Ohio Courts Rule On Adoption Case Involving Consent And Child Support
On February 26, 2020, the Ohio Supreme Court came out with the decision, In re Adoption of A.C.B., Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-629, where the Court held a non-custodial parent’s consent to the adoption of his child is not required when the parent failed, without justifiable cause, to comply with the child support obligations of a judicial decree.
What happened in the case with child support?
A.C.B.’s parents’ settlement (separation) agreement awarded sole custody to A.C.B.’s mother and ordered the father to pay $85 per week in child support. After leaving the United States to return to Kosovo, the father made sporadic child-support payments that diminished over time.
Two years later, A.C.B.’s mother reached out to the father, asking for his consent for her new husband (“stepfather”) to adopt A.C.B., but the father refused. A couple years later, the stepfather filed a petition to adopt A.C.B., arguing that the father’s consent was not required because the father failed to provide support as required by the judicial decree for the year prior to adoption petition.
The probate court held a hearing where it determined that the father made only a single child support payment in the year preceding the adoption petition, and it was made two days prior to the filing of the petition. The father, who made $58,000 per year, admitted that he could have easily afforded the required $85 per week and simply chose not to pay. The father argued that under O.R.C. § 3107.07(A), the provision of “any” support during the one-year period is sufficient to preserve his right, as the natural parent, to object to the adoption of his child.
What did the Court do?
The Court was concerned with whether, under O.R.C. § 3107.07(A), a noncustodial parent’s right to withhold consent to the adoption of his or her child should be measured by if he has provided the financial support as set forth by the terms of the judicial decree. Specifically, the Court dealt with the interpretation of “as required by law or judicial decree.”
In analyzing the issue, the Court applied a two-step analysis in determining if the parent’s consent is required for adoption. The first step requires the Court to assess whether a parent has failed to provide support as required by law or judicial decree. According to the O.R.C., the court should review the child support payments for the year prior to the filing of the adoption petition. However, the Court noted that failure to provide support as required by judicial decree will not necessarily mean that the parent lost the right to withhold consent to the adoption. Instead, the Court turns to the second step of the analysis.
The second step requires the adoptive parent to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s failure to pay was without justifiable cause. The clear and convincing evidence standard is the highest degree of proof required and will ordinarily be hard for the adoptive parent to show.
After considering the two steps, the Court held that the father’s lone $200 payment over the one-year period did not constitute the support “as required by law or judicial decree.” Rather, this sole payment was less than 5% of the father’s annual obligation. The stepfather was also able to establish a lack of justifiable cause. Supporting the stepfather’s argument was the fact that the probate court found that the father lacked justifiable cause and the father did not challenge that finding.
What should you take away?
Under O.R.C. § 3107.07(A), a parent’s consent to the adoption of his child is not required when the parent has failed, without justifiable cause, to provide for the maintenance and support of the child as required by law or judicial decree for a period of one year prior to the filing of the adoption petition. While the Court pointed out that not every failure to pay will terminate a parent’s right to withhold consent, when the parent has the means to pay the required amount and doesn’t do so without a valid reason or only makes a single payment, that is enough to fulfill the adoptive parent’s burden of showing “without justifiable cause.”
Click here to read the case as well as the concurring opinion and the dissents.
PUBLISHERS NOTE: I want to thank Ashlyn O’Brien, a third-year law student at the University of Dayton School of Law, for all of her assistance in drafting this blog article. Excellent job Ashlyn!
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Robert L. Mues
Attorney Robert "Chip" Mues has been focusing his legal practice throughout Southwest Ohio primarily in divorce and family law matters since 1978. Chip is passionate about family law and has proudly published the Ohio Family Law Blog since 2007. In addition, he is the managing partner of Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues. To learn more about him or the law firm, visit the firm's website at www.hcmmlaw.com. Appointments are available in person, over the phone or by Zoom. Call us at 937 293-2141.