Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Sandusky
Court No. 20164018
M. Snyder, for appellant.
Nisch, for appellee.
DECISION AND JUDGMENT
1} This is an appeal from the January 22, 2019
judgment of the Sandusky County Court of Common Pleas,
Probate Division, by appellant, K.G., denying his adoption
petition. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
2} Appellant sets forth one assignment of error:
trial court abused its discretion by failing to grant the
petition for adoption.
3} Appellant is the stepfather of L.G., who was born
in October 2010. Stepfather is married to L.G.'s mother
("mother"). Appellee is L.G.'s biological
father. Father and mother were never married.
4} When L.G. was about one and one-half years old,
the Ottawa County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division,
named mother the residential and custodial parent of L.G. and
ordered father to pay child support in the amount of
approximately $275 per month. At that time, mother lived with
her parents and father lived with his parents. Father was
granted visitation with L.G. on Tuesdays and Thursdays for
two and one-half hours and Saturdays for six hours. At some
point, the visitation order was changed so that L.G. would
spend the night with father every other Saturday.
5} Father visited with L.G. according to the
schedule until 2012 or 2013, when L.G. was about three years
old, at which time father was incarcerated. After father was
released from jail, he resumed visits with L.G. until he was
incarcerated again for several months. When father was
released from jail, he again had visits with L.G.
6} In September 2015, mother and stepfather were
married and moved in together. Father visited with L.G. until
June of 2016, when mother found out there were criminal
charges against father and he had an upcoming court date.
Thereafter, mother did not allow father to visit L.G.
7} On December 29, 2016, stepfather filed a petition
to adopt L.G. with the probate court. At the time, father was
again incarcerated, and was served with the petition while in
jail. In the petition, stepfather alleged mother's
consent to the adoption was required but father's consent
was not required because father failed without justifiable
cause to provide for the maintenance and support of the child
for at least a year before the petition was filed. Mother
provided her consent to the adoption; father filed an
8} On April 13, 2017, a hearing was held on the
issue of father's consent. A magistrate issued a decision
finding father failed without justifiable cause to provide
support for L.G. at least a year before the adoption petition
was filed, and father's consent to the adoption of L.G.
was not required. On May 1, 2017, the probate court affirmed
and adopted the magistrate's decision.
9} On September 28, 2017, a best interest hearing
was held in the probate court. The court took the matter
under advisement. On January 22, 2019, the probate court
issued its judgment entry finding it was not in the best
interest of L.G. for the adoption to be granted. Stepfather
Best Interest Hearing
10} Numerous witnesses testified at the hearing,
including stepfather, mother, an adoption assessor, father,
father's mother ("grandmother") and a doctor on
father's behalf The relevant testimony is summarized
11} The assessor testified to the following. She is
a private contract employee employed through the court. She
receives an adoption application through the court, contacts
the petitioner to schedule a home visit, contacts
petitioner's four references and prepares a report. She
met with stepfather, mother, L.G. and L.G.'s half-sister,
M.G., for over two hours, and was able to observe their
interactions with each other. She described mother and
stepfather's relationship as appearing "very stable,
very committed to one another" and assessed
stepfather's relationship with L.G. as "very
strong." The assessor did not contact father or meet
with him, and therefore she was not able to assess anything
with respect to his relationship with L.G. The only
information the assessor learned regarding father and
L.G.'s relationship was reported to her by mother and
stepfather. In addition, the assessor did not contact
grandmother, father's doctor, or any of father's
contacts as "[she] was not aware of any of his
12} The assessor acknowledged, as part of her
investigation, that she was aware of the best interest
factors the court must consider in deciding whether an
adoption is in the child's best interest. She described
her investigation as "a comprehensive assessment of the
family, the household composition, the relationship between
the parties, the financial ability, the emotional stability,
criminal history or any history * * *, references who may
have had contact with Petitioner in a setting which would
include him with [L.G.] in their relationship, so it is a big
scope." The assessor recommended that stepfather's
petition for adoption be approved.
13} Mother testified at the hearing to the
following. L.G. is six years old and she met stepfather when
she was eight or nine months old. Stepfather has lived with
mother and L.G. since September 2015, when mother and
stepfather married. M.G. is mother and stepfather's
daughter, and is ten months old. L.G. loves M.G.
14} Father has visitation rights with L.G. through
an Ottawa County court order, and he last saw L.G. in June
2016. Mother stopped following the visitation order when
"[t]hings kind of started to get really messed up the
first time he was incarcerated * * * [in] 2012 or 2013."
L.G did not see father when he was incarcerated and "the
first time he got out, I would let him still see her, but at
my house for a couple times, and then * * * things kind of
started to go back to normal * * * and then he got in trouble
again." Mother contacted her attorney "after the
second or third time * * * and I decided it was too confusing
for L.G. and with us being married * * * he [father] has not
seen her since he got out." After father's last
visit with L.G., father would contact mother for visits with
L.G., but mother "would decline because that is when I
found out about his charges and about his upcoming court
15} Father was incarcerated three times in the last
three years "the most recent was six months * * *
[t]hey've all been several months." Father's
most recent incarceration was for assault. Mother told L.G.
that father was on vacation or away working when he was
incarcerated. Father's incarceration impacted his
spending holidays with L.G. Father did not send gifts or
cards for holidays or birthdays when he was incarcerated.
16} L.G. does not ask about father. Father never
asked mother about L.G.'s school events or medical
appointments, but mother never suggested or offered this
information. Stepfather does go to L.G.'s school events.
17} L.G. is very close with mother's parents and
stepfather's parents "who she sees a lot." L.G.
does not currently have a relationship with father's
family. When father was incarcerated, grandmother would text
mother and, at first, mother responded and allowed
grandmother to visit with L.G. at mother's parents'
house, where mother lived with L.G. Eventually, mother
stopped responding to grandmother "mainly because [L.G.]
was happy and content with the way things were, and I
didn't want to get her confused, you know, upset her, so
[grand]mother has tried to contact me, but in this past year,
I have not dealt with that." When mother did communicate
with grandmother "we were friendly."
18} When L.G. had visits with father, mother would
see L.G. "get emotional, crying, and getting herself all
worked up, and she would get really quiet." Father lived
with grandmother and mother was a little bit concerned about
the environment. Mother did not seek counseling for L.G.,
"but there was a point when [mother] was considering
19} Stepfather is employed and mother is employed
part-time. Mother and stepfather can financially support L.G.
Father never ...