Supreme Court reverses termination of father’s parental rights

A man serving a 10-year sentence for dealing in methamphetamine, neglect of a dependent and maintaining a common nuisance is being given the opportunity to show he has changed.

The Indiana Supreme Court has overturned the trial court’s order terminating the parent-child relationship between J.E. and his son K.E. The five justices noted the state’s courts have upheld the parental rights of incarcerated parents.

“We are persuaded that there was insufficient evidence to support a reasonable probability that the conditions resulting in removal will not be remedied or that Father poses a threat to K.E.’s well-being,” Justice Steven David wrote for the court. “As to both, either the record does not support the findings or the findings do not support the trial court’s conclusions. Thus, the order terminating Father’s parental rights was clearly erroneous.”

In June 2014, the Vanderburgh Superior Court terminated J.E.’s parental rights, concluding the conditions that resulted in the child’s removal would likely not be remedied and that the continuation of the parent-child relationship could pose a threat to K.E.’s well-being. A split Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in a memorandum decision with Judge John Baker dissenting.

Baker’s dissent was echoed in the Supreme Court’s opinion. The justices pointed to the number of classes and programs J.E. has completed while in prison to improve his parenting skills and address his addiction issues. Also, he has bonded with K.E. through nightly phone calls and regular visitation.

“Given the substantial efforts that Father is making to improve his life by learning to become a better parent, establishing a relationship with K.E. … and attending substance abuse classes, it was not proven by clear and convincing evidence that Father could not remedy the conditions for K.E’s removal,” David wrote.   

In addition, J.E.’s work behind bars also convinced the Supreme Court he did not pose a threat to his son.

“…Father has pursued every avenue possible to complete programs to better prepare himself for parenthood and a drug-free lifestyle after being released,” David wrote. “Father’s interactions with K.E. are healthy and the two have bonded. … this Court is not persuaded that Father’s past criminal history and drug abuse provided clear and convincing evidence that Father now poses a threat to K.E.’s well-being.”  

The case is In Re the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of K.E., a Minor Child, and his Father, J.E., and His Mother, S.S., v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 82S04-1508-JT-491.

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