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In re Adoption of L.G.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Sixth District, Sandusky

June 19, 2019

In re Adoption of L.G.

          Trial Court No. 20164018

          Lisa M. Snyder, for appellant.

          Ron Nisch, for appellee.


          SINGER, J.

         {¶ 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:

         The 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 objection.

         {¶ 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 appealed.

         The 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 below.

         Adoption Assessor

         {¶ 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 contacts."

         {¶ 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 date."

         {¶ 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 it."

         {¶ 19} Stepfather is employed and mother is employed part-time. Mother and stepfather can financially support L.G. Father never ...

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