Articles Posted in Termination of Parental Rights

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It is almost always only following unfortunate circumstances that the Rhode Island Department of Children Youth and Families (the DCYF) petitions the court to terminate the parental rights of a natural parent. The procedural requirements and standard of proof required to terminate parental rights are more stringent than in other civil claims, however, these petitions are frequently granted. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently published an opinion affirming an order by a family court terminating a mother’s parental rights of her seven-year-old daughter.

According to the court’s opinion, the respondent in the recently decided case is a woman who struggled for most of her life with addiction and abuse. The evidence showed that the respondent was abused as a child and driven into drug and alcohol use from a young age. In addition to her addiction, the respondent was involved in abusive relationships throughout her life. When the respondent was pregnant with the child at issue in this case, she and the father of the child were arrested for neglect which resulted in injuries to another child that they shared. As a result of the pending charges, as well as the respondent’s substance abuse problems and failure to have a safe home or obtain any prenatal care for her soon-to-be-born daughter, the Rhode Island Department of Children Youth and Families (DCYF) temporarily took the child from the mother when she was born, and placed her into a foster program.

Although the respondent attempted to make changes in her life and attended several programs for new mothers struggling with parenthood and substance abuse issues, she maintained her relationship with the abusive father of her children, and ultimately was sentenced to prison time for the neglect charge, which interrupted her attempts to gain permanent custody of the child. Based on the ongoing issues, the DCYF sought to permanently terminate her parental rights, arguing that there was not a reasonable probability that the child would be able to safely return to the mother’s care within a reasonable amount of time. The family court ruled that there was clear and convincing evidence that the respondent was an unfit parent, and her rights were terminated.

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Family court cases often present some of the most difficult legal issues due to the high stakes involved. The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently upheld the family court’s decision to terminate parental rights in a Rhode Island child custody case over a 3-year-old child.

According to the court’s opinion, when the daughter was two years old, Department of Children, Youth, and Families (the Department) filed a petition seeking to terminate the mother’s parental rights to her daughter. The Department claimed that the daughter had been in its custody or care for twelve months or more, that the mother had been offered services, and that there was not a substantial probability that the daughter could be returned to the mother within a reasonable period of time.

Evidently, the mother had been hospitalized at least fifteen times and had attempted to commit suicide multiple times. An expert psychologist testified that he diagnosed the mother with bipolar disorder with psychotic features. On appeal, the mother argued that the family court was incorrect in finding the Department made reasonable efforts to provide the mother with services, that the mother was unfit, and that the termination of parental rights was in the best interests of the child.

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For the most part, the government stays out of how parents raise their children. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has held that “parents have a fundamental liberty interest in the care, custody and management” of their children, and that a parent’s rights will not “evaporate” merely because they are not model parents or because they have lost temporary custody of their children. However, at some point, when the state government believes that children are being neglected, abused, or otherwise in danger, the state will intervene.

In order for the state to terminate parental rights, they must establish one of the facts outlined in Rhode Island Statutes section 15-7-7. The list of reasons for which the state can terminate a parent’s rights is not limited by those laid out in section 15-7-7. Instead, the statute provides examples of situations where termination may be appropriate. For example, if a parent is found to have willfully neglected the needs of a child for at least one year despite being financially able to meet them, the state may move to terminate parental rights. Other examples include:

  • a parent’s long-term imprisonment;
  • a parent’s abusive conduct toward a child;
  • the child’s placement with the department for children, youth, and families for 12 months due to a parent’s substance abuse issue, when it does not appear as though the child will be able to return to the parent within a reasonable amount of time; or
  • when a parent’s other child or children have been placed in the custody of the department for children, youth and families, and it does not appear that providing additional services to the parent will result in reunification within a reasonable amount of time.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Rhode Island family law case discussing whether a letter that was written by a child to her father as part of a therapeutic exercise could be admitted into evidence in a hearing determining whether the father’s parental rights should be terminated. Ultimately, although the letter was an out-of-court statement, the court concluded that the letter was admissible.

The Facts of the Case

This was not the first time this particular case came before the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. In fact, the procedural history of the case is quite complex. To summarize the facts, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) moved to terminate Father’s parental rights after it was determined that his daughter was not provided a “minimum degree of care, supervision or guardianship.” At the time, the Father was incarcerated for murder. Father’s parental rights were ultimately terminated, based primarily on the fact that Father was imprisoned and his daughter had been in DCYF custody for 12 consecutive months. Evidence was also presented suggesting Father physically abused and neglected his daughter.

After the termination order, Father’s conviction for murder was reversed. Father then sought to appeal the decision terminating his parental rights. In opposition to Father’s request, DCYF offered the testimony of the daughter’s therapist.

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If you are considering adoption, one of the things that needs to happen is for the parental rights of the biological parent or parents to be terminated. In a step-parent adoption case, only one parent needs to give up their parental rights. However, sometimes the other biological parent does not consent to the adoption. In these cases, there are some scenarios where the court can terminate the rights of the other biological parent in order to allow the adoption petition to go through. If you are considering stepparent or another kind of adoption, you should contact a skilled Rhode Island adoption attorney to talk about your rights and options.

