Termination of Parental Rights Upon Finding of Inability to Provide Stable Home For Children

In a child custody action regarding the termination of parental rights, the Appellate Court of Connecticut concluded that a trial court did not abuse its discretion when it terminated a mother’s parental rights to her two minor children was in their best interests.

In April 2004, the petitioner, the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families (Department), filed a neglect petition with respect to the respondent mother’s two minor children, arguing that the children were denied proper care and attention and subject to injurious living conditions. The following month, both the mother and the children’s biological father pled no contest and were subject to six months of protective supervision. Within two weeks, however, the commissioner sought orders of temporary custody. Over the course of the next two years, the children were returned to their parents under protective supervision, committed to the commissioner’s custody, and placed in foster homes. Finally, in February 2008, the commissioner filed a petition to terminate the mother’s parental rights.

A trial was held in October 2008, where the court found that the mother failed to take advantage of the numerous services offered by the Department to facilitate reunification with the children. She did not address her substance abuse and mental health issues, learned nothing about domestic violence, and continued to reside with the man who physically and sexually abused both children. The court concluded that because the mother made little effort to improve the conditions of the children’s environment, it was not in the best interests of the children to allow them to return home. Clear and convincing evidence supported terminating the mother’s rights, and the mother appealed this decision.

When a court hears a petition to terminate a parent’s rights, it undergoes a two-step process. First and foremost, the court must establish whether one of seven statutory grounds for termination, found in General Statutes §17a-112 (j), exists by clear and convincing evidence. Should a statutory ground be established, the court must then consider whether termination is in the best interests of the children. Even if a court finds that a bond exists between a parent and a child, termination may still be in the child’s best interest. In this case, the Appellate Court determined that the mother was unable to provide a stable home for her children, and even though she shared a loving bond with them, termination was still proper. Furthermore, though legal rights to the children were terminated, this did not preclude the mother from being able to otherwise maintain interaction with them.

Termination of parental rights is not precluded simply because adoption of the child by new parents is not imminent. On the contrary, such termination may instead preserve the stability a child has acquired in their foster placement, and removes barriers to potential adoption. In this case, the mother argued that her rights should not have been terminated with respect to one child because that child did not have a pre-adoptive family at the time of trial. However, the Appellate Court was not persuaded, stating that the child may be permanently placed with her present foster mother or a half-brother with whom the child expressed the desire to live and be adopted by if her mother’s rights were terminated. Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Whether advancing or defending a motion regarding parental rights and child custody, 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.