Among other financial topics, our CFL™ course covers support, which can become an issue before and after divorce proceedings. Case in point: the recent Ohio Supreme Court decision In re Adoption of A.C.B. revealed how failure to comply with child support obligations under a judicial decree can influence a parent’s consent to an adoption. 

Case History

In 2013, after A.C.B.’s parents divorced in Indiana, the mother received custody and the biological father was required to pay $85 weekly in child support. The father soon returned to Kosovo and later made occasional child-support payments that decreased over time.

Along the way, A.C.B’s mother moved to Ohio and remarried. She asked the biological father if he would let her new husband adopt A.C.B. He refused. Regardless, the stepfather petitioned in 2017 to adopt A.C.B.; he argued that the court didn’t require the father’s consent to the adoption because he had failed, without justifiable cause, to meet his legally-required child support obligations for the year before the adoption petition filing. 

Two days before the filing, the biological father paid $200 in child support. He still owed more than $17,000. The father made $58,000 yearly and admitted he could have afforded to pay the required support, but didn’t. He argued that under the Adoption Consent Statute (O.R.C. § 3107.07[A]), as the natural father, providing any support during the required one-year period was enough to retain his right to object to his child’s adoption.

The probate court found that the father failed to provide for A.C.B.’s support per a judicial decree and that his non-action wasn’t justifiable. The appeals court affirmed the ruling.

Ohio Supreme Court Opinion

The court believed that under statute O.R.C. § 3107.07(A), a noncustodial parent’s right to withhold consent to their child’s adoption should be measured by whether they have paid support as outlined in the judicial order. The court analyzed its interpretation of the phrase “as required by law or judicial decree.”

In its reasoning, the court used a two-step process to decide if a parent must consent to a child’s adoption. First, the court had to determine if a parent failed to provide support according to the law. The Adoption Consent Statute requires the court to review the support payments for the year before the adoption petition was filed. But, as the court found, failure to provide support under a judicial decree doesn’t always mean that the parent doesn’t have the right to object to an adoption. Therefore, the court looked to the second step: the adoptive parent must prove through clear and convincing evidence that the biological parent’s failure to pay lacked justifiable cause.

The Supreme Court held that the natural father’s single $200 payment during the one-year time-frame didn’t qualify as support required by law or judicial decree. The probate court’s finding that the biological father didn’t have a justifiable cause and that he didn’t challenge the decision also worked in the stepfather’s favor. Because the father failed to provide the required maintenance and support for A.C.B. during the one-year period, the court ruled it didn’t require his consent to the adoption.

In its decision, the Supreme Court noted that not every failure to pay will end a parent’s right to withhold consent. But, if a parent can pay the required amount and doesn’t without a valid reason or makes only one payment, that’s enough proof that they acted without justifiable cause. Find out more about determining income for support purposes and other financial matters in our CFL™ course, which you can take online at any time, day or night. Get the education you need to maintain a competitive edge over fellow attorneys while you work to serve your clients better. Learn more in our free information packet today.