In Determining Whether an Ongoing Parent-Child Relationship Exists, Court Looks Primarily to the Child’s Feelings

Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 17a-112(j)(3)(D), a court may grant a petition to terminate parental rights if it finds by clear and convincing evidence there is no ongoing parent-child relationship.  This concept is similar to “abandonment” except to the extent § 17a-112(j)(3)(D) specifies that in order to prove there is no ongoing parent-child relationship, one must establish that “the relationship that ordinarily develops as a result of a parent having met on a day-to-day basis the physical, emotional, moral and educational needs of the child and to allow further time for the establishment or reestablishment of such parent-child relationship would be detrimental to the best interest of the child.” Here, the trial court must undertake a two-pronged analysis.  First, it must determine whether no parent-child relationship exists.  Second, it must look into the future to determine whether it would be detrimental to the child to allow time for such a relationship to develop.  In considering whether an ongoing parent-child relationship exists, the feelings of the child are of paramount importance.  In fact, the ultimate question is whether the child has no present memories or feelings for the natural parent.

As one recent case illustrates, establishing the non-existence of an ongoing parent-child relationship can be quite challenging.  In that case, the child’s father was incarcerated, and although the Department of Children and Families made several attempts to contact him, the father never replied or inquired into rehabilitative services.  The father knew that the child was in the custody of DCF, yet upon his release he maintained almost no contact with his daughter or the Department.  The only exception was a single day when the father appeared uninvited to a supervised visit between the child and her mother.  The father arrived in the company of an apparently intoxicated friend, and spoke briefly with the child before the visitation supervisor intervened and the father left. This was the father’s only attempt to contact the child, and he exhibited no other interest or support for the child. He did not provide any financial support for the child, sent no cards, letters, gifts or electronic messages, and demonstrated no interest in rehabilitative services.

Based on the foregoing, the Court found that in all likelihood, the child and the Department would know nothing of the father’s whereabouts until his next incarceration.   Nevertheless, because the father appeared at a supervised visit and, according to the visitation supervisor, the child was pleased and excited to see her father, the Court held that the no parent-child claim was not proven as the child’s behavior indicated she had a positive feeling toward her father.

By: Michael D. DeMeola, Esq

Should you have any questions regarding DCF matters, of family matters generally, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq.  He can be reached by telephone in the firm’s Westport office, or by e-mail at JMaya@mayalaw.com.

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