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In re Adoption by Step-Parent of Doe

Supreme Court of Idaho

December 19, 2018

In the Matter of Adoption by Step-Parent of: JOHN DOE.
v.
JANE DOE (2018-16), Respondent-Appellant. JANE DOE I, Petitioner-Respondent,

          Appeal from the Magistrate Court of the Seventh Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Butte County, Hon. Ralph L. Savage, Magistrate Judge.

         The judgment of the magistrate court is reversed and remanded.

          Williams, Meservy & Lothspeich, LLP, Jerome, for Appellant. Brian J. Williams argued.

          Jane Doe I, Arco, Respondent pro se.

          HORTON, JUSTICE.

         This is an appeal from a decision of the magistrate court denying a motion by Jane Doe (Mother), the biological mother of an adult, mentally-incapacitated child (Son) to set aside a decree of adoption declaring Jane Doe I (Step-Mother) to be a parent of Son. The decree was entered upon the joint petition for adoption filed by Son's biological father (Father) and Step-Mother. Mother was not given notice of the proceedings. Upon learning of the adoption, she filed a motion to set aside the decree pursuant to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Father and Step-Mother did not respond to Mother's 60(b) motion, which the magistrate court denied. In this direct appeal from the decision of the magistrate court, Mother argues that the lower court erred in denying her motion because notice to Mother and her consent was required. We reverse and remand.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Mother and Father were never married. Son was born in 1996. When Son was nine years old he was diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy leaving him severely cognitively impaired. At the time of these proceedings, Mother lived in New Hampshire and Son resided with Father and Step-Mother in Arco, Idaho.

         On July 20, 2017, Father and Step-Mother jointly petitioned the magistrate court to permit Step-Mother to adopt Son. According to the petition: "This Petition is for an adoption, and does not seek to terminate the natural mother's parental rights, such as they are." Although the petition asserted that Father consented to the adoption, Father's consent did not substantially comply with the statutory form prescribed in Idaho Code section 16-2005(4) as required by Idaho Code section 16-1506(3).[1] Mother was not provided notice of the adoption proceedings and consequently her consent was neither sought nor given.

         At the hearing on the petition, the magistrate was informed that Mother had not been notified of the proceedings.[2] Despite this, the magistrate found that "I've got everybody here that needs to be here for the purposes of making a-giving a consent in this particular case." The magistrate court found that while Son's consent would normally be needed for his adoption, pursuant to Idaho Code section 16-1504(1)(a), Son's mental impairment obviated this requirement. The magistrate court then entered the decree of adoption granting Father and StepMother's petition. The decree ordered that Son's name be changed, that a new birth certificate be issued showing Step-Mother as Son's parent, and that Son would be "regarded and treated in all respects as [Step-Mother's] child."

         After Mother was informed of the adoption, she filed a notice of appeal to this Court and a motion to set aside the decree of adoption with the magistrate court pursuant to Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). We stayed appellate proceedings pending resolution of the pending Rule 60(b) motion.

         After hearing Mother's motion, the magistrate court issued a written decision. Mother had argued that because her consent was required by Idaho Code section 16-1504(1)(c), she was entitled to notice by operation of Idaho Code section 16-1505(1)(a). The magistrate court noted the discrepancy between Idaho Code section 16-1504's treatment of children of wed and unwed parents and found "no rational explanation for this distinction." The magistrate court observed the statute's unique history and interpreted it to "not require the consent of either parent[] for an adult adoption." The magistrate court denied Mother's motion because: "Since no notice [was] required, [Mother] has no basis to contest the lack of notice." Mother amended her original notice of appeal to include the magistrate court's decision on her 60(b) motion.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Because Mother argues that her lack of required notice and consent renders the decree of adoption void, we freely review the magistrate court's decision to deny Mother's motion to set aside the judgment. Berg v. Kendall, 147 Idaho 571, 576, 212 P.3d 1001, 1006 (2009). "[W]here nondiscretionary grounds are asserted, the ...


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