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COA reverses termination of mother's parental rights

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The Indiana Court of Appeals found Thursday that the trial court findings in a parental termination case out of Dearborn County do not support the decision to terminate a mother’s parental rights to three of her children.

In Term. of Parent-Child Rel. of C.M., G.M., and R.M.; A.M. (Mother) and C.M. (Father) v. Indiana Dept. of Child Services, Dearborn County Office, No. 15A01-1104-JT-204, mother A.M. argued that the Department of Child Services didn’t establish by clear and convincing evidence the necessary statutory elements to support ending her parental rights. The COA agreed with her and reversed the trial court.

A.M.’s husband and the father of the three children at issue in this case was charged with battering the children while A.M. was in jail on a theft charge. He was later incarcerated in Florida and the children were placed back into A.M.’s care after being adjudicated as children in need of services. She received home-based family services, but issues arose when her boyfriend began staying with her. While serving a search warrant at her apartment, police found marijuana and the children were placed in foster care. DCS moved to terminate A.M.’s parental rights.

At an evidentiary hearing, A.M. said she was living alone in a three-bedroom trailer with her newborn twins, had income through unemployment benefits and was receiving outpatient drug treatment. The trial court terminated her parental rights to the three older children.

On appeal, she claimed that the trial court erred in determining that conditions weren’t remedied and removal was in the best interest of the children. The appellate court found the trial court made no factual determinations with respect to the evidence of changed conditions with the mother. The trial court is to judge parental fitness at the time of the termination hearing, while taking into consideration evidence of changed conditions, wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey.

“Here, the court’s focus on historical conduct, absent factual findings as to Mother’s current circumstances or evidence of changed conditions, is akin to terminating parental rights to punish the parent. And, without more, the findings are insufficient to establish each element necessary to support the conclusion that termination is warranted in this case,” he wrote.

Judge Carr Darden concurred in result.

 

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