Recent ruling: Termination of parental rights unsupported

The statute provides that, when considering whether to terminate parental rights, the circuit court must consider certain factors, as to which evidence was either absent; less than clear, cogent and convincing; or favored the parent. Factors including whether mental condition will improve does not mean intelligence. Whatever else may be appropriate, judgment terminating parental rights on such record is erroneous.

The requirements that the court must consider are as follows:

(a) The terms of a social service plan entered into by the parent and the division and the extent to which the parties have made progress in complying with those terms;

(b) The success or failure of the efforts of the juvenile officer, the division or other agency to aid the parent on a continuing basis in adjusting his circumstances or conduct to provide a proper home for the child;

(c) A mental condition which is shown by competent evidence either to be permanent or such that there is no reasonable likelihood that the condition can be reversed and which renders the parent unable to knowingly provide the child the necessary care, custody and control;

(d) Chemical dependency which prevents the parent from consistently providing the necessary care, custody and control over the child and which cannot be treated so as to enable the parent to consistently provide such care, custody and control[.]

Proof of any one of these four factors (“relevant factors”) is sufficient to establish the trial court‟s authority to terminate a parent‟s rights.

Also, the following must be considered:

(1) The emotional ties to the birth parent;

(2) The extent to which the parent has maintained regular visitation or other contact with the child;

(3) The extent of payment by the parent for the cost of care and maintenance of the child when financially able to do so including the time that the child is in the custody of the division or other child-placing agency;

(4) Whether additional services would be likely to bring about lasting parental adjustment enabling a return of the child to the parent within an ascertainable period of time;

(5) The parent‟s disinterest in or lack of commitment to the child;

(6) The conviction of the parent of a felony offense that the court finds is of such a nature that the child will be deprived of a stable home for a period of years; provided, however, that incarceration in and of itself shall not be grounds for termination of parental rights;

(7) Deliberate acts of the parent or acts of another of which the parent knew or should have known that subjects the child to a substantial risk of physical or mental harm.

In this case, the court held that there was no clear and convincing evidence that the statutory factors were not met. The entire opinion can be read here.