Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

As Court Considers Child’s Adoption, Father Cannot Seek Visitation Rights from Another Court

A county juvenile court cannot grant visitation rights to the father of a child when placement for adoption was approved by a probate court in a nearby county, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled today.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court blocked the Logan County Family Court from considering providing Kaidan Whitrock parenting time with an infant that is being adopted by a Van Wert County family selected by the birth mother. Whitrock lost his attempt to block the adoption when the Supreme Court decided in December 2022 that he waited too long to act after the adoption petition was filed.

The Court’s per curiam opinion  noted that Whitrock sought the help of the Logan County court after the Van Wert County Probate Court would not allow him to participate in the adoption case when he requested to intervene. The Court wrote that instead of seeking help from another court, Whitrock could appeal the rejection of his right to intervene.

Chief Justice Sharon L. Kennedy and Justices R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, Melody Stewart, Jennifer Brunner, and Joseph T. Deters joined the per curiam opinion. Justice Patrick F. Fischer dissented without a written opinion.

Parenting Rights Considered After Adoption Request Submitted
Josephine Davis gave birth to a child identified in court records as “H.P.” in 2020. She was 17 years old at the time. Davis was not married to Whitrock, who was 18 years old, and presumed to be the child’s biological father. Whitrock’s paternity had not been established when H.P. was born.

To address paternity disputes, Ohio lawmakers established a Putative Father Registry in 1996 in R.C. 3107.061 et seq. Under this law, a father’s consent to the adoption of a minor child is not required unless the father registers with the putative father registry no later than 15 days after the child is born.

Three days after the birth of H.P., the married couple chosen by Davis filed a petition in the Van Wert County Probate Court to adopt the newborn baby. As the adoption request was pending, the probate court issued a placement order that granted the couple “care, custody, and control” over H.P., and Whitrock filed an objection to the adoption.

About two weeks after the adoption petition was filed, Whitrock asked Logan County Family Court Judge Natasha Kennedy to give parental rights and responsibilities to him, including authorizing genetic testing to determine paternity. While some counties have separate courts for matters dealing with children, the Logan County Family Court has combined jurisdiction over juvenile, domestic relations, and probate matters.

The genetic test results confirmed Whitrock is H.P.’s biological father. Judge Kennedy of Logan County stayed all action on Whitrock’s request for parental rights until after the Van Wert County probate court ruled in the H.P. adoption case. In January 2021, the Van Wert court denied Whitrock’s motion to intervene and ruled his consent was not required to grant the adoption.

Visitation Rights Case Resumed After Supreme Court Decision
Whitrock’s appeal of the Van Wert court’s decision to keep him out of the adoption case reached the Supreme Court in 2022. The Court remanded the matter to the Third District Court of Appeals, and in turn, the Third District remanded the case to the Van Wert probate court to consider whether Whitrock could claim his right to object to the adoption as the biological father of H.P.

The probate court is still considering the issue. As it does, Whitrock asked the Logan County Family Court to issue temporary orders granting him parenting time with H.P. and to move forward in determining if he should be granted custody.

H.P.’s mother and the adopting couple asked the Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition to prevent Judge Kennedy of Logan County from acting in the case. The mother and couple argued that the decisions regarding H.P. are solely to be made by the probate court in Van Wert.

Supreme Court Analyzed Roles of Multiple Courts in Adoption Cases
The per curiam opinion explains the Supreme Court must determine if the Logan County court is empowered to make decisions without interfering with the Van Wert court’s authority.

The Supreme Court explained that in general, only one court can have jurisdiction over a case at a time. In matters where it is possible that two or more courts could have the authority to consider a case, the general rule is the court that acts first is the one empowered to decide the case.

However, where two courts do not have the same powers the rule does not apply, the opinion stated. A probate court and a juvenile court have separate powers, and can both act, the opinion stated. Because the Logan County Family Court has the combined powers of three divisions, Judge Kennedy has some powers through her juvenile court responsibilities to “proceed with matters relevant to and in aid of the adoption proceedings,” the Supreme Court found.

Judge Kennedy has the power to determine the paternity of a child born out of wedlock and her finding that Whitrock was the biological father by use of genetic testing was not contested. However, the mother and the couple disputed Judge Kennedy’s right to decide matters beyond determining paternity, the opinion noted.

The Supreme Court ruled that the preadoption placement of H.P. with the couple was made by the Van Wert probate court. Once the probate court granted the placement, the probate court gained the exclusive right to determine the best interests of H.P.

Both the Logan County and Van Wert County courts contend they have the jurisdiction to determine the best interests of the child. The Supreme Court found any attempt by the Logan County court to grant visitation rights to Whitrock would be based on the assessment that it is in the best interest of H.P. By examining the best interests of H.P., the Logan County court is interfering with the Van Wert court’s right to determine the best interests of H.P., the opinion stated.

Any determination of whether Whitrock’s right to parenting time is in H.P.’s best interest is an issue that only the probate court in Van Wert can consider, the Court ruled.

In response to the mother and adopting couple’s attempt to prohibit her from acting, the Logan County judge argued that she must make the decision to consider Whitrock’s rights because the probate court denied Whitrock’s right to intervene and participate in the placement case.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Van Wert probate court’s decision to deny Whitrock’s participation does not create a right for the Logan Count Family Court to act on the matter. Whitrock instead should address his objections through the probate court, and any rights he has to appeal that court’s decisions, the Supreme Court concluded.

2022-0232. State ex rel. Davis v. Kennedy, Slip Opinion No. 2023-Ohio-1593.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

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