PARKER v. STONE et al.
Richard Stone and Anita Stone filed a petition to adopt two-year-old A. S., whom they had cared for since he was five days old. It is undisputed that A.S. was born out of wedlock, that the parental rights of A. S.'s mother had previously been terminated, that A.S. had not been legitimated by his biological father, and that a paternity test excluded Corey Williams as A. S.'s biological father. Jerimi Parker, Williams' half-brother, filed a motion to dismiss the Stone's adoption petition, claiming Williams surrendered to him his parental rights to A.S. The trial court denied Parker's motion to dismiss and ultimately granted the Stones' adoption petition. Parker appeals the trial court's denial of his motion to dismiss and the final judgment of adoption. We affirm the denial of his motion to dismiss, and we dismiss his appeal of the final judgment of adoption.
In an adoption proceeding, the trial judge sits as both the judge and jury; he decides the weight and credibility of the evidence and is vested with a broad range of legal discretion.1 This broad discretion will not be controlled by this Court except in cases of plain abuse.2
1. Parker first contends the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the adoption petition. We disagree.
It is true that a “biological father”3 who does not take the necessary steps to become a “legal father”4 is not a “parent,”5 as defined in OCGA § 19-8-1(8).6 However, OCGA §§ 19-8-4(i), 19-8-5(i), 19-8-6(i), and 19-8-7(i), all dealing with the surrender of parental rights, provide that a surrender of parental rights may be given by “any parent or biological father who is not the legal father of the child.” Thus, contrary to the trial court's analysis, a biological father can surrender his parental rights even if he has not taken steps to become a legal father. However, a judgment right for any reason will be affirmed on appeal, and we find that there was evidence to support the trial court's judgment.7
The record in the present case reveals that paternity testing excluded Williams as the biological father of A.S. Therefore, there were no parental rights for Williams to surrender to Parker. This removes Parker's legal interest in the adoption entirely, and the trial court did not err in denying his motion to dismiss the adoption petition.
2. Parker contends the trial court erred in granting the adoption petition, but, as we stated in Division 1, Parker has no legal interest in the adoption proceeding. Moreover, Parker lacks standing to appeal from the final judgment of adoption because “[o]nly parties to the proceeding below may be parties on appeal.”8 Here, while Parker was served notice of the adoption petition, he was neither a party to the action, nor did he move to intervene in the adoption proceeding pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-24. “It is well-settled that only a party to the case can appeal from a judgment, or one who has sought to become a party as by way of intervention and has been denied the right to do so.”9 Parker lacks standing to complain of any alleged error in the adoption proceeding. Accordingly, his appeal of the final judgment of adoption must be dismissed.10
Denial of motion to dismiss affirmed; appeal of final judgment of adoption dismissed.
1. Blount v. Knighton, 298 Ga.App. 448 (680 S.E.2d 522) (2009).
2. Ray v. Denton, 278 Ga.App. 69, 70(1) (628 S.E.2d 180) (2006).
3. Defined in OCGA § 19-8-1(1) as “the male who impregnated the biological mother resulting in the birth of the child.”
4. Defined in OCGA § 19-8-1(6) as a male who: (A) has legally adopted a child; (B) was married to the biological mother of the child at the time the child was conceived or was born, unless such paternity was disproved by a final court order pursuant to the statute; (C) married the legal mother of the child after the child was born and recognized the child as his own, unless such paternity was disproved by a final court order pursuant to the statute; (D) has legitimated the child by a final order pursuant to OCGA § 19-7-22; or (E) has legitimated the child pursuant to OCGA § 19-7-21 .1.
5. Defined in OCGA § 19-8-1(8) as “either the legal father or the legal mother of the child.”
6. In re C.N. W., 274 Ga. 765, 767(1) (560 S.E.2d 1) (2002).
7. (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Hall v. Coleman, 264 Ga.App. 650, 653(1) (592 S.E.2d 120) (2003).
8. (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Lockey v. Bennett, 244 Ga. 339, 340(2) (260 S.E.2d 56) (1979) (maternal grandparents did not have standing to complain about judgment of adoption since they were not parties to the adoption proceeding).
9. (Citations and punctuation omitted.) Degussa Wall Systems, Inc. v. Sharp, 286 Ga.App. 349, 350 (648 S.E.2d 687) (2007); OCGA § 5-6-33.
10. See Degussa Wall Systems, supra. at 351.
MILLER, C.J., and PHIPPS, P.J., concur.