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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today

In In Re the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of V.A. (Minor Child), and A.A. (Father) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, an 18-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Rucker writes:

In a joint proceeding the trial court terminated the parental rights of Mother and Father to their daughter concluding there is a reasonable probability that the conditions that resulted in the child’s removal will not be remedied and that termination is in the child’s best interests. Determining the evidence in this case does not clearly and convincingly support termination of Father’s parental rights, we reverse the judgment of the trial court. * * *

In a Memorandum Decision the Court of Appeals rejected Father’s claims and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. See In re V.A., No. 02A04-1405-JT-233, at *11-14 (Ind. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2014). We now grant Father’s transfer petition and reverse the judgment of the trial court. * * *

Here, the goal of permanency may best be served by allowing V.A. to remain with her current foster family while DCS pursues the goal of reunification with Father as he receives the appropriate services that enable him to better understand how to parent his child while simultaneously caring for his mentally ill wife. This is particularly so considering Father has maintained an appropriate relationship with his daughter throughout the CHINS proceedings, provided for her throughout the foster care placement, maintained consistent employment, acquired suitable housing, complied with the requirements that DCS mandated for him in the Parent Participation Plan, and has already taken steps to understand how to better care for Mother’s mental health needs.

Of course, the trial court may ultimately determine that Mother’s mental condition presents a sufficient danger to V.A. that reunification with Father is not possible while he continues cohabitating with Mother. And this is so regardless of any improvement in Father’s understanding of his wife’s illness. In that eventuality—where neither termination of parental rights nor reunification appear to be viable options—DCS is not left without a remedy. Our statute governing permanency plans allows for the appointment of a legal guardian for the child “that is intended to be permanent and self-sustaining,” as the legal guardian receives the parental rights of “[c]are, custody, and control of the child.” I.C. § 31-34-21-7.5(c)(1)(E). Although the current DCS plan is that of adoption, the record is silent on whether the guardianship option was ever considered. In any event, employing that option in this case—should reunification prove unfeasible—would be consistent with our well-established precedent that “involuntary termination of parental rights is an extreme measure that is designed to be used as a last resort when all other reasonable efforts have failed.” In re C.G., 954 N.E.2d 910, 916 (Ind. 2011).

Conclusion. The evidence in a case involving the termination of a parent’s constitutional right to parent his or her child must meet the heightened burden of clear and convincing. The evidence in this case does not meet that burden. We thus reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand this cause for further proceedings.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 18, 2016 01:48 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions