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COA sets standard in parental rights cases

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In addressing a statutory inconsistency on parental rights terminations, the Indiana Court of Appeals has held that trial judges must offer findings of fact in those types of cases just as they're required to by law for children in need of services cases and grandparent visitation matters.

The three-judge appellate panel issued that holding today in a unanimous decision on In The Matter of the Termination of Parental-Child Relationship of A.K., Minor Child., and A.S. Mother and O.K., Father, v. Ind. Dep't of Child Services, St. Joseph County, No. 71A05-0905-JV-261, which comes out of the courtroom of St. Joseph Probate Judge Peter Nemeth.

The case involves the biological parents of A.K., who was born in 2004 and declared a CHINS by the time she was 3 years old. Facts of the case show that both parents had various legal, mental, and other problems leading up to the court's and DCS involvement. In April 2009, Judge Nemeth issued an order terminating both parents' rights but didn't make any findings of fact.

On appeal, the case was fully briefed before the Indiana Court of Appeals in early October and within a month the appellate court ordered Judge Nemeth to enter a revised final order containing complete findings of fact in support of his decision. After an extension, Judge Nemeth in January filed a motion to vacate the appellate court's order from late last year. Specifically, he claimed the higher court's order requiring complete findings of fact "is not authorized by the Indiana Rules of Procedure and usurps the power of the Supreme Court of Indiana to control practice and procedure in all the Courts of Indiana."

The appellate court denied Judge Nemeth's order in January and threatened to find him in contempt if he didn't comply by February. Judge Nemeth asked the Supreme Court to accept jurisdiction, but the justices dismissed that transfer motion in February. Judge Nemeth entered his findings that same week.

On the merits, the Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed Judge Nemeth's judgment in today's ruling, finding that clear and convincing evidence supports his decision terminating the parents' rights. But the panel first tackled the procedural hurdles that Judge Nemeth had raised about statutory requirements for findings of fact, issuing a holding that will impact all cases of this kind.

"The probate court was not statutorily required to enter findings of fact in issuing its judgment involuntarily terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights to A.K.," Judge Paul Mathias wrote for the panel, citing caselaw from Parks v. Delaware County Dep't of Child Servs., 862 N.E.2d 1275, 1278 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007). "But where, as here, the rights invoked are of constitutional magnitude, our review cannot begin and end with the mere fact that applicable statutes do not require a trial court to support its conclusions with any identifiable rationale."

Judge Mathias concurred with the earlier panel in Parks that found a trial court's termination order should include those findings and conclusions as law because of the serious and permanent nature of these parental rights proceedings.

"We believe that a judgment terminating the relationship between a parent and child is impossible to review on appeal if it is nothing more than a mere recitation of the conclusions the governing statute requires the trial court to reach. Indiana's parents and children deserve more, and the basis notions of due process inherent in our system of justice demand more," the court wrote, citing the CHINS and grandparent visitation statutes that require these findings.

"We hold today that our trial courts must treat them accordingly, with the constitutional gravity they clearly have, and enter findings of fact that support the entry of the conclusions called for by Indiana statute and the common law," the court wrote.

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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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