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Court reverses because of DCS notification policy

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed the parental right termination decision made by a trial court, ruling that both the court and Indiana Department of Child Services in Porter County denied a biological father his due process by not notifying him of CHINS proceedings that ultimately led to his paternal rights being taken away.

An appellate ruling came today in Term. of Parent-Child Rel. of J.S.O.; S.O. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 64A05-1005-JT-304, which involved a child born in May 2008 and two biological parents who weren’t married but had determined paternity at an Oklahoma hospital following the birth of J.O.

The father was arrested that year and extradited to Indiana on an outstanding warrant, and he has not had contact with J.O since then. In July 2008, the mother was arrested on cocaine and drug paraphernalia charges and the child was taken into protective custody, starting this CHINS process. But the Porter County DCS officials didn’t notify the father of any of those proceedings despite having his vital information and knowing about the out-of-state paternity affidavit, stating an agency policy that presumes paternity has not been established if a child is born out of wedlock in another state and a court order indicating otherwise hasn’t been issued.

Once the CHINS hearing was finished, the DCS did notify the father that the parental termination hearing was taking place and he got involved at that point and stayed a part of the case. Despite the father’s objections, in April 2010 the trial court ruled against him and involuntarily terminated his rights to the child, so he sued.

The three appellate judges all agreed that the state agency and Porter County trial court had “blatantly ignored” state statute and due process. They looked at Indiana Code 31-34-3-4 requiring notice to each of the child’s parents, and IC 31-34-3-4(2) that requires the DCS to make a good faith effort to contact the child’s parents within six hours after the child has been taken into custody.

“Notwithstanding our holding today, we pause to clarify that we are not commenting upon the sufficiency of the evidence in this case or on the extent to which a county office of the Indiana Department of Child Services must provide services to parents in a CHINS case,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote, being joined by Judge L. Mark Bailey. “Nor should this opinion be construed as adding an additional element to those already required by Indiana’s termination statute. Rather, we simply cannot ignore PCDCS’s and the trial court’s failure to follow numerous and substantial statutory mandates in this matter."

Judge James Kirsch agreed that the father was denied due process during CHINS proceedings, but he wrote in his dissent that this did not deprive him of procedural due process with respect to the termination of his parental rights. He cited how the father was given notice on the termination hearing, and the evidence of his past history clearly showed the termination rights should be terminated – as the trial court had done. The majority’s decision will result in enormous disruption to the child’s life, he wrote.



 

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