Written By: Steven Kirsh, Adoption Attorney
On March 12, 2014, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided the case of In Re the Adoption of J.T.D. & J.S., 45A03-1308-AD-310 (Ind.App 2014) and held that the Juvenile Court of Lake County did not have jurisdiction to grant an adoption — only the Superior Courts in the Civil Division of Lake County possess probate jurisdiction, and the adoption statutes in Indiana provide that only courts with probate jurisdiction may grant adoptions. In a footnote, the Court of Appeals stated: “This opinion addresses the challenge of N.E. The finality of prior and pending adoption proceedings in the Juvenile Court has not been challenged and we do not address those proceedings.” Whether it is intended to affect those other adoption cases or not, this decision does affect them. If I were representing adoptive parents in a pending Lake County adoption matter, I would try to have the case transferred to one of the Superior Courts which has probate jurisdiction and be sure that the Superior, rather than Juvenile, Court granted the adoption.
If an adoption has been granted within the last year, I might file a motion under TR. 60, asking the Juvenile Court to reopen the adoption and transfer the case to Superior Court. This is a bit trickier, because I believe that the final decree of adoption might need to be set aside and then re-entered by the Superior Court. If the proceedings could be transferred to Superior Court, and the final adoption decree set aside and then reentered by the Superior Court immediately, or better yet, nunc pro tunc (as of the original date), I would be less concerned. However, this is not something that should be done without careful consideration of all of the issues involved, including, but not limited to – would setting aside the adoption reopen the time to appeal the final decree, would it impact when an adoption tax credit could be claimed, would it allow additional time to contest that finality of the adoption under Ind. Code 31-19-14?
There are cases, in Indiana, that have upheld the validity of judgments entered by courts without jurisdiction to render those judgments. The Indiana Supreme Court in Troxel v. Troxel, 737 N.E. 2d 745, 750 (Ind. 2000), held: “Indiana appellate courts have consistently held that a judgment rendered by a court without jurisdiction to hear that particular case is not void, but merely voidable. If not attacked in a timely manner, the jurisdictional defect is waived.” If this holding is applied to the previously granted adoptions, those adoptions should be valid.
I believe the Indiana Supreme Court will hear this case and clarify the ruling of the Court of Appeals.
If you are a party to an adoption which was finalized recently in Lake County, you should consult with your attorney about what action, if any, should be taken. This blog is intended to be a broad overview of a recent Court of Appeals decision and should be construed as a legal opinion or even legal advice as to what should be done in any particular case.