In re Christian P.

Connecticut Appellate Court

98 Conn. App. 264 (2006)

October 24, 2006

 

Christian P tackles the issue of whether parental rights may be terminated on a ground that is not pleaded in the petition for termination. The answer, not surprisingly, is no – and the object lesson is that the state child welfare agency must plead the specific grounds for termination in order for a court to consider those grounds seeking termination of parental rights.

The state Department of Children and Families (“Department”) removed the respondent mother’s three children pursuant to a ninety six hour hold in May 2001when mom was arrested for larceny and the children were left unattended. The trial court adjudicated the children neglected and uncared for in April 2002, and subsequently, the Department filed for termination of parental rights of all three children. In all three petitions, the Department alleged that the children had been abandoned and that the respondent had failed to achieve a sufficient degree of rehabilitation pursuant to 17a-112(j)(3)(E), and with respect to children C & K, the Department alleged that there was no ongoing parent-child relationship pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-112(J)(3)(D). The petition concerning J did not allege the lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship as a ground for termination. The trial court’s November 2005 memorandum of decision indicated that the mother’s parental rights to all three children were terminated on the grounds that she had no ongoing parental relationship with her children, and that reunification would not be in the children’s best interests.

On appeal, the court addressed two issues. First, the court tackled and agreed with the respondent’s assertion that J’s rights had been improperly terminated for lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship because the termination petition failed to assert this ground. In a classic due process analysis, the court found that lack of notice of this claim in the petition precluded the court from terminating parental rights based on the claim at trial. As a result, the court reversed the termination and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Second, the court disagreed with the respondent’s contention that the finding of no ongoing parent-child relationship regarding children C and K was clearly erroneous and disagreed with the notion that allowing the mom time to establish or reestablish the parent child relationship would be in the children’s best interest. Citing Jonathan G, 63 Conn. App. 516 (2001), the court undertook a two-pronged analysis to determine, a) whether a relationship exists, and b) whether it would be detrimental to the child’s best interest to allow time for such a relationship to develop. In this case, the children had been separated from their mother for over four years. Her supervised visitation consisted of no more than two hours per week, and the children, all of whom have special needs, exhibited neither a reasonable amount of affection for their mother nor a desire to see her. In fact, by the time the trial court issued its decision, C and K had not visited with her in almost three years due to their election to terminate supervised visits. The children’s therapist concluded that it was unlikely that a healthy parent-child relationship could be established within a reasonable time – and effectuating a reestablishment of the parent-child relationship would be detrimental to the children.

This case may be found by going to the Judicial Branch website at www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP98/98AP9.pdf

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