COA reverses termination of parent-child relationship

January 3, 2018

The Allen Superior Court must revisit a parental rights termination proceeding after the Indiana Court of Appeals determined insufficient evidence and prior appellate precedent failed to support the court’s termination of a father’s parental relationship with his son.

When 8-year-old B.L.P. began acting out in October 2013, the Department of Child Services filed a petition alleging him to be a child in need of services because his maternal grandmother could no longer care for his behavioral issues. Additionally, B.L.P.’s father, Br.L.P., was incarcerated at that time for drug-related offenses.

B.L.P. was adjudicated as a CHINS and placed in foster care, but after his father was released from a Georgia prison in 2014, the two began having regular phone and Skype contact. Additionally, the CHINS court ordered Br.L.P. to participate in a diagnostic evaluation after his release from prison, but because he could not afford the cost, he failed to complete the entire assessment.

Then in 2016, after an evaluation of Br.L.P.’s home and life under the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, the evaluator did not recommend placing B.L.P. in his father’s care. Thus, DCS moved to terminate the parent-child relationship.

At the time of the hearing, Br.L.P. was maintaining a steady job and had moved into a home with his girlfriend and her sons. However, due to financial and scheduling constraints, Br.L.P. had only been able to see his son in person twice.

The Allen Superior Court granted DCS’s termination petition on the grounds that Br.L.P. had not maintained regular contact with his son and his failure to complete his diagnostic assessment. But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that decision Wednesday, with Judge John Baker first readdressing the issue of the application of the ICPC to out-of-state parents.

Baker specifically pointed to the case of D.B. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 43 N.E.3d 599, 604 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015), in which a divided Court of Appeals held “the ICPC does not apply to placement with an out-of-state parent.”

“So, yet again, we hold as plainly and unambiguously as possible: unless and until the statute is amended, the ICPC does not apply to placement with an out-of-state parent,” Baker wrote in reference to Indiana Code section 32-38-4-1 article III. “To the extent that the termination order in this case relied on the rejected ICPC, we discount that basis of the ruling.”

The appellate court also rejected the termination order on insufficient evidence grounds, finding that because Br.L.P. had completed his probation, was maintaining full-time employment and had stable housing at the time of the termination hearing, DCS did not prove a reasonable probability that the reasons for B.L.P.’s placement in foster care would not be remedied.

Further, “to terminate a parent-child relationship because a parent lives out-of-state, works full-time, and cannot afford to fly to another state and home again in the same day is to punish a parent for their geographic location and economic wherewithal,” Baker wrote. Additionally, because Br.L.P. had made efforts to improve his lifestyle and become a suitable caregiver, there was insufficient evidence that continuing the relationship would pose a threat to B.L.P.’s well-being or best interest, the court found.

Thus, the case of In the Matter of the Termination of Parent Rights of: B.L.P. (Minor Child) and Br.L.P. (Father) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 02A04-1706-JT-1343, was remanded. Judge Elaine Brown concurred without a separate opinion.  


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