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Teen father not deprived by lack of guardian ad litem in termination judgment

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A 15-year-old who fathered a child was not deprived due process because a guardian ad litem wasn’t appointed for him during proceedings in which his parental rights were terminated.

“We conclude that any risk of error created by not providing Father with a GAL was low,” Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote for a Court of Appeals panel in Term. of the Parent-Child Rel. of: D.T., (Minor Child), and T.S. (Father) v. The Indiana Dept. of Child Services, 49A02-1205-JT-420.

Guardians ad litem were appointed in the matter for the mother and the child, according to the record. The mother was represented because of her lower cognitive abilities; the child because of developmental disabilities that required regular therapy after spending his first five months on a feeding tube.

The opinion notes that the father T.S., who since has been charged with multiple felonies as a juvenile, at first expressed he wanted nothing to do with the child and refused to participate in services. He later said he wanted to work toward having the child in his home, but he continued to disregard conditions set by the court.

“Father was given multiple chances to participate in services and learn to parent the Child, but declined to do so. The record indicates that Father chose not to participate in services, not that he did not participate because he was unaware that the proscribed steps were necessary if he wanted to maintain his relationship with the Child,” Robb wrote.

“The juvenile court properly determined that the best interests of the Child would be best served by terminating the relationship between Father and the Child and allowing the Child to be adopted. There was no fundamental error, and Father’s due process rights were not violated when the court failed to appoint a GAL to him.”

The panel took issue with the trial court allowing a hearing to proceed while T.S. was without counsel, and with a participation decree that required him to seek gainful employment and housing, among other things.

 “We observe that while the obligations were not well tailored to a minor, the court emphasized Father’s failure to meet obligations that were appropriate for a minor. Additionally, Father was given multiple referrals to multiple different services throughout the eighteen months leading up to termination, in large part out of respect for his age. It was the sum total of Father’s lack of participation that largely informed the court’s opinion, and not choices that were made at any one hearing,” the panel ruled.

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