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In Re Petition of Smith

FEBRUARY 29, 1972.

IN RE PETITION OF CHRYSTAL SMITH ET AL., FOR ADOPTION, PETITIONERS-APPELLANTS.


APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. HELEN F. McGILLICUDDY, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Petitioners appeal from a denial in part of a petition of adoption and a granting in part of respondent's petition of habeas corpus.

Petitioners initiated an action to adopt the minors John Joseph Merges, Jr. (Hereinafter John, Jr.) and Dawn Denise Merges. Shortly thereafter respondent (John J. Merges, Sr.) filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking custody of the said children.

After hearings on the petitions the trial court ordered that the adoption petition be allowed as to Dawn Denise Merges but denied as to John, Jr. The court further ordered that respondent's habeas corpus petition be sustained as to John, Jr. and that petitioners turn over said child to respondent.

Petitioners appeal from that part of the order denying their petition to adopt John, Jr., and sustaining respondent's habeas corpus petition for custody of the child. Respondent does not appeal from any part of the order.

On appeal petitioners contend that the failure of the trial court to find respondent an "unfit person", as defined in Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 4, par. 9.1-1(D), was against the manifest weight of the evidence and therefore constitutes reversible error.

Respondent was married to Cheryl Ann Townsley in November, 1965. As a result of the marriage Cheryl gave birth to John, Jr., on October 26, 1966. Respondent was divorced from Cheryl in August, 1968, at Las Vegas, Nevada. By the terms of the divorce decree Cheryl was awarded custody of John, Jr., and respondent was ordered to pay $50 per month to Cheryl for the support and maintenance of said child.

Respondent returned to Chicago, Illinois, immediately after the divorce. Respondent testified that Cheryl told him that she was uncertain as to what she would do but that she was contemplating going to California to stay with her mother and that she would let him know where she was. Cheryl and John, Jr., returned to Chicago sometime around the beginning of September, 1968, and moved into the home of the petitioners.

Respondent did not pay any part of the support and maintenance payments ordered by the divorce decree before June, 1969. Respondent explained this dereliction at the hearing by testifying that he did not know where Cheryl was and therefore did not know where to send the money. Cheryl contacted respondent in June, 1969. Respondent testified that thereafter he gave Cheryl unspecified sums of money from time to time.

Respondent testified that he, Cheryl and John, Jr., went on picnics together in the summer of 1969. Cheryl became pregnant during this time. Cheryl and John, Jr., moved from the home of petitioners to an apartment in October, 1969. Respondent testified that Cheryl and John, Jr., stayed with him at his mother's home once or twice a week during October, 1969, and progressively increased the frequency of their visits to the point that they were staying with respondent most of the time. Respondent introduced photographs into evidence which showed Cheryl and John, Jr., at his home during Christmas of 1969. Cheryl gave birth to Dawn Denise out of wedlock on March 23, 1970. After the birth of Dawn Denise, Cheryl and the children resided with the petitioners. Cheryl died on May 26, 1970. Petitioners filed a petition of adoption on June 2, 1970. Respondent filed a writ of habeas corpus on June 8, 1970.

OPINION

In an action on a petition for adoption the petitioner must establish either that there has been a valid consent to the adoption or that consent is not required because the person of whom consent is normally required is an "unfit person." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 4, par. 9.1-8.) If it is alleged that consent is not required because the person having the authority to consent is an "unfit person" the ground of unfitness must also be alleged. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 4, par. 9.1-5(B) (j).

The petitioners in this action alleged:

"That JOHN J. MERGES, the father of JOHN JOSEPH MERGES has failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility to the child's welfare and has continuously neglected his said child; that the father abandoned and deserted his said child on to wit: August 6, 1968, and persisted in said desertion from that date to the present time, or for a period in excess of three months immediately preceding the filing of this petition and he is, ...


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