COA: Trial court had ‘good cause’ for failing to meet 120-day deadline in CHINS case

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Because a mother remained quiet in a CHINS hearing, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has affirmed that the trial court had good cause for failing to hold a factfinding hearing within the statutorily required 120-day time frame.

The Indiana Department of Child Services filed a children in need of services petition on April 23, 2021, alleging P.T., the mother of K.T. and B.T., failed to provide her children with a home free from substance abuse and domestic violence.

A factfinding hearing was scheduled for Aug. 19, 2021, in Marion Superior Court. Under Indiana Code § 31-34-11-1, a factfinding hearing must be held within 120 days of the CHINS petition being filed.

However, at a July 29 hearing, DCS told the court an agreement in the matter was likely and a factfinding hearing would not be required. The court kept the Aug. 19 date but allotted only 20 minutes for the hearing.

At the August hearing, the court announced the lawyers had not reached an agreement and they were not waiving the 120-day requirement. Still, the court reset the factfinding hearing for Aug. 26, three days past the 120-day deadline, citing the congested docket, the ongoing pandemic and the parties claiming they would need a half-day for the proceeding,

The trial court subsequently denied P.T.’s motion to dismiss the CHINS petition for failure to hold a factfinding hearing within 120 days of the petition date and determined K.T. and B.T. were CHINS. P.T. appealed, arguing the lower court did not follow the law.

In a seven-page opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed in In the Matter of: K.T. and B.T. (Minor Children), Children in Need of Services, and P.T. (Mother) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 21A-JC-2025.

“We find the juvenile court had good cause to continue the factfinding hearing past the 120-day deadline based on: (1) the parties’ representations to the court that a settlement was likely; and (2) the court’s reliance on those representations in scheduling a minimal amount of time for the August 19 hearing,” Judge Leanna Weissmann wrote for the appellate court. “Mother complains that ‘only DCS indicated that a resolution was imminent.’ But she had the opportunity to contest DCS’s representations and did not.”

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