In this adoption case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court holds that the trial court did not err when it allowed an adoption proceeding to proceed even while a claim for general guardianship of the same minor child was also pending before a different judge as the two matters were separate proceedings requesting different relief. Further, the minor child’s cousin whose claim for general guardianship was pending had no statutory or constitutional right to notice of the adoption proceeding because the cousin had no legal right to object to the adoption and no current guardianship or right to custody of the minor child.
|Opinion:||In The Matter of The Adoption of S.A.H., 2022 OK 10|
|Date Decided:||February 1, 2022|
|Trial Court:||District Court of Tulsa County, Judges Glassco and Keeley|
|Route to this Court:||Appeal of two district court decisions (cases consolidated) retained by Oklahoma Supreme Court.|
|Facts:||Appellant is a cousin (on mother’s side) of the minor child, S.A.H. The child was born out-of-wedlock and lived with his/her mother, who had sole custody. Paternity had not been established with respect to the child’s father at the time the mother became terminally ill. The cousin petitioned the district court to be S.A.H.’s temporary general guardian and was appointed temporary general guardian. After the mother’s death, the father petitioned the district court for determination of paternity and custody. Father established his paternity by genetic testing, filed in the guardianship proceeding a notice of paternity adjudication and a motion to dismiss the temporary guardian. The guardianship court terminated the temporary guardian. However, the cousin’s petition for general guardianship remained on file and a trial date was set for January 22, 2020. |
On October 17, 2019, S.A.H.’s paternal grandparents filed a petition to adopt S.A.H. (also in Tulsa County where the guardianship case remained pending). On November 1, 2019, the father petitioned the paternity court for custody of S.A.H. due to his established paternity, and the court granted father sole legal and physical custody of the child. Father then provided his consent to grandparent’s adoption of the minor child in the adoption case. On January 21, 2020, the adoption court issued a final decree of adoption to the grandparents.
Cousin continued the trial for general guardianship and continued to prosecute the petition for guardianship, filing various motions in preparation for trial, and this caused grandparents to file a motion to dismiss the guardianship matter due to the adoption. On March 13, 2020, the guardianship court struck the cousin’s pending motions in the guardianship case as moot due to the finalized adoption.
Almost two months after the guardianship court struck the hearing on Cousin’s motions, cousin filed a motion to vacate grandparent’s adoption in the adoption matter. The court held a hearing and denied the motion to vacate the adoption. On October 29, 2020, the guardianship court held a hearing on grandparent’s motion to dismiss the guardianship and concluded that the cousin’s request for guardianship was moot due to the finalized adoption.
Cousin appealed denial of her motion to vacate the adoption and the granting of grandparent’s motion to dismiss the guardianship. The Oklahoma Supreme Court consolidated the cases and retained the matter.
|Standard of Review:||The Court reviews the appointment or termination of guardianship for an abuse of discretion. However, as the cousin is appealing an order granting a motion to dismiss, the Court examines the issues of the dismissal of the guardianship matter de novo to reexamine the trial court’s legal rulings. |
The standard of review for the denial of the cousin’s motion to vacate grandparent’s adoption of the minor child is an abuse of discretion.
|Analysis:||The guardianship court should have dismissed the entire guardianship as moot at the time the paternity court awarded father full custody of the minor child as guardianship was no longer necessary. Nevertheless, the two matters were separate proceedings requesting different relief and Oklahoma law allows some related actions to proceed simultaneously, so it was not reversible error for the adoption proceeding to proceed in spite of the pending guardianship. While the grandparent’s adoption petition incorrectly stated that the general guardianship application had been dismissed (in fact the guardianship court only dismissed the temporary guardian), the petition provided the case number for the guardianship matter and the adoption court should have confirmed the status of the guardianship matter and consolidated the matter or deferred to the guardianship court if it thought necessary. However, this does not warrant unwinding the adoption of the minor child to which the father consented. Further, the minor child’s cousin whose claim for general guardianship was pending had no statutory right to notice of the adoption proceeding because the cousin had no legal right to object to the adoption and no current guardianship or right to custody of the minor child. The grandparents followed the notice requirements under the Oklahoma adoption statutes.|
|Vote:||Concur: Darby, C.J., Kane, V.C.J., Kauger, Winchester (author), Edmonson, and Rowe, JJ. Concur in result: Gurich and Kuehn, JJ|
|Other:||No separate writings.|