CHINS ruling in separate cases, outside timeframes affirmed

A father who twice was convicted of criminal charges related to domestic violence episodes against the mother of his toddler lost his appeal challenging a child in need of services determination as it relates to him.

A.T. is the father of E.T., and the record shows A.T. and the mother of the child born in September 2018 acknowledged alcohol abuse problems. When the child was about 4 months old, the Department of Child Services received a report of domestic violence against mother. Based on her “black eye, busted lip and large bruises on her arm,” father was charged with Level 6 felony domestic battery and misdemeanor false informing.

DCS created a safety plan for mother, but less than a month later, the agency received another domestic violence report and filed a child in need of services petition, and the child was placed in a licensed foster home. Father ultimately pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges related to both incidents.

Because mother secured a restraining order against father and said she was fearful of being around him, DCS successfully moved for separate factfinding hearings in Vermillion Circuit Court. Mother admitted at her factfinding hearing that E.T. was a CHINS.

Meanwhile, father continued his hearing and waived the statutory timeframe. When the hearing was reset, neither father nor his attorney, who had moved out of state without withdrawing from the case, appeared. The court appointed new counsel for father and reset the hearing, at which DCS successfully moved the court to take judicial notice of mother’s admission that the child was in need of services.

Father testified regarding his alcohol use and criminal history, which also included prior convictions of battery and criminal confinement against mother, but he maintained he was not a violent person.

Ultimately, the trial court in the separate cases changed E.T.’s permanency plan to termination of mother’s parental rights and ordered father to complete a domestic violence assessment and follow all recommendations; complete Fatherhood Engagement; participate in all supervised visitations; submit to random drug screens; and not commit any acts of domestic violence.

In his appeal, father argued the trial court fundamentally erred in holding his factfinding and disposition hearings outside statutory timeframes and violated his due process rights by adjudicating child a CHINS in mother’s case without giving him an opportunity to be heard. The COA rejected both claims in In the Matter of: E.T. (Minor Child), a Child in Need of Services; A.T. (Father) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 20A-JC-312.

“As a result of Mother’s protective order and fear of Father, DCS filed a motion for separate factfinding hearings, which the trial court granted. … Thus, separate hearings were unavoidable because both parents could not be present at the same factfinding hearing,” Judge Rudy Pyle III wrote for the panel.

“… In sum, Father received the due process to which he was entitled. Father had the opportunity to be heard at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner,” Pyle concluded. “Because Father had the opportunity to be heard, the trial court did not violate Father’s due process rights. Therefore, we affirm the trial court’s judgment.”

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