---- — GOSHEN (AP) — Adoptive parents Jason and Justina Kramer took a baby girl home back in May 2010, basking in the glow of new parenthood until their adoption scenario unfolded into a nightmare, the couple’s attorney said.
Both the couple and the baby’s father did everything right, the attorney, Charles Rice, said.
But in what the couple alleges was negligence on the part of the adoption agency, Catholic Charities, the baby was placed with the Kramers, of Goshen, after the father had sought to establish paternity.
The father was awarded custody of the child after she lived with the Kramers for more than eight months, leaving a couple in pain for losing a child and a father who missed the first months of his daughter’s life.
The incident spurred litigation that poses the question: Was the agency negligent or was the risk inherent in the adoption?
“If things had been done right, the child should have never been placed with them in the first place,” Rice, who filed the suit against Catholic Charities on behalf of the Kramers, told the South Bend Tribune.
Catholic Charities did not respond to an interview request, but its attorney, Robert Edwards, said the organization is not responsible.
A St. Joseph Circuit Court judge sided with Catholic Charities, but a recent Indiana Appeals Court decision disagreed with the summary judgment and kicked the case back to the county, where it could eventually go to trial.
The story begins in March 2010 when a young woman asked Catholic Charities of the South Bend-Fort Wayne Diocese to facilitate an adoption. Later that month, she told the Kramers she wanted them to adopt her baby.
She did not give a father’s name.
The woman gave birth on May 1, 2010, with the Kramers there in the hospital. They signed adoption papers and took the baby home two days later.
“They bonded with the child, absolutely,” Rice said.
The couple also signed a release with Catholic Charities, agreeing that the adoption was at-risk until the legal proceedings successfully concluded. The release noted that a father could exercise legal rights until the adoption was complete.
Indiana has a registry for men to notify the state that they may be the father of a child that could be put up for adoption.
But the Kramers began what they thought was a lifetime with the child, believing that no father had come forward.
A Catholic Charities staff member checked what is called the Putative Father Registry on May 25, several weeks after the child was born. Catholic Charities said no father had registered.
A staff member, though, checked again on June 1, and learned the baby’s probable father had registered on April 27, several days before the baby was born.
The father contested the Kramers’ adoption petition in July, spurring a court case that lasted several months.
A judge awarded the father custody of the girl in December 2010. The Kramers relinquished custody in January 2011.
“It’s like a death,” Rice said of the couple’s devastation.
The lawsuit argues that Catholic Charities was negligent when it did not check the Putative Father Registry before the child was born, which would have prevented the baby from being placed with the Kramers in the first place.
“There’s a difference between disappointment in thinking the child will be placed with you, and the child being placed with you, raising the child for a number of months and losing the child,” Rice said.
The attorney has handled about 200 adoptions.
But Catholic Charities has argued that the Kramers signed a release that said a father could ask for custody before the adoption was final.
The organization has said the risk is inherent when adopting.
“After the father did come forward, the Kramers disputed the challenge to the status, and that delayed them giving up the child for six months,” Edwards said, noting that the father was revealed to be on the registry about two months after the Kramers took custody.
Edwards also said Catholic Charities is not responsible for the mistake that meant the father did not appear on the registry when staff members checked on May 25, even though he had registered in April before the baby was born.
“Nobody knows why that was,” Edwards said.
St. Joseph Circuit Court Judge Michael Gotsch ruled in favor of Catholic Charities last year in a decision that said the document the Kramers signed released Catholic Charities from liability.
Appealing the decision, the Kramers argued that the release didn’t cover what they said was the organization’s negligence.
The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, and sent the case back to the Circuit Court.
One judge, though, dissented, writing that Catholic Charity’s policy does not say in writing that it must check the registry before a child’s birth, just that it must check it one day after the deadline a father had to register.
“While it may indeed be the better policy for an adoption agency to check the registry before the child is actually placed with the adoptive parents, our statutes do not impose such a requirement,” the dissenting judge wrote.
Citing the dissenting opinion, Edwards said Catholic Charities is planning to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
If the state’s high court does not decide to hear the case, the Appeals Court decision stands, which sends the case back to St. Joseph County.
The Kramers are seeking damages and hoping for a policy change so other adoptive parents don’t have to go through the ordeal.
“This one could have been prevented,” Rice said. “You never want to see parents go through this.”