Court Rules that Father’s Periodic Contact with Children was Insufficient to Refute Claim of Abandonment

In a DCP proceeding involving a claim of abandonment, a Court (Wollenberg, J.) found that a father legally abandoned his children despite the fact that he continued to have periodic contact with them.  DCF initially became involved in the case after filing a Motion for Order of Temporary Custody and a Petition of Neglect.  The Court subsequently sustained the OTC, and the children were committed to the care and custody of the Department.  The mother consented to termination of her parental rights; however, the father objected.  With respect to the father, DCF alleged that he both abandoned the children and failed to rehabilitate.

In addressing the allegations that the father abandoned the children, the Court recounted the applicable legal standard explaining, “This ground is established when the child has been abandoned by the parent in the sense that the parent has failed to maintain a reasonable degree of interest, concern or responsibility as to the welfare of the child.  Sporadic efforts are insufficient to negate the claim of abandonment.

The test for determining abandonment of a child for purposes of termination of parental rights is not whether a parent has shown “some interest” in his or her child, but rather, whether the parent has maintained any reasonable degree of interest, concern, or responsibility as to the child’s welfare.”  The Court further explained, “The commonly understood general obligations of parenthood entail these minimum attributes: (1) express love and affection for the child; (2) express personal concern over the health, education and general well-being of the child; (3) the duty to supply the necessary food, clothing and medical care; (4) the duty to provide an adequate domicile; and (5) the duty to furnish social and religious guidance.”

In considering the standard set forth above, the Court found that prior to the children’s removal, the father was not directly responsible for or involved with their care due to his incarceration.  The Court further found that his role in the children’s lives had been very minimal.  Although the father was eventually released from prison, he was inconsistent with visitation, which was emotionally upsetting for the children.  The Court opined that the father had very little insight as to how his failure to visit the children affected them, and that he simply failed to show a level of responsibility necessary to maintain regular and frequent contact with them.  The Court explained, “He does not have a good understanding of his children’s needs or how to properly meet those needs.  He minimizes their needs, believing that his presence alone will alleviate all of their behavioral and emotional issues.”  Among other things, the Court found that the father did not provide financial support for the children; rarely, if ever, sent gifts, cards or letters to the children; never contacted DCF to inquire as to the children’s well-being; never showed an interest in the children’s health or welfare; and failed to establish a proper living situation for the children.

Should you have any questions regarding DCF proceedings, or family matters generally, please feel free to contact managing partner Joseph C. Maya to schedule a free initial consultation.  He can be reached by telephone in the firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at jmaya@mayalaw.com.