COA clarifies decision in reversed CHINS case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals granted the Department of Child Services’ request for rehearing of an August 2014 decision in which the court reversed a child in need of services finding for a child whose father was in the Navy for the first few years of the child’s life. The judges clarified their reasoning but affirmed their decision in all respects.

Last year, the Court of Appeals reversed the adjudication of M.H.’s child as a CHINS after finding DCS did not establish that M.H. is unlikely to meet the child’s needs absent court intervention based on his lack of parenting experience and previous diagnosis of having post-traumatic stress disorder. 

S.A. was removed from his mother’s home on allegations of drug abuse and placed with his maternal grandmother. M.H. did not establish paternity for the boy, who was born in 2011, until 2013, after the CHINS proceeding had begun.

The mother admitted to the allegations, but M.H. challenged them. He had been discharged from active duty, returned to Indianapolis and found stable housing and employment. He wanted to receive custody of the child. The trial court continued the adjudication, but the appeals court reversed after finding the DCS did not meet its burden of proof regarding father.

In In the Matter of: S.A. (Minor Child), Child in Need of Services and M.H. (Father) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 49A02-1402-JC-74, DCS claimed that the appeals court ruling “effectively sent (S.A.) back to a Mother who admitted she needed help with her substance abuse” and left no room for the CHINS court to protect the child further.

But M.H. has a pending petition for modification of custody. In fact, the trial court denied father’s request to let the parents have joint custody of the child, so the COA is unsympathetic to DCS’ claims, Judge Terry Crone wrote.

They also rejected DCS’ claims that the opinion means that a juvenile court must wait until both parents appear in court at the same time and hears the matter in its entirety at the same time. The opinion simply stands for the proposition that when the CHINS adjudication can involve both parents at the same time, it should involve both parents at the same time so there is one adjudication as to all facts pertaining to the entire matter.

“If multiple hearings are unavoidable, then the trial court should, if at all possible, refrain from adjudicating the child a CHINS until evidence has been heard from both parents. And if an adjudication is unavoidable before evidence has been heard from the second parent, then the trial court must give meaningful consideration to the evidence provided by the second parent in determining whether the child remains a CHINS,” Crone wrote.

Judge Patricia Riley voted to deny the petition for rehearing.

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