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COA reverses involuntary termination order for a second time

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The Indiana Court of Appeals sharply rebuked a trial court as having “committed clear error” by relying on old evidence and testimony in terminating a Vanderburgh County couple’s parental rights.

In July 2011, the trial court issued an order granting termination petitions filed by the Indiana Department of Child Services. However, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for further proceedings because the four minor children had not been removed from the parents for at least six months under a dispositional decree as required by Indiana Code 31-35-2-4(b)(2)(A)(i).

DCS filed a second petition in May 2012. Over the objection of the parents, the trial court admitted the transcript and exhibits of the previous termination hearing. Again, the lower court terminated the parent-child relationship.

The Court of Appeals reversed the second termination order in In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: N.Q., Je.Q., Ja.Q., L.Q., Minor Children, T.Q., Mother, and A.Q., Father v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 82A04-1301-JT-42.

It faulted the trial court’s ruling as based primarily on the evidence presented at the first termination hearing even when the findings were directly contradicted by the parents and not refuted by DCS at the second termination hearing.  

 “Moreover, it was error for the court to issue its order which did not adequately consider the evidence presented by Parents of their current conditions, including Parents’ new income and their ability to keep current on their bills and maintain a clean residence,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the court. “Indeed, the court also failed to consider the lack of evidence to the contrary presented by DCS, despite the fact that it was DCS’s burden to prove its case by a heightened ‘clear and convincing’ standard.”

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