Attorney for Appellant Attorney for Appellee
Charles P. Rice Yvonne F. Watkins
South Bend, IN Indianapolis, IN
Joseph And Jana Robbins,
Appeal from the Hamilton Superior Court, No. 29D01-0008-AD-1058
The Honorable Steven R. Nation, Judge
On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 29A02-0202-CV-107
December 9, 2003
The maternal grandmother and Jana Robbins were co-workers. The biological mother, the
biological father, and the maternal grandparents not only knew of the adoptive parents
desire to adopt a child but also knew that the adoptive parents were
fearful of adoption proceedings because of two negative experiences of families in their
church where bonding had occurred between prospective adoptive parents and a child and
then the adoption was not finalized.
The adoptive parents hired attorney Raymond Adler to assist them in drafting a
petition for adoption (Petition) and adoption consent forms (Consents). The Petition and
the Consents were given to the biological parents and maternal grandparents for review
and comment. After the review of the documents by the biological parents
and maternal grandparents, the adoptive parents were advised that the documents contained misspellings
of names and that such misspellings needed to be corrected. The misspellings
were corrected and the biological parents and maternal grandparents invited the adoptive parents
to dinner at the home of the maternal grandparents so that the Consents
could be signed and the adoption proceed.
The biological mother, the biological father, and the maternal grandparents signed the Consents
on or about July 24, 2000. Joe Robbins took the already-signed Consents
to the Hamilton County Sheriffs Department where a Notary Public, Kathy J. Gordon,
notarized all of the Consents. But, as noted above, the Consents had
already been executed; none of them were actually signed in the Notarys presence.
Attorney Adler then filed the Petition along with the Consents in the Hamilton
erior Court on August 10, 2000. On August 15, 2000, the Court
appointed the adoptive parents the guardians of the unborn child.
All of the foregoing took place while the biological mother was still pregnant.
In early September, the adoptive parents were contacted by the maternal grandmother
who advised them that the biological mother was going into labor. The
adoptive parents went to the hospital and on September 7, 2000, the baby
At the hospital, the biological parents delivered the infant Baxter into the custody
of the adoptive parents. (The trial court found that a video made
at the hospital showed that these events occurred knowingly and voluntarily.)
On or before September 20, 2000, the biological mother and the maternal grandmother contacted the adoptive parents to revoke their consent and reclaim custody of the infant.
On October 17, 2000, the biological mother, biological father, maternal grandparents, and paternal grandparents filed with the court papers denominated Combined Emergency Motion to Set Aside Guardianship And Custody Order Pending Adoption And Revocation Of Consent To Adopt, Petition For Habeas Corpus, Petition To Dismiss Adoption Petition, And Motion To Transfer. The Motion to Set Aside alleged that the pre-birth consents are voidable pursuant to Indiana law.
On June 29, 2001, the Hamilton Superior Court held a hearing to determine whether the Consents were valid. The court found that the biological parents and the maternal grandparents had knowingly and voluntarily signed the Consents. However, the court also found that the signatures of the biological parents and maternal grandparents had not been executed in the presence of a notary public as required by Ind. Code § 31-19-9-2 and that, under Ind. Code § 33-16-2-2, the Consents of the biological parents and maternal grandparents had been improperly notarized. Based on this evidence, the court concluded that the Consents signed by the biological parents and maternal grandparents were not properly executed and therefore were of no force or effect. The court certified its ruling for Interlocutory Appeal.
The Court of Appeals affirmed. In re Adoption of Baxter, 778 N.E.2d
417, 422 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002); transfer granted 792 N.E.2d 41 (Ind. 2003)
The Consent Statute is implicated in this case because, while the Consents bear
the signature of a notary public, the parties acknowledge that none of the
biological mother, the biological father, or the maternal grandparents were in the presence
of the notary public when she notarized the Consents. Nor were the
Consents executed in the presence of any of the other five entities listed
in the Consent Statute.
The biological parents argue that the Consent Statute sets forth a mandatory and
exclusive regimen for executing consents to adoption. Because the Consents were not
executed in the presence of any of the entities listed in the Consent
Statute, they contend that the Consents were not valid and were void ab
initio. They buttress their argument by restating the long-standing principle that because
the Adoption Code is in derogation of the common law, it must be
strictly construed in favor of the rights of natural parents.
The adoptive parents contend that the failure of the Consents to meet the
ations set forth in the Consent Statute do not render the Consents invalid
but only deny the Consents presumptive validity. Because the Consent Statute says
that consents may be executed rather than must be executed in
the presence of the specified entities, the adoptive parents argue that they are
permitted to employ additional evidence of the Consents validity. Furthermore, they argue
that the biological parents admission that they signed the Consents, combined with the
trial courts finding that the Consents were signed knowingly and voluntarily, confirms the
validity of the Consents.
We disagree, however, with [the biological mothers] contention that fai
lure to conform to
the statute renders a consent void ab initio. We find the
intent of the statute, which is designed to provide an equitable adoption procedure
by protecting the rights of the adoptive parents and the child as well
as those of the biological parents, is best served by finding the consent
voidable. A voidable consent is ratified by subsequent action. In the
case of a pre-birth consent, such consent is ratified by a post-birth act
which sufficiently manifests a present intention to give the child up for adoption.
