A Georgia father forfeited his parental rights to his biological child when he, among another things, encouraged the mother to get an abortion, the state’s Supreme Court ruled this week.
The 6-3 decision allows a couple, Lance and Ashley Hall, to proceed with the adoption of an unnamed three-year-old boy they have had custody of since he was born in 2016, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
The biological mother, Jeannie Mathenia, became pregnant in 2016 after a “one-time sexual encounter” with the biological father, Joshua Brumbelow, the court said.
The case began when Brumbelow filed for parental rights on Aug. 23, 2016, several weeks after the child was born (July 10, 2016). By then, Mathenia had legally surrendered her rights, and the child was living with the Halls, who have had exclusive custody of the boy.
A trial court ruled against Brumbelow. The Georgia Supreme Court, in its May 18 decision, agreed with the lower court.
“Having made a factual finding that Brumbelow did offer to pay for an abortion, the trial court was authorized to weigh that fact as strong evidence of abandonment of Brumbelow’s interest in parenting the child,” the Supreme Court ruled. “Importantly, the trial court found other evidence it deemed probative of a determination of abandonment – particularly, Brumbelow’s initial denial of paternity and the lack of action on his part (other than offering to pay for an abortion) during Mathenia’s pregnancy.”
Chief Justice Harold Melton, writing for the majority, said, “Brumbelow offered to pay for Mathenia to have an abortion” and “Mathenia refused.”
“[F]rom that point on, Brumbelow did not visit Mathenia, inquire about her well-being, or offer her any emotional or financial support, even though Brumbelow was employed and capable of providing such support,” Melton wrote. “... [T]he offer indicated that Brumbelow wanted no relationship at all with [the child], as an abortion would have ensured that no relationship could ever develop.”
Associate Justice Charlie Bethel wrote a concurring opinion, saying although the abortion offer wasn’t “conclusive” to the case, it was important.
“It appears to me that an offer to pay for an abortion is highly probative of a lack of intent to parent the child. Of course, hearts and minds change and the lack of an interest in parenting at the outset of a pregnancy can give way to genuine parental concern, nurture, and love,” Bethel wrote. “But, whether such a change has occurred is patently the sort of question appellate courts routinely leave to trial courts to resolve.
“Because such a determination is so tightly bound in fact and credibility determinations, we afford broad discretion to those trial courts that hear the testimony and deal with the interested parties in person.”
The Halls and Mathenia have the same attorney.
An attorney for Brumbelow told the AJC no decision had been made about a potential appeal. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is possible.
Photo courtesy: Bill Oxford/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.