COA affirms termination of mother’s parental rights

July 14, 2017

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed the termination of a mother’s parental rights to her daughter after finding the mother failed to prove the trial court erred in the calculation of the time the child had been removed from her parents’ home.

One evening when K.S. and her child, L.R., were sitting in their living room, they heard an explosion that turned out to be the result of M.R., the child’s father, cooking meth in an adjacent bedroom. There was evidence K.S. had gone to the store with L.R. earlier that day to purchase meth ingredients, so the Department of Child Services removed L.R. and placed her with her maternal grandparents.

Two days after the incident in January 2014, DCS filed a petition alleging L.R. was a child in need of services, and the parties agreed to extend the statutory deadline for holding a fact-finding hearing to 120 days. But at a May 5 status hearing, DCS told the court it would be dismissing the case, which was beyond the deadline date for scheduling a fact-finding hearing.

Instead, DCS said it would reopen the matter under another cause. In a subsequent order, the trial court wrote the hearing would be unable to be held within 120 days, so the parties agreed to the necessity of opening the case under a new cause number.

DCS filed the second CHINS petition on May 30, and the parents admitted the allegations. The trial court then issued a dispositional order requiring them to participate in recommended programs, maintain regular income and abstain from alcohol or illegal drugs, among other things.

During the CHINS proceedings, K.S. “made little meaningful progress toward reunification” and tested positive for drugs twice. As a result, DCS filed a termination of parental rights petition on June 8, 2015.

K.S. attempted to improve her relationship with L.R. when she learned of the termination petition, maintaining relative stability from June to November 2015. But when the court took the matter under advisement for a one-year period, the mother returned to her previous habits of not meeting with L.R. or participating in her recommended services.  The Wells Circuit Court issued the termination order against both parents in November 2016, but only K.S. appealed.

K.S.’s first argument on appeal contends that DCS filed the termination petition too soon because L.R. had not been removed from her parents for at least 15 months from the time the May 2014 CHINS petition was filed, as is required under Indiana Code section 31-35-2-4(b)(2)(A). Though the termination petition was filed 17 months after the original January 2014 CHINS petition, K.S. argued the calculation of the 15 months should have begun in May 2014.

But in a Friday opinion, Indiana Court of Appeals Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik said state statute begins the removal period “with the date the child is removed from the home,” or, in this case, January 2014. Further, K.S. expressly acknowledged the need for the dismissal-and-refiling procedure, so the trial court did not err in its calculation of the time L.R. was removed, Vaidik said.

K.S. also tried to raise due process concerns due to “procedural irregularities” during the proceedings, but Vaidik said the mother waived that argument by failing to raise it in trial court and that, waiver notwithstanding, she failed to prove any due process violations. Finally, although K.S. did demonstrate relative stability between June and November 2015, that time was preceded by 17 months of instability, so the trial court did not err in its decision to terminate her parental rights, Vaidik said.

The case is In re the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of L.R. (Minor Child), K.S. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 90A02-1612-JT-2846.




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