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High court to hear arguments on CHINS case

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The Indiana Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday in a Marion County case dealing with whether a child can be determined in need of services with respect to one parent but not the other.

Set for 9 a.m., the arguments come in the case of In re The Matter of N.E.; N.L. v. Marion County Department of Child Services and Child Advocates, Inc., No. 49A02-0806-JV-522. The Marion Superior Juvenile Court ruled that N.E. was a Child In Need of Services, but the father, N.L., appealed the judgment, saying the evidence didn't support the girl was a CHINS with respect to him. An appellate panel on March 19, 2009, reversed and remanded, concluding that although the child was in need of services with respect to the mother, the juvenile court hadn't determined whether the father was willing and able to parent the child appropriately.

Judges Patricia Riley and Carr Darden, who made up the majority in the 2-1 decision, noted that due process is at stake in this case. Citing four-year-old precedent from In re J.Q., No. 836 N.E.2d 961 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), they noted, "Specifically, we are concerned that procedural irregularities, like an absence of clear findings of fact, in a CHINS proceeding may be of such import that they deprive a parent of procedural due process with respect to a potential subsequent termination of parental rights.'"

In writing for the majority, Judge Riley did not say the father would automatically have custody but that the juvenile court should determine whether the father is willing and able to appropriately parent N.E. because that child is a CHINS with respect to mother.

Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented with her own eight-page opinion.

"I believe that a child is either a CHINS or is not a CHINS and that the DCS has met its burden of proving that N.E. is a CHINS," she wrote. "However, because I believe that the juvenile court's dispositional order falls short of the statutory requirements and therefore we do not know the court's reason for its disposition, I would remand this case for a new dispositional order in accordance with Indiana Code 31-34-19-10.

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