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Appeals court reverses termination of father’s rights

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The Department of Child Services failed to prove that a father’s children were removed for cause required under state statute, and the trial court erred in terminating the parental rights of the Dearborn County man.

In Term. of Parent-Child Rel. of: Q.M. and E.M., Minor Children, B.M., Father v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, 15A05-1112-JT-706, the court reversed Dearborn Circuit Judge James D. Humphrey’s order terminating the parental rights of B.M. to his children, ages 3 and 5.

Q.M. showed signs of abuse and, after a DCS investigation, both siblings were designated as children in need of services. B.M. later signed a Stipulation of CHINS agreement wherein he acknowledged that Q.M.’s injuries “would not have occurred but for the act or omission of a parent, custodian, or guardian.” He participated in counseling but failed to successfully complete court-ordered therapy and parenting evaluations. He demonstrated “extreme behavior” that was sanctioned by the court after his 2010 breakup with the children’s mother.

“For example, father sent 96 text messages and made numerous phone calls concerning mother and her whereabouts to the home-based counselor’s personal cell phone and home phone during a single weekend, causing the provider to feel threatened and to request no further work with father,” the court record says.

However, DCS terminated the father’s parental rights without required findings, Judge Elaine Brown wrote in a unanimous opinion.

“An involuntary termination petition must allege, and the state must prove by clear and convincing evidence, that the child was either removed from the parent for at least six months under a dispositional decree or removed from the family home at least fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months ‘at the time the involuntary termination petition was filed,’” Brown wrote.

“Based on the foregoing, it is clear that DCDCS (Dearborn County Indiana Dept. of Child Services) failed to satisfy the mandates of Ind. Code § 31-35-2-4(b)(2)(A). Thus, the trial court committed reversible error in granting DCDCS’s involuntary termination petitions. …  The trial court’s judgment terminating Father’s parental rights to Q.M. and E.M. must be reversed.”

Brown closed with a footnote: “Our decision today should not be construed as a negative comment upon the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court’s specific findings or ultimate decision to terminate father’s parental rights. Moreover, in reaching this decision, we are keenly aware of the fact that both Q.M.’s and E.M.’s sense of permanency and well-being hangs in the balance. Further delay in the final resolution of the children’s cases is most certainly regrettable, but the court is bound by statute to ensure the process.”  



 

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