Facts of the Case

Here, the stepfather of two boys filed a petition to adopt them. Their biological father was incarcerated during these proceedings. He objected to the adoption by the stepfather so the children’s mother and stepfather moved to have his rights terminated. The mother of the children testified that the biological father of the children had not visited the children in over two years and had never paid child support. Even when he was not incarcerated, she testified, his presence in the children’s lives was rare. The biological father argued that he did at times see the children and provide gifts when he was able to. The boys – ages 14 and 15 – also testified that they rarely saw their biological father. They further testified that their stepfather had been a constant and positive presence in their lives for the last eight years and they wanted him to become their adoptive father. The family court found that terminating the biological father’s parental rights and allowing the stepparent adoption would be in the best interests of the children.

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After removing three children from the home of their mother, the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) petitioned to terminate the parental rights of the mother. The Rhode Island Family Court approved the petition, and the mother appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The Supreme Court affirmed the Family Court’s decision, which terminated the mother’s parental rights to her children. If you are concerned that your child or another child is being abused, you should contact the Rhode Island DCYF Child Abuse hotline at (800) 742-4453. If you are unjustly being investigated, your parental rights are in jeopardy, or you are seeking custody of a child you are concerned is being abused, you should contact an experienced Rhode Island child custody attorney as soon as possible.

Requirements for Termination of Parental Rights

The law recognizes that parents and children have a strong bond that should only be disturbed in extreme circumstances. The termination of parental rights can only be granted if the state supports its allegations of parental unfitness by clear and convincing evidence. In order to grant the termination, the state must also prove several things. First, DCYF has to show that the children have been out of the custody and care of their mother for at least 12 months. Second, DCYF needs to prove that they have made reasonable efforts to reunite the family, but despite these efforts, reunification would be inappropriate. Finally, the state must show that the termination is in the best interests of the children. Only once those elements have been proven can the judge grant the petition for termination.

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The opioid epidemic is a problem all over the country. Here in Rhode Island, some grandparents are seeking custody of their grandchildren after the parents have become addicted to drugs. However, navigating the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) as a grandparent can be difficult, and some grandparents have gone as far as to call the process “hell.” While dealing with these issues is stressful even under the best of circumstances, an experienced Rhode Island grandparents’ rights attorney can help you through the process.

Which Rights Do Grandparents Have?

Generally, parents are in charge of all of the decision making regarding their children, including whether their grandparents are allowed to see them. However, there are some circumstances in which the court may grant visitation to grandparents even over the objection of the parents.

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In 1989, the Rhode Island Supreme Court decided an important case in Rhode Island family law, particularly within the realm of admissible evidence. Petitioners appealed a family court decree granting a petition to terminate parental rights filed by the Department of Children and Their Families (DCF). The petitioners had three children, but their parental rights were terminated exclusively in regard to their eldest child. The state high court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

In July 1985, the mother placed her three-year-old daughter in the DFC’s care, stating that she was unable to care for her due to the daughter’s aggressive behavior. In foster care, the daughter alleged that she had been sexually abused by her parents, whom she called the “bad people.”

In August 1985, the mother told DCF that she did not want visitation with her eldest daughter. Based on the eldest child’s allegations of sexual abuse, the Family Court issued an ex parte order of detention, placing the daughter and her two younger sisters in temporary DFC custody. That November, a DCF caseworker established a plan for the parents to have visitation with their eldest daughter. The parents refused to sign the plan at the request of their lawyer.

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In the early 2000’s, a Rhode Island woman appealed from a family court order terminating her parental rights to six of her seven children. The case came before the Rhode Island Supreme Court on October 1, 2002. The state high court affirmed the family court decree, reasoning that the respondent demonstrated an unwillingness to keep her children away from the man that abused them. This case, In Re Jason L, had a significant impact on Rhode Island family law.

Respondent’s first six children were born to different fathers. Since at least 1997, the father of the youngest child and the respondent herself had been involved in a rocky and abusive relationship. Respondent and the father of her youngest child were married but living separately. Respondent’s husband physically abused her and her children. In 1997, a family court judge found that five of the respondent’s children had unexplained bruises and concluded that her husband was the abuser.

The Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) became involved with this family in January 1997 after learning that the respondent’s husband had abused one of respondent’s children. Between 1997 and 2000, the DCYF prepared eight case plans for the family. The plan emphasized the need to keep the husband away from the respondent and her children. DCYF also referred the respondent to numerous agencies to aid her with housing and psychological issues.

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In March 2012, the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) was apprised of an alleged incident of domestic violence that occurred in Massachusetts between a minor and his father. This ultimately led to the termination of his parental rights under Rhode Island family law.

Originally, DCYF was informed that the father attempted to quell his 10-month-old child’s crying by pinching, slapping, and throwing the child against a wall, which the mother claimed rendered the child unconscious. This past winter, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that the Family Court had correctly terminated the father’s parental rights.

On March 7, 2012, a petition for dependency and abuse was filed ex parte against the parents in Rhode Island, where they both reside, and the father was charged in Massachusetts with felony crimes arising from the alleged assault. A no-contact order was issued on March 14, 2012 and entered on April 26, 2012, which prohibited the father from having any contact with the minor. On September 27, 2013, the father was convicted of reckless endangerment of a child and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in Massachusetts by a jury.

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