No partial parental right termination allowed

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Indiana law doesn't allow for partial termination of parental rights, the state's Court of Appeals has ruled in a case of first impression.

But holding that, the appellate court has upheld a Howard County judge's two-fold decision to first approve a voluntary parental-right termination agreement reserving a right for post-adoptive visitation privileges, and subsequently denying to set aside a later decision to terminate that visitation. The appellate court found that though the trial court didn't abuse its descretion in this case, the panel expressed serious concerns with what happened and noted it could present problems in the future.

"Trial courts are cautioned to refrain from approving post-termination agreements such as these in the future as they are contrary to Indiana law and are likely, under a different set of circumstances, to provide false hope to parents facing termination of their parental rights," Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the unanimous panel, reluctantly affirming the ruling from Howard Circuit Judge Lynn Murray.

In the parental termination matter involving minors M.B. and S.B., the court issued its 25-page decision today in Tiffany Black v. Howard County Department of Child Services, No. 34A02-0805-JV-437.

The case stems from a county child services petition in March 2007 for involuntary termination parental rights for Black. The natural father is deceased. Prior to a fact-finding hearing in June 2007, the mother filed a voluntary relinquishment of parental rights for each child. But she attached addendums that stipulated the terminations hinged on the court granting post-adoption privileges, such as continued contact between her and the children.

The trial court advised Black that the termination couldn't be set aside unless it was fraudulent, or that it was under duress or she wasn't competent at the time, but it accepted the submitted agreements and later that day ordered the voluntary parental rights termination. She was permitted to continue visiting with both children twice a month, until the children were placed with adoptive parents who didn't know about the visitation agreement. The child services agency later recommended visitation be terminated and the court agreed, noting it wasn't in the children's best interest. Earlier this year, the trial court denied the mother's motion to set aside the voluntary termination order in that the judge didn't abide by the terms or that it was fraudulently obtained.

In holding that partial parental right terminations don't exist in Indiana, the appellate court made it clear it finds the mother's agreement contrary to state statute.

"Either the parent-child relationship survives, or it does not," the court wrote. "Given the plain and unambiguous language of Indiana Code Section 31-35-6-4(a)(1), coupled with Indiana's strong public policy to protect the emotional well-being of children whose parents have been either unable or unwilling to provide for their basic needs over a prolonged period of time, we conclude that the Mother's addendums to the voluntary consent forms are void ab initio and thus unenforceable as a matter of law."

Her agreement was an attempt to sidestep state law and "bootstrap" otherwise impermissible conditions into a termination order, Judge Brown wrote. Allowing that to happen would tie a trial court's hands and those of any child services agency, and would discourage adoption.

"Few prospective parents would endeavor to embark on the life-changing journey of adoption knowing they could find themselves the ready prey of possible unscrupulous parents who were contractually entitled to demand post-adoption visitation and other parental privileges following a termination of the parent-child relationship," she wrote.


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  1. Great observation Smith. By my lights, speaking personally, they already have. They counted my religious perspective in a pro-life context as a symptom of mental illness and then violated all semblance of due process to banish me for life from the Indiana bar. The headline reveals the truth of the Hoosier elite's animus. Details here: Denied 2016 petition for cert (this time around): (“2016Pet”) Amicus brief 2016: (“2016Amici”) As many may recall, I was banned for five years for failing to "repent" of my religious views on life and the law when a bar examiner demanded it of me, resulting in a time out to reconsider my "clinging." The time out did not work, so now I am banned for life. Here is the five year time out order: Denied 2010 petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): (“2010Pet”) Read this quickly if you are going to read it, the elites will likely demand it be pulled down or pile comments on to bury it. (As they have buried me.)

  2. if the proabortion zealots and intolerant secularist anti-religious bigots keep on shutting down every hint of religious observance in american society, or attacking every ounce of respect that the state may have left for it, they may just break off their teeth.

  3. "drug dealers and traffickers need to be locked up". "we cannot afford just to continue to build prisons". "drug abuse is strangling many families and communities". "establishing more treatment and prevention programs will also be priorities". Seems to be what politicians have been saying for at least three decades now. If these are the most original thoughts these two have on the issues of drug trafficking and drug abuse, then we're no closer to solving the problem than we were back in the 90s when crack cocaine was the epidemic. We really need to begin demanding more original thought from those we elect to office. We also need to begin to accept that each of us is part of the solution to a problem that government cannot solve.

  4. What is with the bias exclusion of the only candidate that made sense, Rex Bell? The Democrat and Republican Party have created this problem, why on earth would anyone believe they are able to fix it without pushing government into matters it doesn't belong?

  5. This is what happens when daddy hands over a business to his moron son and thinks that everything will be ok. this bankruptcy is nothing more than Gary pulling the strings to never pay the creditors that he and his son have ripped off. they are scum and they know it.