A trial court erred when it failed to follow Indiana Code in a termination of parental rights hearing, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today. Because the appellate court found the error to be harmless, it affirmed the involuntary termination of a father's parental rights.
Father Daniel Bailey Sr. appealed the termination of his rights to his twins in the case In the matter of the termination of the parent-child relationship of S.B. and D.B. v. Dubois County Department of Child Services, No. 19A01-0804-JV-161. The Court of Appeals raised sua sponte one issue: whether the trial court violated I.C. Section 34-35-2-8 when after a termination hearing, it failed to terminate Bailey's parental rights or dismiss the Dubois County Department of Child Service's involuntary termination petition. Instead, the trial court postponed its pronouncement of judgment for six months to allow Bailey one final chance to prove he could make the necessary changes to care for his kids. The judge granted Bailey time to comply with a court order requiring treatment, classes, and drug testing, even though DCDCS met its burden of proof to terminate his rights. Bailey violated the order and his rights were terminated.
The appellate court examined I.C. Section 31-35-2-8, which clearly provides that a trial court shall either find the allegations in the petition to be true and terminate the parental relationship or it will find the allegations to not be true and dismiss the petition.
Because the trial court failed to comply with statute, it committed an error, wrote Judge Patricia Riley. Yet the error was harmless, the appellate court ruled and affirmed the trial court ruling.
Remanding the cause to the trial court to hold a new termination hearing would be against the twins' best interest because they have lingered in the system six months longer than they needed to while Bailey failed to follow the court order, the judge wrote.
"The twins need and deserve stability and permanency now. The current system has already been criticized for putting children in limbo too long, thereby fostering instability and unhinged relationships," she wrote. "In light of these considerations and the trial court's clear determination that the DCDCS satisfied its burden of proof on November 5, 2007 and again on February 26, 2008, we affirm the trial court's termination of Father's parental rights to the twins."