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Evidence failed to support ending parental rights

September 29, 2008

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court's ruling to involuntarily terminate a mother's parental rights to her young twins, finding the court issued deficient termination orders and lacked clear and convincing evidence to terminate the parental rights.

Charlotte Moore appealed the termination of her parental rights over the twins, C.R.M. and C.B.M., in Charlotte Moore v. Jasper County Department of Child Services, No. 37A03-0803-JV-103.

The twin toddlers were removed after the Jasper County Department of Child Services was informed by police of Moore's confrontation with her two oldest children while all three were drinking. Moore had a history of referrals to JCDCS for neglect, abuse, or lack of supervision, but not all of the referrals were substantiated.

At the time of the fact-finding hearing nearly two years after the children were removed from Moore's care, she had married, enrolled in school, regained custody of two of her other minor children, gotten a driver's license, obtained suitable housing, and re-initiated individual counseling.

JCDCS testified Moore's parental rights should be terminated; the twin's guardian ad litem opposed the termination based on the progress Moore had made since the children had been removed. The Jasper Circuit Court terminated Moore's rights to her twins.

But the trial court failed to follow Indiana statute when issuing its order, the Indiana Court of Appeals found. The orders didn't list the specific requirements that must be alleged and proved by clear and convincing evidence, wrote Judge Edward Najam. The trial court's orders appear to be a recitation of the evidence presented at the hearing; in addition, the court didn't make any conclusions based on its findings and failed to explain how its findings support the judgment, wrote the judge.

It appears the trial court based its termination order on Moore's ability to care for her children at the time the children were taken away, not at the time of the termination hearing. Moore had made significant strides in accomplishing many of the dispositional goals put in place by the JCDCS. The trial court's order wasn't supported by clear and convincing evidence and the JCDCS failed to show there is a reasonable probability the conditions leading to the twins' removal wouldn't be remedied and that continuing the mother-child relationship poses a threat to the children's well-being, wrote Judge Najam.

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