-old girl, who lived with her and the girl's father. The stepmother cited an Indiana statute stating she did not need the mother's consent for the adoption because she had failed to pay child support.
St. Joseph County Probate Judge Peter Nemeth granted the adoption.
But the mother appealed his ruling, and the Indiana Court of Appeals in September reversed Nemeth.
The Supreme Court today granted transfer, meaning it would grant the stepmother's request that it rule on the case. But then the high court simply adopted the appeals court's ruling without hearing oral arguments, something it typically does only about once a year.
"Under the circumstances before us, there is not a single shred of evidence indicating that this adoption could even remotely be considered to be in (the girl's) best interest," the Court of Appeals panel wrote.
The appeals court and Supreme Court acknowledged the mother had not paid child support, but noted she had not been ordered to do so. On the contrary, another judge in the couple's divorce case had determined she had a "negative child support obligation" because the father earned more than $112,000 in 2009, while she earned about $40,000.
The mother testified she had been visiting the girl on weekends until March 2009, when the father started prohibiting the visits until she paid child support.
But during their weekend parenting time before that point, the mother had provided the girl with housing, clothing, food and other necessities, according to court records.
She took her to different places, including movies and the zoo, and gave her gifts during holidays. She created a "nurturing environment" with no signs of neglect, the appeals court found.
"It is clear that mother wants to remain a loving presence in (the girl's) life," the appeals court ruled.
"Not only is mother intent on retaining her parental rights and obligations, but (the girl) herself signals that she wants mother in her life. The record includes notes from (the girl) to her mother, stating among others, "I Love you," and, "Dear mommy, I have missed you a lot, love (the girl's name).' "
In its order, the Supreme Court also took the even more unusual step of stating the mother has a right under Indiana law to recover her attorney fees from the stepmother. State statute allows recovery of attorney fees from the opposing party in cases where someone brings a civil court action that is "frivolous, unreasonable or groundless," or is in "bad faith."
"The record before us suggests one or more of these grounds may exist ..." the high court wrote.
Attorneys for the mother and stepmother did not return calls seeking comment.
----------------------Hooray! Victory over one very mean, vindictive father who does not have his daughter's bets interest at heart. Thank goodness the court saw through this mean lying.
I very much identify with the case. My own husband tried the same tricks on me. He obtained custody by lying to our children and because he out-earned me. Then tried unsuccessfully to sue me for child support (with almost identical disparity in income) and even went as far as trying to stop my visitation during the time he briefly had custody of our three children. He tried to claim I was mentally unstable because I was so devastated and depressed by what he was doing. His own lawyer told him not to "go there" knowing there was no claim of mental unfitness. He permanently damaged our children.
Disputed custody - whether as a result of divorce or a contested traditional adoption - is always harmful to the children, Children should never be taken from their blood relatives without serious due cause for their safety and well-being, because even then it leaves scars.