COA orders better findings of fact in parental rights case

October 6, 2016

The Indiana Court of Appeals rejected Thursday a trial court order terminating a St. Joseph County woman’s parental rights to her daughter and instead ordered the trial court to present more specific findings of fact to support the termination.

After a report of physical abuse, 4-year-old N.G. and 16-year-old D.W., were removed from the home of their mother, N.R.G., and father, D.G.W., in 2013. A short time later, N.G. was designated a child in need of services, and the St. Joseph County Department of Child Services ordered services for both the child and the mother with the eventual goal of reunification. N.G. was first placed with an aunt, then moved to a foster home in 2015.

In January 2016, the St. Joseph Probate Court terminated the parental relationship between N.G. and her mother. The trial court offered a one-page list of findings to support its decision and stated that adoption was the best course of action for the child.

N.R.G. appealed in In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of N.G. (minor child) and N.R.G. (mother) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 71A04-1602-JT-346, arguing that the trial court’s findings of fact were deficient.

In its Thursday opinion, the Court of Appeals agreed, writing that the St. Joseph Probate Court decided that termination of the relationship was in N.G.’s best interests without any supporting facts other than to say that supervised therapeutic visits were in the best interests of the child.

Further, the trial court recommended adoption without any supporting facts other than N.G. was progressing in therapy with the help of her foster parents.

Finally, the appellate court wrote that although the trial court did present some facts as to N.R.G.’s prospects of remedying the conditions that led to her daughter’s removal, it did not provide a finding on the reasonable probability of the unremedied conditions. Instead, the trial court found that continuing the relationship would pose a threat to N.G.

Specifically referencing the trial court finding that N.G. had reported new sexual abuse at the hand of her brother in 2013, the Court of Appeals wrote that such a finding is not actually a finding at all, but instead a recitation. Further, the Court of Appeals wrote that there was no indication that the St. Joseph Court had adopted or substantiated N.G. accusations against her brother.

“Simply put, the trial court’s findings are so sparse that we cannot discern whether it based its termination order on proper statutory considerations,” the appellate court wrote.

The Court of Appeals panel remanded the case to the St. Joseph Probate Court with instructions to enter proper findings of fact to support the termination of N.R.G.’s parental rights.


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