UCCJEA Does Not Apply to Adoption Proceedings; Granting of Adoption Petition Affirmed – Published Opinion from Ky. Court of Appeals

T.R.F. v. D.A.H.

Jefferson Circuit Court

Biological Father and Mother were in a relationship for approximately ten years but never married. They had two children. The relationship was tumultuous, as Biological Father abused alcohol and was often intoxicated, during which time he was often abusive to Mother, which the Children witnessed. In a custody case in Indiana, the court suspended Biological Father’s previously awarded supervised visitation after he failed to obtain someone to supervise his visitation, noted that Biological Father’s visitation had been suspended for a year, and granted sole custody to Mother.

Mother met Stepfather, and she and the Children moved to Kentucky to live with him in 2016. Mother and Stepfather married in October of 2017. Several months later, Stepfather petitioned for adoption of the Children to which Biological Father did not consent. Biological Father moved to dismiss the action, arguing Indiana had exclusive, continuing jurisdiction from the custody case, which Family Court overruled.

Family Court held a hearing on the petition. Stepfather testified that he was a part of the Children’s lives, provided for them financially, and wanted to adopt them as his own children. Mother testified regarding Biological Father’s alcohol abuse and physical abuse to her, both of which the Children witnessed. As of the time of the hearing, Biological Father had not seen the children in over three years. The Children testified that they considered Stepfather a parent and wished to be adopted by him. They had negative memories of Biological Father, and neither desired to visit with Biological Father. Biological Father testified that he did not abuse alcohol but admitted to having several DUIs. He testified that despite his absence, he had financially supported the Children but later clarified that he did not directly make child support payments but gave his mother access to his bank account for her to assist the Children. He admitted that his absence was because of his failure to follow the Indiana court’s order and had no justifiable excuse for that failure. Finally, Biological Father’s mother testified that Biological Father did not provide her money to pay child support but that she made payments to Mother from her own funds. After the hearing, Family Court, analyzing the involuntary termination of parental rights statute, granted Stepfather’s petition for adoption. Biological Father appealed.

Biological Father argued that Family Court lacked jurisdiction over the petition based on the UCCJEA. The Kentucky Court of Appeals held that the UCCJEA does not apply to adoption proceedings. The UCCJEA applies to child custody determinations, which are orders concerning the “legal custody, physical custody, or visitation with respect to a child”. It expressly excepts adoption proceedings in KRS 403.802. Although adoptions do in effect terminate a parent’s rights, which proceedings are covered by the UCCJEA, that fact does not convert the proceeding into a termination proceeding.

Biological Father argued that Family Court abused its discretion in finding that all the prerequisites to adoption were satisfied. The Court of Appeals disagreed. An adoption without consent involves four distinct considerations: (1) whether the petitioner complied with the jurisdictional requirements for adoptions; (2) whether any of the conditions outlined in KRS 199.502(1) had been established; (3) whether the petitioner is of good moral character, of reputable standing in the community, and of ability to properly maintain and educate the children as required by KRS 199.520(1); and (4) whether the best interest of the children would be promoted by the adoption, and whether the child is suitable for adoption.

Regarding the first consideration, the petitioner must be eighteen and a resident of Kentucky or have resided in Kentucky for 12 months next before filing. The petition must be filed in the county in which the petitioner resides. Stepfather pleaded he was a resident of Kentucky, and he filed the petition in Jefferson County where he lived with Mother and the Children. The children must have resided with the petitioner for at least 90 days prior to the petition. The Children lived continuously with Stepfather and Mother since 2016, well over 90 days.

Regarding the second consideration, KRS 199.502(1) requires a finding of the existence of one of the conditions therein, including, inter alia, that the parent has abandoned the child for a period of not less than 90 days, KRS 199.502(1)(a), and that the parent has continuously or repeatedly inflicted or allowed to be inflicted upon the child, by other than accidental means, physical injury or emotional harm, KRS 199.502(1)(c). Family Court concluded that Biological Father abandoned the Children for a period well exceeding 90 days, finding that Biological Father had not seen, cared for, or provided support for the Children in several years. Family Court also found that Biological Father emotionally harmed the children by abusing Mother in front of them.

Family Court properly found that Stepfather was of good moral character, of reputable standing in the community, and of ability to properly maintain and educate the children, satisfying the third consideration. Finally, Family Court properly found that adoption was in the Children’s best interest.

Digested by Nathan R. Hardymon

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