COA upholds termination of mother’s parental rights

June 4, 2015

The Indiana Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion by a trial court when it denied a mother’s request to continue her termination of parental rights hearing for several months, when she expected to be released from incarceration. The mother was unable to prove that she would definitely be out of jail at that time.

M.W., the child of mother J.W., was found to be a child in need of services in January 2013 based on mother’s erratic behavior, positive drug test and her arrest on an outstanding warrant. Despite an order to participate in services, mother failed to make any progress and only visited her child once. She was incarcerated six months later on various charges and received mental health treatment while in jail.

At a pre-trial hearing in July 2014 to terminate her parental rights, J.W. requested a continuance of the scheduled Aug. 6, 2014, hearing. She contended she would be released from jail in October, had received treatment in jail, and wanted to participate in services upon her release. The trial court denied her motion, and her parental rights were later terminated.

J.W. believed her case is similar to Rowlett v. Vanderburgh Cnty. Office of Family & Children, 841 N.E.2d 615 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), in which the COA reversed the denial of an incarcerated father’s motion to continue a termination of parental rights hearing because he was set for release six weeks after the hearing. He participated in services during incarceration and did not have the opportunity to do so prior to being incarcerated.

But the appeals court found the instant case distinguishable as J.W. expected to be released in October, but that was speculative. She also had the opportunity to participate in services prior to her incarceration but failed to do so.

“We acknowledge that Mother claims to have received mental health treatment and claims that she is doing better. However, she presented no specifics of that treatment at the time of her motion to continue. Given these facts, we are unwilling to keep M.W. on a shelf until Mother is capable of caring for her properly,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote in In the Matter of the Term. of the Parent-Child Relationship of, M.W., (Minor Child) and, J.W., (Mother) v. The Ind. Dept. of Child Services, 82A01-1410-JT-456.


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