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DCS admits petition flawed; COA orders more proceedings

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The Gibson Circuit Court committed fundamental error in terminating the parental rights of a mother and father over their young child, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Friday. The Department of Child Services admitted that it failed to comply with statute when filing the petition to terminate their parental rights.

In Term. of the Parent-Child Rel. of: B.F. (Minor Child), and M.G. & S.F. (Father & Mother) v. The Indiana Dept. of Child Services, 26A04-1202-JT-90, parents M.G. and S.F. appealed Judge Jeffrey Meade’s decision to terminate their rights to their child, B.F. The DCS removed the child from the mother’s home in January 2010. The parents admitted to the allegations in the CHINS petition. On March 30, 2010, the parents signed a parental participation order, and the trial court entered its dispositional decree in May.

In October 2010, the DCS filed the petition to end M.G. and S.F.’s parental rights, alleging B.F. had been removed from their care for at least six months under the dispositional decree issued in March. But the petition contained no allegations that the trial court entered a finding under Indiana Code 31-34-21-5.6, nor did it allege that B.F. had been removed from the parents for at least 15 of the most recent 22 months, the appellate court noted.

Meade terminated their parental rights in February 2012.

“Here, DCS has conceded that its petition is jurisdictionally flawed. We acknowledge that DCS admits they failed to comply with the statute,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

The trial court entered the dispositional decree in May 2010, but the termination petition was filed in October 2010, less than four months after the entry of the dispositional decree and less than nine months after B.F. was removed from the home.

“Further, there is no evidence that the trial court ever entered a finding under I.C. § 31-34-21-5.6. Therefore, the only requirement alleged under I.C. § 31-35-2-4(b)(2)(A) was not true,” she wrote.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

 

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