In re Deleon J.

Connecticut Supreme Court

February 10, 2009

REINSTATEMENT OF GUARDIANSHIP/ JURISDICTION/ DUE PROCESS

The Supreme Court held that the trial court’s failure to provide the petitioning parent with adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard on the merits of her request for guardianship denied her due process of law. The Court reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded for further proceedings.

The case originally began in the juvenile court several years earlier after the state filed a neglect petition against the mother. The parties subsequently agreed to transfer guardianship of the minor child to the grandmother. Five years later, the mother moved the juvenile court for reinstatement of her guardianship rights. Shortly thereafter, counsel for the child informed the court that the child was no longer residing in state, but rather had moved to live with the biological father in South Carolina. The court asked the parties to brief the issue of whether it retained jurisdiction over the guardianship matter and whether an evidentiary hearing was required as to the jurisdictional issues in the case. The court set down a date for further hearing on the jurisdictional questions.

At the follow-up hearing, the court reviewed the child’s counsel’s recommendation that the child’s best interests were served by remaining in South Carolina with his father. Counsel for the mother was not present and did not file a brief regarding the jurisdictional issues. A covering attorney was present, however he did not address the jurisdictional matter or the merits of the mother’s petition. The court again voiced its skepticism regarding whether it retained jurisdiction over the child’s guardianship and ultimately concluded that the child’s best interests were served by remaining with his father in South Carolina.

The Supreme Court held that pursuant to the plain language of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the court retained jurisdiction over the guardianship case because at least one parent continued to reside in the state and the court had made a previous custody determination in the matter. The Court also held that the trial court improperly expanded the scope of the final hearing to include a decision regarding the merits of the mother’s petition, and that the mother had not received adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard on the matter. Accordingly, the trial court’s judgment was reversed.

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