In re the Petition of E.R.S., Petitioner-Appellee, For The Adoption of I.E.H., a Child, and Concerning J.H., Respondent-Appellant.
County District Court No. 16JA1 Honorable Mary C. Hoak, Judge
LaBarre-Krostue, Grand Lake, Colorado, for
Azizpour Donnelly LLC, Katayoun A. Donnelly, Denver,
Colorado, for Respondent-Appellant
BERNARD, CHIEF JUDGE
1 This is a stepparent adoption proceeding. J.H., mother, and
J.D.S., father, had a child, I.E.H., in 2008. Mother appeals
the juvenile court's judgment terminating her legal
relationship with the child. But, before we get to
mother's substantive contentions, we must decide a
preliminary question - Can we review an order that terminates
parental rights in anticipation of a stepparent adoption when
the court has not finalized the adoption? We answer this
question "yes," concluding that the order is final
and that we can review it on appeal.
2 We next turn to mother's substantive contentions. We
first conclude that the juvenile court in this case had
jurisdiction to resolve the petition for stepparent adoption
even though the child was subject to an existing parenting
time order in a paternity proceeding.
3 Second, we decline to address a series of issues that
mother raises on appeal but that she did not preserve in the
4 Third, we deny mother's assertion that her counsel was
5 Fourth, we reject mother's contention that the juvenile
court's findings were insufficient.
6 We therefore affirm the juvenile court's judgment
terminating mother's legal relationship with the child.
7 Mother was wounded while serving in the military. She
suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
8 She was the child's primary caregiver when he was born.
When the child was about seventeen months old, father
initiated a paternity proceeding. After father proved that he
was the child's father, the juvenile court adopted a
parenting plan that gave father three nights of parenting
time each week.
9 In May 2013, mother agreed that the child should live
full-time with father so that she could have the opportunity
to rebuild her life. Five months later, mother and father
formalized this agreement by filing a written stipulation in
the paternity case. It stated that "[m]other shall have
parenting time upon agreement of the parties once she is able
to regain her stability with housing and employment."
But it also contained two provisions that are central to our
10 One provision encouraged mother to maintain her
relationship with the child and to spend time with him as (1)
her schedule allowed; and (2) as mother and father would
agree. The second provision obligated mother to pay $569.38
each month in child support.
11 The juvenile court adopted the stipulation. But, by 2014,
mother had not paid any child support, so the court activated
an income assignment to collect it. There was no further
action in the paternity case.
12 In August 2016, the child's stepmother, E.R.S., filed
a petition to adopt the child and to terminate mother's
parental rights. The juvenile court opened an adoption case,
which was separate from the paternity case. Mother filed an
objection to the petition in late November.
13 The juvenile court held a hearing in the adoption case
over three days from January to April 2017. At the end of the
hearing, the court decided that mother had abandoned the
child and that she had not demonstrated sufficient cause to
excuse her breach of her obligation to pay child support. The
court then determined that it was in the child's best
interests to terminate mother's parental rights and to
allow stepmother to adopt him.
14 But the court did not issue an adoption decree. It instead
continued the case to hold a final hearing at which it would
issue the decree. It also said that, if mother appealed the
order terminating her rights and allowing stepmother to adopt
the child - which we shall refer to simply as the
"termination order" - it would wait to hold the
final hearing until after the appeal was resolved.
15 Mother then filed this appeal in the adoption case.
Because it looked like the termination order would not be
final until the juvenile court issued the adoption decree, we
stayed the appeal to allow stepmother to ask the juvenile
court to issue one. But mother objected to the stay. We
therefore recertified the appeal, and we ordered mother and
stepmother to file simultaneous briefs addressing the
question whether the termination order was final.
Finality of Termination Order
16 We must decide, as an initial matter, whether the
termination order is final even though the juvenile court did
not issue an adoption decree. We conclude that the order was
final and, therefore, it is appealable.
17 Section 19-1-109, C.R.S. 2018, governs appeals from
proceedings under the Colorado Children's Code, including
stepparent adoptions. Referencing section 13-4-102(1), C.R.S.
2018, section 19-1-109(1) states that a party may appeal
"any order, decree, or judgment." Section
13-4-102(1) adds that ...