This case established the rule that where a locatable, presumed parent's parental rights are terminated without notice, due process requires a new trial.
Texas law required a natural parent's consent in an adoption unless the parent did not support the child sufficiently for two years.
In Armstrong, the divorced mother had custody of the child, while the father was ordered to pay child support. The mother remarried. Two years later, the new husband petitioned to adopt the child. The mother provided evidence that the father had not paid child support during those two years. Although the mother knew the father's location, the juvenile judge consented to the adoption without notice to him.
The father later learned of the adoption and moved to annul it. The court held a hearing in which the father introduced evidence trying to show that he had paid child support The court denied the motion to annul. The father appealed, arguing that the lack of notice violated his due process rights. The Texas Appellate Court upheld the denial, and the Texas Supreme Court declined to review the case.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the lack of notice violated the father's due process right. Moreover, the later hearing after the motion to annul did not suffice because the burden of proof had shifted. Had the father received timely notice, the mother would have had the burden to show failure to support. Instead, the natural father had the burden of overcoming an adverse judgment. Only by vacating the order and holding a new hearing could due process be achieved.
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