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ILLINOIS: Douglas R.S. v. Jennifer A.S.
04.27.2012 | Adoption / Procedure
The Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District, affirmed the Circuit Court of Wayne County’s affirmative answer to the certified question of “[i]n relation to determining parental unfitness pursuant to 750 ILCS 50/1(D)(n) must any act which [Father] claims to have deprived him of the ability to visit or communicate arise after the twelve month is alleged to have begun.” The appellate court held that any evidence Father wished to present during the unfitness portion of the hearing explaining his reasons for not communicating with his child had to have occurred during the applicable 12-month time frame, but that any evidence occurring outside of that time period would be allowable at the second-stage best-interests hearing. The appellate court first looked to the language of the Adoption Act, in particular §1(D)(n) (750 ILCS 50/1(D)(n)). Pursuant to In re Adoption of Syck, 138 Ill. 2d 255, termination of parental rights is a two-step process. The first stage is the “fitness hearing,” where the petitioning parent must prove that the respondent parent is unfit by clear and convincing evidence; at this stage, the focus is solely on the conduct of the parent. If the petitioning parent proves unfitness, then the case proceeds to the second “best interests hearing” stage, at which the petitioning parent must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that it is in the best interest of the child that the parental rights of the respondent parent be terminated. At this stage, the focus shifts to the child and the issue becomes whether, in light of the child’s needs and best interests, the respondent’s parental rights should be terminated. The pertinent section of the Adoption Act, cited above, provides that a parent evidences his intent to forego parental rights by failing to visit or communicate with the child for a period of 12 months. In re D.L., 191 Ill. 2d 1, set the precedent that “only evidence of a parent’s conduct during the 12 months following adjudication of neglect can be introduced at the fitness hearing, but at the best-interest hearing, the parent could then introduce evidence of any conduct occurring outside the applicable 12-month period.” In the present case, biological mother and her new husband petitioned for new husband to adopt mother’s minor child. Pursuant to the Adoption Act, biological father’s parental rights needed to be terminated in order for the stepparent adoption to be granted. The biological father attempted to raise several affirmative defenses for his lack of communication or visitation with the child during the applicable 12-month period. Father claimed that all of the alleged incidents occurred before December 15, 2005, which was the beginning date of the 12-month period. Accordingly, the court held that the father’s evidence was not permissible in the first “fitness hearing” stage, but could be considered during the second “best interests” stage.
Cite: No. 5-11-0321; 2012 Ill. App. LEXIS 270; 2012 IL App (5th) 110321 (Ill. Ct. App. April 12, 2012)
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