Termination of Parental Rights Denied Upon Successful Rehab

Superior Court of Connecticut: Child Custody 

In a child custody action involving parental rights, the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Danbury, Juvenile Matters at Danbury found that the Department of Children and Families (Department) did not meet their statutory burden to terminate the rights of a parent who successfully rehabilitated herself.

The respondent, mother, gave birth to a daughter in September 2009. Two days later, however, the Department filed a petition of alleged neglect and a motion for an order of temporary custody. In November 2009, the daughter was adjudicated as neglected, committed to the care and custody of the Department, and placed into a foster home. Specific steps – what a respondent must do to be re-united with his or her minor child – were issued in December 2009. The Department later sought termination of parental rights, stating that the mother failed in achieving personal rehabilitation that would allow her to assume a responsible position in the life of the child.

Case Context

A social study was conducted in June 2010 and revealed that the mother had a troubled past. She functioned at a borderline intellectual level, and had a history of transiency and being taken advantage of financially. She was involved with a man who abused her physically and emotionally, and she consented to termination of her parental rights to two sons born of that relationship. During interactions with her daughter, the mother was observed as very nurturing, attentive, and loving, but still required extensive training and support. The study recommended that the mother not be awarded custody due to safety concerns and lack of parenting skills, as well as her limited cognitive ability. The Department terminated services that would reunite the mother with her daughter after the mother had only just begun parenting classes.

Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights

By Summer 2010, the mother made substantial life improvements. She ended her former abusive relationship, after which she no longer appeared to be anxious or depressed. She was actively engaged in therapy bimonthly at Danbury Hospital and felt personal improvements as a result thereof. The mother was employed full-time in retail, and proved herself to be reliable and helpful to coworkers and customers alike. She pursued a career as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant, and was in the process of completing clinical training. In addition, the sought housing support services and subsequently qualified for a Section 8 subsidized apartment. Despite these improvements, the Department determined that the mother failed to rehabilitate and used this as statutory grounds for termination of parental rights.

In a matter seeking termination of parental rights, the Department must initially show by clear and convincing evidence that it made reasonable efforts at reunification between parent and child. In this case, the court found the Department did not meet its burden, because it terminated reuniting services shortly after the mother began parenting classes. As such, the mother did not have the opportunity to integrate what she learned into active supervised care of the daughter.

The Importance of Rehabilitation

Personal rehabilitation is the restoration of a parent to a formerly constructive and useful role as a parent. It is analyzed as it relates to the needs of the child, and must be foreseeable within a reasonable time. A court must find by clear and convincing evidence that the level of rehabilitation achieved falls short of what would invoke a reasonable belief that at a future date, the parent can assume a responsible position in the child’s life. The “simple gauge” to determine whether a parent has achieved rehabilitation is whether or not, as of the date of adjudication, the parent is any closer to being able to provide satisfactorily for the neglected child than on the date of the child’s removal.

In this case, the court found ample evidence of personal rehabilitation by the mother: she ended the former abusive relationship, obtained housing, continued steady employment, and proved that she was quite capable of advocating for herself. The court characterized the Department’s conclusions as focusing on the mother’s limitations and ignoring her strengths and achievements in overcoming these limits. The court determined that the mother clearly met the “simple gauge” and proved that she could provide for her child. Therefore, the court denied the petition for termination of parental rights.

Whether advancing or defending a motion affecting parental rights, a parent is best served by consulting with an experienced family law practitioner. Should you have questions regarding matrimonial matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.