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Mistake invalidates termination of dad's rights

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A father's consent to voluntarily terminate his parental rights so his sister could adopt his daughter was invalidated by misrepresentations made by a family case manager for the Department of Child Services. As such, the father's petition to set aside the judgment should have been granted, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

Married parents D.L. and T.W. had a daughter, but the child was determined to be a child in need of services shortly after birth. D.L, who lived in Florida because of his work as a contractor, returned to Indiana because of the CHINS proceedings and began participating in weekly supervised visits with his daughter, K.L. The Tippecanoe County DCS placed K.L. in the care of D.L.'s sister, Ann, and her husband, Glen. T.W., who had drug and psychological problems, voluntarily terminated her parental rights so Ann and Glen could adopt the baby. D.L. decided to do the same under the assumption that Ann and Glen would be able to adopt K.L. The TCDCS family case manager investigated Ann and Glen and found no red flags.

D.L.'s parental rights were terminated and Ann and Glen began the adoption process, but TCDCS removed K.L. from the home after discovering a report made by one of Glen's adult daughters that he sexually abused her when she was younger. Charges were never filed. After learning this, D.L. sought to set aside the judgment terminating his parental rights, which the trial court denied.

D.L. argued on appeal that the judgment needed to be set aside based on the family case manager's mistake or misrepresentation in her home study, that the judgment was procured by fraud, and that public policy regarding parents' rights to establish a home and raise their children weighs in favor of setting aside the judgment.

In In the Matter of the Termination of Parent-Child Relationship of K.L.; D.L. v. Tippecanoe County Department of Child Services, No. 79A04-0908-JV-482, the appellate court agreed, finding there were no concerns about D.L.'s involvement in his daughter's life and that his decision to end his parental rights wasn't an attempt to exit his child's life, wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander. At the time of his decision, all of the parties thought it was in K.L.'s best interest Ann and Glen adopt her, and there were no red flags regarding past troubles in the home.

Even though D.L. was properly advised of his constitutional and legal rights at the termination hearing in which he proceeded pro se, all the advisements and questions at the hearing were clouded by the misrepresentation contained in the home report study and TCDCS' subsequent actions that served as the basis for K.L.'s placement in Ann and Glen's home and approval for her adoption. If TCDCS or the family case manager had adequately searched the DCS records, K.L. wouldn't have been placed in Ann and Glen's home and her possible adoption by the two wouldn't have been the deciding factor in D.L.'s decision to terminate his parental rights, wrote the judge.

"Under these circumstances, we find that Father's consent to voluntarily terminate his parental rights was vitiated by the misrepresentations made by the TCDCS through (the family case manager)," wrote Judge Friedlander.

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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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