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Supreme Court reverses parental-rights termination

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The Indiana Supreme Court reversed a father’s involuntary termination of parental rights today, noting the lack of clear and convincing evidence.

In Term. of Parent-Child Rel. of I.A.; J.H. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, No. 62S01-1003-JV-148, father J.H. challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the trial court’s judgment regarding Indiana Code sections 31-35-2-4(b)(2)(B) and (C).

I.A. was born Feb. 18, 2006, out-of-wedlock to mother, D.A., and J.H. The child was one of mother’s seven children ranging in age from birth to 14 years. Within a few months of I.A.’s birth, mother told J.H. that I.A. was his son.

The same month I.A. was born, the Perry County Department of Child Services became involved with mother and her children because of allegations of lack of supervision, educational and medical neglect, and mother’s drug use. The children were removed from mother’s care in January 2007 and individual petitions were filed alleging each child was a child in need of services. DCS named father as a party to the petition regarding I.A.

Both mother and father appeared pro se at a March 30, 2007, hearing at which the judge granted the CHINS petition. The order included a reunification plan for the mother but not for father.

After a July 2007 review hearing, the court entered no findings regarding the father. J.H. later testified that during the summer of 2007, he was initially allowed limited visitation with I.A.; however, visitation was discontinued in September 2007 because paternity had not yet been established. DCS filed a petition Feb. 12, 2008, to terminate both mother and father’s parental rights. J.H. sought paternity testing in May 2008 and filed a petition to establish paternity of I.A., which the trial court granted in September 2008. From July 11, 2008, through Jan. 29, 2009, father was allowed supervised visitation with I.A.

The trial court noted at a review hearing Nov. 25, 2008, that J.H. appeared but mother did not. Among the findings, the trial court noted the mother did not comply with the case plan, but the father did. The high court, however, wrote the record did not reveal that a case plan was ever put in place for J.H.

Despite J.H.’s efforts, the trial court granted DCS’s petitions to terminate mother and father’s parental rights.

At the time I.A. was removed, mother and father were not residing in the same household so the child was in her sole custody and care. Because of that, the conditions that resulted in I.A.’s removal cannot be attributed to father, wrote Justice Robert Rucker.

A caseworker noted that father had not bonded with I.A. after 6 months of parent-aide services, that father needed considerable direction regarding simple tasks relating to I.A.’s care, and there had been “no progress in the relationship” between father and I.A.

“In essence, the factors identified by the trial court as conditions that will not be remedied are relevant only if those conditions were factors in DCS’s decision to place I.A. in foster care in the first place. Not only is the trial court’s order terminating Father’s parental rights silent on this point, but also the record before us is silent,” wrote Justice Rucker, noting the trial court’s termination of J.H.’s parental rights cannot be sustained.

The high court noted the record does demonstrate that father’s parenting skills are lacking; however, a case plan for reunification was never developed for father indicating what was expected of him. Also, other than parent aide, no services were provided to assist J.H. in developing effective parenting skills.

“The involuntary termination of parental rights is the most extreme sanction a court can impose on a parent because termination severs all rights of a parent to his or her children. In re L.S., 717 N.E.2d 204, 208 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), trans. denied. Therefore, termination is intended as a last resort, available only when all other reasonable efforts have failed. Id. We are not convinced that all other reasonable efforts have been employed in this case to unite this father and son,” Justice Rucker wrote.

Justice Theodore Boehm, however dissented, giving deference to the trial court’s conclusion.
 

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  1. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  2. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  3. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  4. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  5. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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