H.M.G., 606 N.E.2d at 874 (footnote and citation omitted). The court went on to cite in support of its position virtually identical cases involving virtually identical statutory language from Arizona, Florida, and New York that had reached the same result. Id. at 786 (discussing In re Adoption of Krueger, 448 P.2d 82 (1968); In re Adoption of Long, 56 So.2d 450 (Fla. 1952); and Anonymous v. Anonymous, 530 N.Y.S.2d 613, 617 (App.Div. 1988). See footnote The court concluded that the post-birth conduct of the mother in H.M.G. constituted ratification.
In deciding the case before us, the Court of Appeals was of the
opinion that its conclusion in H.M.G. as to the timing of an adoption
consent did not require the same result with regard to whether the consent
had to be executed in the presence of one of the entities specified
in the Consent Statute. Baxter, 778 N.E.2d at 421-22. As noted
supra, the court went on to hold that a consent that is not
executed in the presence of one of the entities specified in the Consent
Statute, unlike a consent given before the birth of a child, is void
and not merely voidable. Id.
Given the plain language of the Consent Statute, we are hard pressed to
see how we can have a different rule for consents given before birth
and consents not executed in the presence of one of the specified entities.
Again, the Consent Statute reads: The consent to adoption may be executed
at any time after the birth of the child either in the presence
of [any one of the six specified entities]. If a consent not
executed in the presence of one of the specified entities cannot be valid,
we see no way to read this language to say that a consent
given before birth can be valid.
We believe H.M.G. was correctly decided and its rule controls the outcome here.
The Consent Statute requires the biological parents to give their written consent
to an adoption after the birth of the child. H.M.G. holds that
if the written consent is given prior to birth, that requirement may nevertheless
be satisfied by a post-birth act which sufficiently manifests a present intention to
give the child up for adoption. H.M.G., 606 N.E.2d at 874.
The Consent Statute requires the written consent to be executed in the presence
of any one of six specified entities. Consistent with the rule of
H.M.G., we hold that if the written consent is not executed in the
presence of any one of six specified entities, the validity of the consent
may nevertheless be satisfied by evidence that the signatures are authentic and genuine
in all respects and manifest a present intention to give the child up
for adoption. (In reaching this conclusion, we note that ten years have
past since H.M.G. and it is likely that legislative acquiescence has set in.
A decades worth of Indiana adoptions have occurred where the parties expectations
may well have been set based on H.M.G.s holding.)
Given this evidence of record, we remand this case to the trial court
for a determination of whether the Consents are authentic and valid even though
they were not executed in the presence of any one of six entities
specified in the Consent Statute.
Were we writing on a clean slate, I would take the position that
the Adoption Code evidences an intent that a natural parent cannot consent to
an adoption prior to the birth of the child. As Judge Buchanan
pointed out years ago:
[Pre-birth] consents fail to allow for one of natures strongest instincts. Who knows what the reaction will be of a mother once she sees her baby? Does the view of the majority that such a consent is valid allow for maternal instinct? To deny the mothers natural desire to keep her baby is in derogation of the purpose of our statute to preserve the natural family relationship to the fullest extent possible.
Johnson v. Cupp, 274 N.E.2d 411, 418 (Ind. Ct. App. 1971) (Buchanan, J., dissenting) (emphasis in the original) (interpreting prior version of Adoption Statute and holding absent express statutory provision or judicial interpretation to the contrary, the consent signed by respondent . . . was not invalid for the reason that it was signed prior to the birth of the child. Id. at 414.). However, we are not writing on a clean slate. At least since Johnson, pre-birth consent has been the law in this jurisdiction. And although I am not so sure the doctrine of legislative acquiescence requires adherence to the rule of either Johnson or H.M.G., See footnote I do agree that decades worth of Indiana adoptions have occurred where the parties expectations may well have been set based on H.M.G.s holding, slip op. at 7, as well as the holding in Johnson. Because the general public, service providers, as well as the legal community have ordered their affairs in accordance with this long-standing precedent, I would be reluctant to alter the landscape. Thus, I would continue to adhere to the rule of H.M.G. that a pre-birth consent to an adoption is valid provided there is post-birth conduct ratifying the consent.
The problem in this case however is whether there was ever pre-birth consent
in the first place. Unknown at common law, adoption is purely a
creature of statutory creation. Importantly, the law in this jurisdiction is clear,
unequivocal, and of long duration that the Adoption Code must be strictly construed
in favor of the rights of the natural parents. Adoptive Parents of
M.L.V. v. Wilkens, 598 N.E.2d 1054, 1056 (Ind. 1992); Emmons v. Dinelli, 235
Ind. 249, 133 N.E.2d 56, 60 (1956); Bray v. Miles, 23 Ind. App.
432, 54 N.E. 446, 448 (1899). This is so because the parent-child
relationship represents a bundle of human rights of fundamental importance. In re
Adoption of Thomas, 431 N.E.2d 506, 512 (Ind. Ct. App. 1982). Additionally,
strict construction is traditionally required because adoption proceedings deprive natural parents of all
their rights over their children forever. In re Adoption of Force, 126
Ind. App. 156, 131 N.E.2d 157, 158 (1956). In this case the
statute provides in no uncertain terms that consent occurs when it is executed
in the presence of one of the five listed entities. See Ind.
Code § 31-19-9-2. That did not happen here. Thus, there was
no consent. And absent consent there is nothing to which post-birth conduct
can attach. I therefore dissent and would affirm the judgment of the