In re Devaun J.

Connecticut Appellate Court

August 26, 2008

Termination of Parental Rights/ Failure to Rehabilitate/ Open Adoption

In this termination of parental rights case, the appellate court denied the mother’s claim that the trial court improperly: (1) failed to consider her statutory choice of a voluntary termination of her parental rights and an open adoption; (2) concluded that she failed to rehabilitate and that there was no ongoing parent-child relationship; and (3) considered certain witnesses as expert witnesses. The court also rejected the mother’s claim that the judgment of termination should be reversed because the postjudgment report required by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-112(o) was filed late.

After the trial court filed its memorandum of decision terminating the mother’s parental rights, the mother filed a Revised Motion to Open the Judgment, claiming the court improperly failed to consider her statutory choice pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-112(b) to voluntarily terminate her parental rights and agree to an open adoption. Specifically, the mother argued that “once the court heard evidence that the foster mother was willing to adopt for the first time at trial, the trial court had a duty to suspend the involuntary termination hearing to allow [her] an opportunity to discuss with the foster mother the possibility of working out an open adoption agreement and also to consider voluntarily terminating her rights with an agreement in place.”

The appellate court rejected the mother’s factual position that she had no opportunity to approach the foster mother about an open adoption agreement, noting that she had almost an entire month before the court rendered its decision to explore that possibility with the foster mother. Additionally, the court cited a court-ordered psychological report drafted two years before trial in which the respondent reported that the foster mother had expressed a desire to adopt the child. Moreover, the mother testified at trial about an open adoption agreement, indicating that she was not willing to consider such an option and further noting that termination with an open adoption agreement had already been explored with the foster mother.

The appellate court also rejected the mother’s legal position that the court had an independent obligation to suspend a contested termination proceeding and explore the possibility of an open adoption agreement simply because the foster mother had indicated a willingness to adopt at trial. According to the court, nothing in the language or the purpose of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17a-112(b) imposes such an obligation on the trial court.

Additionally, the appellate court dismissed the mother’s argument that the trial court improperly concluded that she failed to rehabilitate and that there was no ongoing parent-child relationship. The court noted that while the child was committed to DCF, the mother maintained an unimpressive and irregular visitation record, was unreliable, continued to deny the allegations of neglect, failed to recognize her son’s extensive psychological needs, and suffered from significant emotional problems that interfered with her parenting. After spending fours years with his foster mother, the child had developed a loving and dependent relationship with her, had worked to repress memories of his early childhood, and did not remember his mother’s name. The court affirmed the trial court’s finding that whatever relationship the child had with his mother no longer existed and would never be reestablished.

Finally, the appellate court summarily dismissed the mother’s final two arguments-that the trial court improperly considered certain witnesses as experts, and that the judgment of termination should be reversed because the postjudgment report was filed sixty days late. On the expert witness issue, the appellate court noted that because the respondent failed to object at trial to the testimony or reports of the witnesses, the trial court was fully justified in considering this evidence when rendering its decision. On the postjudgment report issue, the court concluded that the delay in filing had no effect on the validity of the court’s judgment of termination.

The case may be accessed by going to the Judicial Branch website athttp://www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP109/109AP454.pdf

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