COA reverses informal adjustment order

A trial court was without statutory authority when it ordered a father to participate in an informal adjustment without his consent, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In December 2020, the Indiana Department of Child Services filed a petition alleging that A.A.D., A.D. and J.D. were children in need of services. Specifically, the petition alleged that T.D., the father who is the custodial parent of the children, “was found unconscious on [the] kitchen floor with the front door wide open.”

The DCS family case manager believed the father was “under the influence [of drugs] due to his erratic behaviors, [s]cabs on his arms, back and face, and [father] sweating profusely while speaking … .” The petition alleged the father had a history of illegal substance use and the children had reported seeing drugs in the garage.

A factfinding hearing was held this past March in the Allen Superior Court. Following the hearing, the trial court concluded DCS had not proven the allegations of the CHINS petition by a preponderance of the evidence. The court denied the CHINS petition and ordered the children returned to the father’s care.

However, determining “greater protection needs to be in place” due to the “concerning” facts presented, the trial court further ordered the parties to “prepare and institute a plan for an informal adjustment to address the unique needs evidenced by the facts of the case.”

On appeal, the father contended that the trial court was without statutory authority to order him to participate in an informal adjustment without his consent, and further that once the trial court determined that there was insufficient evidence to support a CHINS adjudication, the court was required to discharge the children from its jurisdiction.

DCS agreed that statutory law doesn’t support the trial court’s order and that a reversal was appropriate.

Court of Appeals Judge Terry A. Crone pointed to both Indiana Code 31-34-8-2 and Indiana Code 31-34-11-3 in the appellate court’s reversal Tuesday in CHINS: T.D. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 21A-JC-00665.

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