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In re B.H.

In re B.H., 2020 UT 64 (Petersen, J.)

Adoption

In an interstate adoption, Mother placed Child with two Utah residents. Mother and Adoptive Parents were required to comply with the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). Mother was mistaken about the identity of the child’s father and listed the wrong man on the adoption form. Mother was legally married to Father at the time she placed Child with Adoptive Parents, even though they were separated. Adoptive Parents notified Father of the adoption when they found out he was involved. Father successfully intervened in the proceeding and sought custody. Adoptive Parents petitioned to terminate Father’s parental rights. The district court held a bench trial and concluded that Father had abandoned the child and was an unfit parent. Father argued in the court of appeals that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the termination proceeding under the Utah Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). Father also argued that Mother’s failure to include him on the ICPC request form invalidated the adoption. The court of appeals rejected both arguments. But the court remanded to the district court for it to state whether the requirements of the ICPC had been complied with, as required by the Adoption Act. Father appealed. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed, holding:

  • The court of appeals did not err in concluding compliance with the UCCJEA is not a prerequisite to a termination of parental rights within an adoption proceeding and in concluding the requirements of the UCCJEA would have been met in this case if it applied. The UCCJEA does not govern jurisdiction over a termination petition brought under the Adoption Act. When a potential adoptive parent petitions for a termination of another’s parental rights under the Adoption Act, except for the cross-reference to the grounds for termination, the petitioner follows the provisions of the Adoption Act, not the parallel provisions of the Termination of Parental Rights Act. And the language and structure of the Adoption Act make clear that a termination petition brought under sections 112 and 133 in connection with an adoption is a proceeding under the Adoption Act. The instant termination petition and related proceedings are “adoption proceedings” as defined in the UCCJEA. The court of appeals, therefore, did not err when it determined that the UCCJEA does not govern subject matter jurisdiction here. Because the UCCJEA does not govern subject matter jurisdiction, the court does not address whether the requirements would have been met here.
  • The court of appeals did not err in remanding for a determination of compliance with the ICPC. The ICPC deficiency—listing the wrong father—was not a jurisdictional defect. So the deficient form does not deprive the Utah court of jurisdiction. In the event of a violation of its terms, the remedy it provides is the potential for punishment of the alleged violator, not revocation of a child placement or the loss of jurisdiction in the receiving state. And it was further necessary to set aside the adoption decree in its current form and remand to the district court for further proceedings. The Adoption Act requires that the district court state in the adoption decree that the ICPC was complied with. Although the district court concluded that the requirements of the Adoption Act had been met, the court did not support this conclusion with the necessary determination of ICPC compliance.

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