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Court: CHINS fact-finding hearing required by due process

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The Indiana Court of Appeals disagrees with the state Department of Child Services that fact-finding and dispositional hearings in a child in need of services case are interchangeable. The appellate panel has ruled a Marion County father’s due process rights were denied because he didn’t receive the opportunity for a fact-finding hearing.

A three-judge appellate panel issued a decision Wednesday in the case of In The Matter of T.N., G.N. v. Indiana Department of Child Services and Child Advocates, No. 49A05-1101-JC-15, which addresses an aspect of an Indiana Supreme Court holding from last year that the state agency says gave it the ability to sacrifice one parent’s CHINS objections at a fact-finding hearing when another agrees state services are needed.

The appellate judges offered guidance for trial courts addressing these issues locally: If one parent disagrees with claims that a child is in need of services, a court must hold a fact-finding hearing to address those concerns before making a CHINS determination even if the other parent admits a CHINS determination is valid.

In this case from Marion Superior Judge Pro Tempore Gary Chavers, the court focused on a CHINS determination involving a teen daughter, T.N. The state agency had filed a CHINS petition in August 2010 alleging that the mother and father didn’t provide the girl with a safe living environment and appropriate supervision. Specifically, the petition included claims that T.N.’s mother allowed the daughter’s boyfriend to sleep over, which resulted in her pregnancy and giving birth at age 14, and that the father had untreated substance and mental-health issues. The trial court allowed T.N. to stay at the father’s home following an initial hearing, but less than a month later removed her and placed her in foster care because the father wasn’t cooperating with DCS, T.N. wasn’t enrolled in school, and she was hospitalized after attacks by family members of the mother’s boyfriend.

In November, the trial court held a fact-finding CHINS hearing to hear evidence. The mother and DCS reached an agreement and acknowledged the CHINS determination was necessary, but the father’s attorney objected because the two had shared joint, physical, and legal custody and he needed to participate in that hearing.

The father’s lawyer argued that the court couldn’t make that determination based only on the mother’s admission, but the court disagreed and found father G.N. could later present his evidence at a subsequent contested dispositional hearing about what services might be provided.

On appeal, the judges found the father was denied due process.

The DCS argued that the Supreme Court’s decision last year In Re: N.E., 919 N.E.2d 102, 106 (Ind. 2010), held that a CHINS determination establishes the status of a child alone and as a result it eliminated the requirement that the DCS prove the child is in need of services for the fact-finding process.

“We agree DCS does not have to prove a child is a CHINS as a result of both Mother’s actions and Father’s actions. Nor must the court assign ‘blame’ to each parent in its determination. Nevertheless, N.E. did not eliminate the requirement that DCS prove the child is, in fact, in need of services as alleged in the petition,” Judge Melissa May wrote. “Thus, we decline DCS’s invitation to hold one parent’s admission is sufficient to prove a child is a CHINS, when the child’s other parent contests that allegation.”

The court disagreed with the DCS that a later dispositional hearing was adequate to address the contesting parent’s concerns.

“As the necessity of court-ordered intervention has already been determined by the dispositional hearing, any argument a party might make that his child does not need court-ordered intervention is moot at that point,” Judge May wrote. “We therefore cannot agree that a contested dispositional hearing is an adequate substitute for a fact-finding hearing, just as we could not agree that a sentencing hearing would be an adequate substitute for a criminal trial.”

Balancing the three factors necessary for determining whether a litigant received due process, the appellate court determined the father’s interest in being able to raise his child without interference from the government is more substantial than the state’s interest in denying G.N. a fact-finding hearing. Due process requires a fact-finding hearing before the court declares the child is a CHINS, the appellate judges ruled. Even though the father later withdrew his objection to the CHINS determination and agreed to participate in the dispositional services ordered by the court, the appellate judges said that doesn’t mean the father – or any litigant – sacrifices due process rights simply by cooperating with a subsequent court order.
 

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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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