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.
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County District Court No. 16JA1, Honorable Mary C. Hoak,
LaBarre-Krostue, Grand Lake, Colorado, for
Donnelly LLC, Katayoun A. Donnelly, Denver, Colorado, for
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 courts judgment terminating her legal
relationship with the child. But, before we get to mothers
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.
We next turn to mothers 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.
Second, we decline to address a series of issues that mother
raises on appeal but that she did not preserve in the
Third, we deny mothers assertion that her counsel was
Fourth, we reject mothers contention that the juvenile
courts findings were insufficient.
We therefore affirm the juvenile courts judgment terminating
mothers legal relationship with the child.
Mother was wounded while serving in the military. She suffers
from post-traumatic stress disorder.
She was the childs 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
childs father, the juvenile court adopted a parenting plan
that gave father three nights of parenting time each week.
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
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
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.
In August 2016, the childs stepmother, E.R.S., filed a
petition to adopt the child and to terminate mothers
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.
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 childs best
interests to terminate mothers parental rights and to allow
stepmother to adopt him.
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.
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 ...