INDIANAPOLIS | In a ruling it described as "harsh" and "devastating," the Indiana Supreme Court declared Friday it had no choice but to void the adoption of twins originally from Jasper County.
The twins, now 10 years old, were removed by the Department of Child Services from their natural mother's home at age 18 months for unspecified reasons and placed with a foster family. Their natural father is unknown, according to court records.
In January 2008, the Jasper County child services office won county court approval to terminate the parental rights of the natural mother. She, however, appealed that decision.
While the appeal was pending, the foster parents formally adopted the twins, who already had been living with them for three years.
The natural mother received no notice of the adoption case, because notice is not required by Indiana law when a parent's rights have been terminated.
Two months after the adoption was finalized, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the decision to terminate the natural mother's parental rights. It found DCS did not satisfactorily show that continuing the parent-child relationship would threaten the twins' well-being.
The natural mother then asked Jasper Superior Court Judge James Ahler to set aside the adoption decree. He refused to do so.
In a 5-0 ruling, the Supreme Court reversed that decision, even as it noted that may ultimately result in the twins being removed from the only home they've ever known.
"A fit parent's rights are fundamental and constitutionally protected, and even a matter as important as the twins' best interests does not necessarily override that right," wrote Justice Loretta Rush. "Since the only judicial determination that the natural mother is unfit to retain her parental rights has been overturned on appeal, letting the adoption stand would be an overreach of state power into family integrity. The adoption must be set aside."
The high court ordered a new adoption hearing be held in Jasper County, where the natural mother can make her case as to why the twins belong with her. The justices recommended the children remain with the adoptive mother until that case is concluded. The adoptive father was killed in an auto accident in May 2011.
Employing unusually direct language, the Supreme Court also urged DCS, lawyers, judges and others involved in the adoption process to change their procedures -- so no Hoosier children are ever again put in a similar position.
"There are no winners in some cases, and this is one of them," Rush said.