The Indiana Supreme Court recently reversed and remanded decisions in two similar family law cases regarding termination of parental rights due to a technical legal error. This means both individuals in question will have the opportunity to once again assert to the court why the state should allow them to retain their parental rights.
Gary family law attorneys recognize that these are some of the most wrenching cases, and the courts will decide them on the basis of what is in the best interest for the child.
A termination of parental rights ends the legal parent-child relationship. Once this is formalized, the child is available to become legally placed for adoption and is potentially eligible for certain state-provided benefits.
A parent with sole legal custody may move for termination of the other parent’s parental rights in the interest of having the child adopted by his or her new spouse, particularly when the other biological parent has abused or abandoned the child or is incarcerated long-term.
The most common statutory grounds for determination of unfitness for purposes of involuntary termination of parental rights include:
- Severe or chronic abuse or neglect;
- Sexual abuse;
- Neglect or abuse of other children in the household;
- Abandonment of the child;
- Long-term mental illness or alcohol or drug dependency;
- Failure to support or maintain contact with the child.
However, these are not matters that the court takes lightly. The court requires a clear and convincing standard of proof that indicates the child’s emotional and/or physical development is threatened by the respondent parent’s custody. The burden of proof rests with the Department of Child Services (or the party bringing the action). Parents facing these procedures are entitled to due process per the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure.
This is what the Indiana Supreme Court says did not happen in the recent cases of In re Involuntary Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of S.B. and In re Involuntary Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of I.P., which is why both matters have been referred back to the lower court.
In both cases, DCS filed petitions to involuntary terminate parental rights. Both were presided over by the same magistrate who, at the conclusion of the termination hearings, resigned her position prior to reporting recommended factual findings and conclusions to the judge. The cases were then transferred to a different magistrate, who reviewed the hearing records and recommended findings and conclusions – without holding separate evidentiary hearings. The parental rights were terminated by the judge based on the second magistrate’s recommendation. While the appellate court affirmed, the state supreme court reversed, finding that a case can’t be decided by a successor judge who failed to hear the evidence directly in the first place.
This doesn’t mean the parents will be allowed to retain custody rights, only that they will have the opportunity to have their cases reheard.
Even in cases where parental rights have been involuntarily terminated, parents do have the right to appeal this judgment under IC 31-32-15-1.While pending appeal won’t necessarily halt adoption proceedings, if the adoption is finalized and the termination is later reversed on appeal, the adoption decree could also likely be reversed.
These are complex cases that require legal counsel from a lawyer who is both experienced and compassionate. We can help.
Indiana Family Law Attorney Burton A. Padove handles divorce and child custody matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
In re Involuntary Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of S.B., March 26, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court
In re Involuntary Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of I.P., March 26, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court
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Hammond Child Support Claims When Parent is “Voluntarily Underemployed”, Jan. 30, 2014, Gary Family Law Attorney Blog