The Nathan Deal Judicial Center, which houses the Georgia Supreme Court. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Georgia Supreme Court denies rights to father who encouraged abortion

A family can proceed with the adoption of a 3-year-old boy after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the biological father forfeited his rights when he, among other things, offered to pay to abort the child.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday ruled 6-3 that Lance and Ashley Hall can proceed with their adoption of the boy, determining that Joshua Brumbelow had abandoned his interest in his biological son.

“We are very pleased with the ruling, and I believe it provides clarity in contested adoption cases like this one,” said Justin Young Hester, the attorney for the Halls and Jeannie Mathenia, the biological mother.

The court found that Brumbelow had not taken steps to prove he was invested in his child until six weeks after his son was born.

“He did not support the mother financially or emotionally, he denied that he was the father, he attended only one doctor’s appointment and that was to determine the pregnancy timeline to determine if he was the father,” Hester said. “He made no offers at any time other than the offer to pay for an abortion and he showed no interest in parenting the child.”

In the decision, Chief Justice Harold D. Melton wrote that one example of Brumbelow abandoning his opportunity to develop a relationship with his biological son was offering to pay for an abortion.

“The offer indicated that Brumbelow wanted no relationship at all with (the child), as an abortion would have ensured that no relationship could ever develop,” Melton wrote. “Brumbelow showed no interest in becoming a father in a true relational sense throughout Mathenia’s pregnancy, and seemingly expressed an interest only upon discovering that the child would be placed for adoption.”

It’s unclear what precedent the ruling will set for parents who consider abortion in a state that made national headlines last year when it passed one of the country’s strictest anti-abortion laws, which would ban the procedure in most cases once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity — at around six weeks of pregnancy.

Brumbelow’s attorneys said they were reviewing the order and declined to comment.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Charles Bethel said offering to pay for an abortion is not the sole reason that a father’s parental rights should be denied.

“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.

According to court documents, Brumbelow and Mathenia, who was separated from her then-husband at the time, had a one-time sexual encounter in 2015, when the child was conceived.

After telling Brumbelow she was pregnant, Mathenia told the court that he denied he was the father throughout the pregnancy, never visited or inquired about her well-being and did not offer any financial support for doctor visits or maternity clothes.

About two months before the child was born, Mathenia said she sent a text message to Brumbelow’s mother, according to court documents. Once the child was born, Mathenia terminated her parental rights and the Halls have had custody of the boy since he was released from the hospital in July 2016.

Dennis Cathey, one of Brumbelow’s attorneys, said they have not yet decided whether they will ask the court to reconsider the ruling or appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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