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Osterkamp v. Stiles

Supreme Court of Alaska

June 25, 2010

Kenneth M. OSTERKAMP, Appellant,
v.
Kattaryna STILES, Appellee.

Mary A. Gilson and Allison E. Mendel, Mendel & Associates, Anchorage, for the Appellant.

Robert C. Erwin and Roberta C. Erwin, Robert C. Erwin, LLC, Anchorage, for the Appellee.

Before: CARPENETI, Chief Justice, FABE, WINFREE, CHRISTEN, and STOWERS, Justices.

OPINION

CHRISTEN, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

Kenneth Osterkamp appeals the denial of

Page 194

his petition to adopt Simon [1] on the grounds that Simon's adoptive mother, Kattaryna Stiles, should be equitably estopped from withholding her consent. Because it is undisputed that Kattaryna never unconditionally agreed that Ken could adopt Simon, we affirm the superior court's denial of the petition for adoption.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Kenneth Osterkamp and Kattaryna Stiles lived together as domestic partners from 2003 until they separated in March 2007. Simon was born on August 25, 2005 and is an Indian child under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). [2] On September 1, 2005, the Office of Children's Services (OCS) placed Simon in foster care with Kattaryna and Ken.

Ken and Kattaryna began taking steps to adopt Simon in early 2006, though they had begun to experience difficulties in their relationship. They dispute whether they initially decided to adopt Simon as a couple, but it is undisputed that a home study for joint adoption was conducted in the spring of 2006. Kattaryna claims she and Ken initially agreed that she would adopt Simon on her own and that the possibility of a joint adoption arose after a social worker advised her to put Ken's name on the home study in case they later decided to adopt together. Kattaryna admits that Ken wanted to jointly adopt Simon by late 2005. Ken claims that he and Kattaryna mutually agreed to jointly adopt Simon in late 2005 and that the possibility of Kattaryna adopting Simon by herself came up in the summer of 2006 after a period of conflict in their relationship. The parties agree that Kattaryna's concern regarding a joint adoption was that if their relationship did not work out, Simon would grow up in a " broken home."

The adoption process moved forward in Kattaryna's name only. Ken understood that he would adopt Simon at a later date if the parties' relationship improved; Kattaryna claims that the agreement was that Ken would only adopt Simon if the parties eventually got married. Both parties understood that Ken would continue to have an important role in Simon's life as a " beloved uncle" whether or not Ken adopted him. And both parties testified that Kattaryna never unconditionally consented to Ken adopting Simon.

On December 28, 2006, a hearing was held on Kattaryna's adoption petition and Superior Court Judge Sharon Gleason granted it.[3] At the time of this hearing, Simon was sixteen months old and had spent all but one week of his life living with Ken and Kattaryna. Ken attended the adoption hearing and did not raise any objections to Kattaryna adopting Simon in her individual capacity. Nor did Ken attempt to reserve any post-adoption rights.

From the time OCS placed Simon with Ken and Kattaryna, Kattaryna encouraged a parent-child relationship between Ken and Simon. She referred to Ken as " Dad" when speaking around Simon and encouraged Ken to see himself as Simon's father and to develop a parental bond with him. Kattaryna and Ken held themselves out to be a family before the adoption. In a 2005 photo album Kattaryna put together entitled " A Year of Change," there are photo captions such as " Bath time with Dad" and multiple photos depicting Ken, Kattaryna, and Simon as a family. Another photo album Kattaryna made includes references to Ken's nieces and nephews as Simon's " cousins" and captions such ...


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