Articles Posted in Termination of Parental Rights

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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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Rhode Island family law allows for the termination of an individual’s parental rights under certain circumstances. In a recent case, a father (the respondent) appealed the Rhode Island Family Court’s decision to terminate his parental rights.

On November 19, 2013, the petitioners filed two adoption petitions in Family Court so that one petitioner might become the legal father of the other petitioner’s two children. The respondent, and legal father of the children at the time, was incarcerated in Massachusetts and refused to consent to the adoptions. As a result, petitioners moved to terminate respondent’s parental rights with respect to the two children. A trial was held before a Family Court justice on August 14, September 3, September 10, and December 15 of 2014. The trial justice ultimately terminated respondent’s parental rights. This past winter, the Rhode Island Supreme Court upheld the termination, holding that respondent abandoned his children.

The trial justice indicated that respondent’s lack of contact with and financial support for the children was “painfully evident,” noting that there was such a lack even when respondent was not incarcerated. Specifically, the justice found that respondent’s last contact with both children was on November 9, 2011, that he had never provided child support, and only sent occasional gifts.

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Rhode Island family law is a complex subject, one that often requires a knowledgeable attorney to parse its various nuances. In some instances, Family Court decisions that do not reach an outcome favorable to one party can be appealed. Such were the circumstances surrounding one fairly recent Rhode Island case.

On January 2, 2014, the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) filed a petition in Family Court, alleging that the parents “neglected” and “abused” their daughter. In that petition, DCYF specifically alleged that the parents failed to provide the child with a minimum degree of care, supervision, or guardianship; that the child was without proper parental care and supervision; that the parents inflicted or allowed to be inflicted physical injury upon the child; and that the parents created or allowed to be created a substantial risk of physical injury to the child. This summer, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that the Family Court erred in finding that the mother abused and neglected the child.

A trial on the petition was held before a justice of the Family Court from June to September of 2014. After having reviewed the testimony and other evidence, the trial justice issued a written decision on November 10, 2014. In that decision, she preliminarily noted that the child suffered an oblique femur fracture to her right leg, which is highly unusual in a non-mobile child.

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