COA reverses for father in TPR case, citing ‘no evidence at all’

The termination of a father’s parental rights has been reversed after a panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence proved he would threaten the wellbeing of his daughter.

After his daughter was removed from her mother’s custody and found to be a child in need of services, D.T. began participating in a father’s engagement program. Although the child, K.T. was in out-of-home placement, the Jasper Superior Court changed her permanency plan from reunification to termination of parental rights and adoption.

The trial court ultimately granted the TPR petition, finding a reasonable probability that the conditions resulting in K.T.’s removal would not be remedied and that placement with her father would not be in her best interests.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing with D.T. that the termination of his parental rights was clearly erroneous and not supported by evidence. While the reasons for K.T.’s removal from her mother’s care was a result of the mother’s neglect, the appellate court noted there was “no evidence at all regarding why Child was not placed with Father at the time of removal from Mother.”

“There is no evidence that Father was ever convicted of a crime or that he ever committed any criminal act in Child’s presence. There is also no evidence that Father was ever diagnosed with any sort of anger-related mental health issue or that he ever expressed anger in Child’s presence. And there is no evidence that Father abused alcohol or that he ever consumed alcohol in Child’s presence,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote for the appellate court.

It further pointed out that although the evidence did support the trial court’s conclusion that D.T. failed to fully participate in and complete court-ordered services, his failure to fully participate, alone, could not sustain the TPR order.

“The findings that Father missed some visitations with Child are also insufficient to support the conclusion that Father is not likely to remedy the reasons for Child’s initial and/or continued removal,” the appellate court continued. “Father missed visits toward the beginning of the CHINS case because of his son’s baseball schedule. However, Father subsequently attended eighty percent of the visitations even though his full-time job required him to travel around the state.”

Additionally, the appellate court noted the trial court’s failure to articulate how D.T.’s failure to participate “threatened the well-being” of his daughter. Rather, it noted the record showed that the father-daughter visits were progressing in both quality and consistency, despite D.T.’s personality conflict with the visitation supervisor.

“The only evidence of shortcomings in Father’s relationship with Child are the visitation supervisor’s statements indicating that she believed Father’s parenting style was too permissive, insufficiently structured, and unrealistic regarding expectations of Child,” the panel wrote. “However, the State may not forever terminate a parent/child relationship because it disagrees with a particular parenting style.”

It therefore concluded that the trial court’s decision did not meet the “high bar” set under the Indiana’s termination of parental rights statute. Finding insufficient evidence to support the termination, the panel thus reversed the TPR order in In the Matter of the Involuntary Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of: K.T. (Minor Child) and D.T. (Father) v. The Indiana Department of Child Services, 19A-JT-1528.

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