There are two general types of adoptions of a minor child. The new family adoption, and the step-parent adoption.
First, the new family adoption, which terminates both the Mother and Father’s parental rights, and the new family (new mother and father) acquire the same parental rights as the biological parents once had.1
The second type of adoption is commonly known as “step-parent” adoption. A step-parent adoption only divests one parent of his or her parental rights in lieu of the step-parent acquiring parental rights. For example, biological mother and step-father wish for step-father to adopt mother’s child; the biological father’s rights terminate, but the biological mother’s remain intact2. The Indiana Statute that addresses step-parent adoptions states in relevant part that “If the adoptive parent of a child is married to a biological parent of the child, the parent-child relationship of the biological parent is not affected by the adoption.”
However, what if the biological parent is not married, but living with a significant other? In 2004 the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed this very issue with respect to same sex partners, but left the issue open ended for opposite sex significant others cohabitating together. In In re Adoption of K.S.P. the Indiana Court of Appeals held that if a same-sex partner adoption a child, the biological parent was NOT divested of his or her parental rights and obligations.3
Recently, the Indiana Court of Appeals was presented with a slightly different fact pattern than in In re Adoption of K.S.P., in In the Matter of the Adoption of J.T.A. where the child’s father and his fiancé were living together, had two children together, and the fiancé wished to adopt father’s child from a previous relationship.4 In the Matter of the Adoption of J.TA. the trial court denied fiancé’s petition to adopt J.T.A. on several grounds, one being that because J.T.A’s father and fiancé were not married, both the biological mother and father’s parental rights and obligations would be terminated upon fiancé’s adoption of J.T.A. The Indiana Court of Appeals held that this was not the case, and the trial court was incorrect.
The Court of Appeals held in In the Matter of the Adoption of J.TA. that fiancé and father formed a family unit, and to divest father of his parental rights and obligations would be to read the statute literally, rather than give deference to the public policy purpose behind the statute. In any adoption proceeding, the best interests of the child are paramount. Thus, because it was clear that father and fiancé were acting as parents to J.T.A. and their legal marriage does not change that, it would be “absurd and contrary to the intent of the legislature to divest Father of his parental rights where he would continue to live in a family unit with the Child and parent of the Child.”5
The Court’s ruling in In the Matter of the Adoption of J.TA., is significant as it shows the courts recognize that not all families fit into a certain mold, and that the Child’s best interests in continuing to be cared for by the persons (even including third parties) that they view as effectively their parents.
We hope that this blog post has been helpful in understanding some of the nuances of the adoption statutes. All adoption cases are different, and to fully understand the best course of action in your situation, you may want to consider consulting with an attorney.
Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Lori Schmeltzer.
- IC 31-19-15-1
- IC 31-19-15-2
- In re Adoption of K.S.P., 804 N.E.2d 1253, 1260 (Ind.Ct.App.2004)
- In the Matter of the Adoption of J.TA., N.E.2d (Ind.Ct.App.2013)
- The Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed the trial court’s denial of fiancé’s adoption of J.T.A. based on the lack of notice provided to the biological mother, and stated that the opinion did not prevent fiancé from filing another petition for adoption in the future, whereby the statutory notice and consent requirements are met.