ILNews

End of parental rights not based on disability

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the involuntary termination of a couple's rights to their children, ruling the final order was valid even without the presiding magistrate judge's signature, and the fact the mother has a hearing disability was not a reason why the mother's parental rights were ended.

In R.W. Sr. (father) and D.B.W. (mother) v. Marion County Dept. of Child Services, et al., No. 49A04-0801-JV-64, married parents R.W. Sr. and D.B.W. challenged the court's decision to terminate their parental rights over their children, of which R.W. Sr. was the father of only R.W. Jr.

The two raised several issues on appeal, including whether the final order was valid because the presiding magistrate judge didn't sign it, whether the state met the statutory requirements to terminate the parental rights, and whether the state terminated D.B.W.'s parental rights because she has a hearing disability.

The children were removed from the home because of unsafe living conditions after R.W. Jr. was found roaming outside his house alone. The parents completed some court-ordered services, such as parenting classes and home-based counseling, but they didn't progress toward being allowed to have unsupervised visits. They also didn't comply with all the court-ordered services.

The children had been out of the home for more than three years when Magistrate Judge Danielle Gaughan presided over the fact-finding hearing and terminated the couple's parental rights in early 2008. Marion Superior Judge Marilyn Moores was the only one to sign the judgment.

D.B.W. argues this requires the order to be reversed because the order is technically deficient, but nothing in Indiana Code requires a magistrate judge to sign the final order, only to report his or her findings to the trial court, wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander.

After reviewing the juvenile court's record, the Court of Appeals found that court did not base its decision to terminate D.B.W.'s parental rights based on the fact she has a significant hearing disability that challenges her ability to communicate with her children. Instead, the court considered her refusal to take the necessary steps to bridge communication - adjust her hearing aids or learn sign language, Judge Friedlander wrote.

The appellate court also found the juvenile court met all the statutory requirements necessary for termination of the couple's parental rights, and that it was in the best interest of the children that they remain outside of the home, the judge wrote.
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