MARC CHASE: Protect adoptions from local court snafu

2014-04-29T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Protect adoptions from local court snafuMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
April 29, 2014 12:00 am  • 

There isn't a parent among us who hasn't feared the loss of a child. It's a natural, primal fear of anyone blessed with the privilege of raising children.

Parents choosing to adopt sons and daughters into their lives tend to carry with them an extra worry: What happens if biological parents change their minds and seek to nullify or derail adoptions?

Indiana has some safeguards adoption law attorneys incorporate to insulate adoptive parents from such heartbreak. Those same safeguards could help preserve untold numbers of Lake County adoptions on the cusp of potential nullification because of a local court policy snafu.

It was no doubt unsettling to region adoptive parents — who finalized their adoptions in Lake County — when it was divulged earlier this month a case before the Indiana Supreme Court could create legal questions for adoptions handled in the county since 2000.

Since that year, Lake County Juvenile Court has heard petitions for adoption and guardianship of minors. Such cases were transferred to the juvenile court by local court rule, not by state law.

Now Dyer attorney Larry Stassin is challenging that local rule in Indiana Supreme Court, arguing state law gives adoption jurisdiction to county civil courts, not juvenile courts.

The Indiana Department of Child Services recently expressed concern hundreds of Lake County adoptions could be "at risk" because of Stassin's challenge, with which a local civil court judge and the Indiana Court of Appeals already have sided.

Thus comes real worry among Lake County adoptive parents.

My wife and I fully relate to that worry. Many of you already know we adopted our daughter Isabella, soon to turn 2, shortly after her birth. But in the immediate days following her birth until we brought her home from the hospital, all manner of worry about biological parents changing their minds played out in our heads.

Given the revelation of the court rule snafu, I'm relieved our adoption occurred outside of Lake County — within a downstate superior court — and therefore isn't in question.

But the good news for Lake County adoptive parents — coming from one of the country's premier adoption law attorneys — is parents whose cases were handled here may not have to anguish either.

Indianapolis lawyer Steve Kirsh — a founding member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys — said an existing Indiana law sets a one-year deadline for legal challenges of adoptions. That should mean most adoptive families whose cases were handled in Lake Juvenile Court can breath easy.

If any Lake County adoptions are deemed invalid because of this legal challenge, local and state court officials — and lawmakers if necessary — should take immediate steps to validate those adoptions.

Adoption is a selfless and magical — but also expensive and stressful — ticket to opportunity and happiness for adults and children alike.

Fear created by a local policy blunder shouldn't discourage this magic from permeating our society.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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