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COA reinstates father’s parental rights, terminates mother's

March 13, 2017

The Indiana Court of Appeals has allowed a Huntington County father to retain his parental rights to his son but terminated the mother’s parental rights after finding that she has not remedied the circumstances that led to her son’s removal from her home.

After G.M. was born to M.M. and K.C. in December 2014, the Indiana Department of Child Services took the child away from mother M.M., because she admitted to using unprescribed painkillers and heroin while pregnant. Further, K.C. reported that he was unable to care for his child because he was on probation for rape and could not be around children without supervision.

DCS filed a petition alleging that G.M. was a child in need of services, and the juvenile court in September 2015 ordered M.M. to participate in various services and allowed K.C. to participate in services as he was able while incarcerated after his probation had been revoked. M.M. did not consistently participate in her services, so DCS changed G.M.’s permanency plan to adoption. The department also moved to terminate both parents’ rights in March 2016, which the trial court agreed to order the following August.

On appeal, K.C. argued that because he was not under disposition when DCS changed G.M.’s permanency plan to adoption, the department failed to prove that G.M. had been removed from his care under a dispositional decree for at least six months, as required by Indiana Code section 31-35-2-4(b)(2)(A)(i). The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed Monday, with Judge Melissa May writing that the juvenile court’s findings as to K.C.’s parental rights must be reversed on those grounds.

For her part, M.M. argued that she regularly visited G.M. until K.C. was incarcerated because, without him, she did not have transportation to visitations. Further, she said DCS did not approve a new service provider for her visitation until August 2015 and that her lack of transportation and work hours made it difficult to complete her other services.

However, DCS Services Manager Daniel Borne testified that M.M. did not complete an initial substance abuse assessment or meet with a substance abuse counselor, evidence May wrote was sufficient to support the juvenile court’s findings against her. The appellate panel rejected other similar arguments, such as an argument that M.M. could not respond to the guardian ad litem’s letters because she could not afford postage, finding that sufficient evidence supported the juvenile court’s findings.

But while the appellate panel disagreed with the juvenile court’s finding that G.M. views his foster parents as his “true parents” – May wrote that a non-speaking toddler could not indicate who his true parents are – such a finding does not warrant reversal because the juvenile court made other appropriate findings, the judge said. 

Finally, May wrote for the appellate panel that the juvenile court correctly found that there was a reasonable probability that M.M. would not remedy the conditions that led to G.M.’s removal and that the termination of her parental rights was in G.M.’s best interests.

The case is In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of G.M. (Child) and M.M. (Mother) & K.C. (Father); M.M. (Mother) and K.C. (Father) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 35A02-1609-JT-2096.

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