Trial Court Did Not Err in Terminating Incarcerated Father’s Parental Rights

Neglect Petition

In April 2006, the petitioner, the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families (Department), filed a neglect petition for the defendant father’s newborn daughter. At the time, the minor child’s mother was a transient with unresolved substance abuse problems, while the father was incarcerated on federal drug charges and would not be released until at least April 2010. The child was adjudicated neglected that June and placed with a foster home. The court ordered steps for the father to complete, which included keeping Department personnel up-to-date on his location, parental counseling, and substance abuse treatment.

Petition to Terminate Parental Rights

In March 2009, the commissioner filed a petition to terminate the father’s parental rights. The trial court found clear and convincing evidence that the father failed to reach a sufficient “level of rehabilitation… which would reasonably encourage a belief that at some future date [he] can assume a responsible position in [his child’s life].” In addition, termination was in the best interests of the child. The father appealed this decision, arguing that it was improper for the court to rely on his incarceration in its determination, and that the Department did not make reasonable efforts to reunify the family.

Grounds for Termination

When a court entertains a petition to terminate parental rights, it must first find, by clear and convincing evidence, both a statutory ground for termination (as set forth in General Statutes § 17a-112) and that termination is in the best interests of the child. Termination cannot be grounded on a parent’s incarceration alone.

In this case, the Appellate Court wrote that the trial court’s finding that the father did not satisfy the statutory ground of personal rehabilitation was proper. It noted that while incarceration may impose restraints on the services available to a parent in achieving rehabilitation, it by no means entirely cuts the parent off from doing so. The Department is not the only resource; rather, the father could have immediately utilized services from the Department of Correction. However, the father waited three years to do so. Therefore, the trial court did not commit clear error.

Reuniting Families

Pursuant to the federal Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, the Department must make reasonable efforts to reunite families. However, Connecticut courts have established that reasonable is the operative term, which does not require everything possible. The trial court cited numerous pieces of evidence in support of the Department’s efforts, including repeated efforts to facilitate visitation with the child, the father’s repeated failure to communicate, and a Department investigation into whether the father’s siblings would be suitable placements for the child. As such, the trial court’s finding that the Department made reasonable efforts to reunite the father with his child was not clearly erroneous.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Whether advancing or defending a motion regarding 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.

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