COA affirms denial of petition to terminate parental rights

A mother and father can continue on their path toward reunification with their children after the Indiana Court of Appeals determined Thursday the Department of Child Services did not sustain its burden of proof to support termination of their parental rights.

After it was discovered that E.L. had used marijuana during her pregnancy with A.H. and that the family was homeless, both A.H. and her brother, W.L., were removed from the home of E.L. and their father, O.H. The children were adjudicated as children in need of services and the parents were ordered to participate in court-ordered services.

W.L. and A.H. were returned to their parents in July 2013, but three months later, O.H. was arrested for battering E.L., so the children were placed in foster care. The parents were ordered to complete home-based services, refrain from criminal activity and complete non-violence counseling, among other orders.

Then in March 2016, the Department of Child Services filed a petition to terminate both parental relationships with the children. Testimony in the parents’ favor revealed both O.H. and E.L. had completed court-ordered programs, had steady jobs and had gotten married, while the children had asked about moving back in with their parents.  Further, the children’s foster mother testified that O.H. and E.L. kept in regular contact with the children.

While a DCS family case manager agreed O.H. had made progress, she recommended termination based on E.L.’s past drug use and current use of methadone for various physical ailments. Further, Roberta Renbarger, a guardian ad litem, said she did not believe O.H. had benefitted from the domestic violence program, though she conceded she had never met the parents or children.

After determining the parents had demonstrated sufficient progress toward the ability to care for their children, the Allen Superior Court denied the petition to terminate the parent-child relationship and ordered DCS to consider another permanency plan. Renbarger appealed, arguing DCS had met its burden of proving the conditions that led to the children’s placement outside the home would not be remedied, but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision Thursday.

In a unanimous opinion, Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote the evidence presented to the trial court – including evidence of O.H. and E.L.’s completion of court-ordered programs, steady jobs, marriage and regular contact with W.L. and A.H. – supported the conclusion that DCS did not meet its burden of proof.  Thus, the denial of the petition for termination in the case of In Re: the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of W.M.L. and A.J.L., R.R. (Guardian ad Litem) v. E.L. (Mother ), O.H. (Father), et al., 02A03-1703-JT-479, was proper.

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