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In the Matter of the Adoption of Amp, A Minor Child. v. Jla and Jja

October 12, 2012

IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION OF AMP, A MINOR CHILD. DLH, APPELLANT (RESPONDENT),
v.
JLA AND JJA, APPELLEES (PETITIONERS).



Appeal from the District Court of Goshen County The Honorable Keith G. Kautz, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burke, Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN,*fn1 HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Appellant, DLH, challenges the district court's order granting the adoption of his four-year-old son, AMP, without Appellant's consent. We affirm.

ISSUE

[¶2] The parties raise the following issue:

Whether the district court abused its discretion in granting JJA's adoption of AMP without Appellant's consent pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-22-110(a)(iv), due to Appellant's willful failure to pay child support for a period of one year prior to the filing of the adoption petition, and his failure to bring his child support obligation current within 60 days after service of the petition.

FACTS

[¶3] Appellant and JLA are the biological parents of AMP, who was born on October 11, 2007. They lived together for a period of time but never married. Appellant moved to Mississippi to live with his father in June of 2009. In July, 2009, an order was entered establishing paternity and requiring Appellant to pay $259.00 per month towards the support of AMP.

[¶4] Shortly after his arrival in Mississippi, Appellant found part-time employment at a sporting goods store, and worked there until December, 2009, when he was terminated for "Job Abandonment." He paid child support while employed, but stopped making support payments in January, 2010. In November, 2010, Appellant enlisted in the United States Air Force. He moved out of his father's home in January, 2011 to begin basic training, and he completed his training in March, 2011. As of January, 2012, Appellant had not made a child support payment since January, 2010.

[¶5] JLA and JJA began living together in August, 2010 and married in December of that year. They maintain a home in Torrington, Wyoming, and AMP resides with them. On March 4, 2011, JJA filed a petition in district court seeking to adopt AMP. JLA joined the petition. The petition alleged that Appellant's consent to the adoption was not required pursuant to Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 1-22-110(a)(iv) because he had willfully failed to contribute to the support of AMP for a period of one year immediately prior to the filing of the petition to adopt. Appellant was served with notice of the petition on April 6, 2011. He was also provided the statutorily required notice that he had 60 days to pay his past due child support obligation, which amounted to $5,064.68.

[¶6] Appellant responded to the petition by filing a note with the clerk of court, stating I, [DLH], will not relinquish my rights as the father of [AMP]. I do not give permission to [JJA] to adopt [AMP].

For the past year I have not been able to pay my child support due to the fact that I was unemployed and could not find employment. I have recently joined the United States Air Force and graduated Basic Military Training on March 11. I am now receiving steady payment and plan to start making child support payments regularly.

Appellant did not otherwise appear in the action. A hearing was held and a final decree of adoption was entered on June 16, 2011. On September 19, 2011, Appellant filed a Motion to Set Aside Judgment and Final Decree of Adoption. The motion alleged that the decree should be set aside because Appellant was a member of the United States Air Force when served with the adoption petition and was entitled to appointment of counsel to represent him pursuant to 50 U.S.C. app. § 521. Appellees resisted the motion. After holding a hearing, the district court granted the motion and set aside the decree of adoption.

[ΒΆ7] Subsequently, Appellant obtained counsel and filed an answer contesting the allegations in the petition. A trial was held on February 17, 2012. Although he conceded that he had not paid any child support for more than one year prior to the filing of the petition, he contended that the failure to make the support payments was not willful. He also conceded that he had not paid the arrearages within 60 days ...


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