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In re Adoption of J.F.R-W.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Belmont

March 30, 2017

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF J.F.R-W.

         Civil Appeal from Court of Common Pleas, Probate Division of Belmont County, Ohio Case No. 16 BE 0045.

          For Appellant Attorney Sandra Nicholoff

          For Appellee Attorney Grace Hoffman

          JUDGES: Hon. Gene Donofrio Hon. Cheryl L. Waite Hon. Carol Ann Robb

          OPINION

          DONOFRIO, J.

         {¶1} Respondent-appellant, Paul B., appeals from the Belmont County Probate Court judgment granting the adoption of J.F.R-W to petitioner-appellee, Heath W., who is the husband to the child's mother, Jessica W.

         {¶2} Paul married Jessica in 2006. They had a child, J.F.R-W, in 2008. Paul and Jessica's marriage eventually ended in divorce. As part of the divorce, Jessica was granted custody of J.F.R-W, and Paul was to have visitation.

         {¶3} Over time, contact between Paul and the child declined until Paul finally texted Jessica's phone to wish the child a happy birthday on January 10, 2015, his last contact.

         {¶4} Jessica eventually married Heath, who filed a petition to adopt the child on May 24, 2016. Paul refused to consent to the adoption. So the Belmont County Probate Court held a hearing to determine whether or not the adoption could proceed.

         {¶5} After the hearing, the court found that Paul had failed without justifiable cause to provide more than de minimis contact with the child over the year preceding the petition. Therefore the court granted the adoption without Paul's consent. Paul timely filed a notice of appeal on September 14, 2016.

         {¶6} Paul's sole assignment of error states:

THE PROBATE COURT COMMITTED REVERSIBLE ERROR WHEN IT HELD THAT APPELLANT, PAUL [B.]'S, CONSENT WAS NOT NECESSARY IN THE ADOPTION OF HIS MINOR CHILD BECAUSE HE FAILED TO MAINTAIN MORE THAN DE MINIMIS CONTACT WITHOUT JUSTIFICATION.

         {¶7} Paul focuses on the without-justifiable-cause element and argues that competent and credible evidence supports the position that Jessica's interference justified his lack of contact with the child.

         {¶8} He quotes the Ohio Supreme Court for the proposition that significant interference by a custodial parent justifies the other parent's failure to make contact with the child. In re Adoption of Holcomb, 18 Ohio St.3d 361, 367-368, 481 N.E.2d 613 (1985).

         {¶9} Paul then highlights portions of the record, which, he argues, show significant interference by Jessica justifying his lack of contact.

         {¶10} Paul refers to her: failing to encourage visitation; ignoring his calls and texts; changing the child's residence without telling him; blocking him on social media; quickly leaving when she and the child encountered him in a parking lot; failing to recall having missed his calls, despite phone records; calling an adoption lawyer two days after Paul raised the subject of visitation at a support hearing; and, finally, having Paul served by publication for the child's name change, and then by mail at his mother's for the adoption; and then giving conflicting answers about whether or not she knew that Paul's mother actually lived at that address.

         {¶11} Paul concludes his argument by asserting that the foregoing represents competent and credible evidence in support of the contention that Jessica's interference justified his lack of contact. Accordingly, Paul seeks for this Court to reverse ...


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