In re Ilyssa G.

Connecticut Appellate Court

December 18, 2007

Termination of Parental Rights 

The threshold for opening a default judgment in a termination of parental rights case is a steep one which requires the satisfaction of a two part test. Not only does the movant need to show that (1) a good defense existed at the time the judgment was rendered, but also (2) that the movant was prevented from making that defense because of “mistake, accident, or other reasonable cause.” Unfortunately for the petitioning father in Ilyssa G., he was unable meet either prong of the two-part test, and the appellate court thus affirmed the termination of his parental rights in this short case.

The crux of this case emanated from the Department of Children Families’ (“Department”) removal of Ilyssa (then six) and her three siblings from her mother’s care in October 2003. She and her sisters resided in foster care until May 2006 when the Department placed her and her sisters in a preadoptive foster home. After an unsuccessful attempt to reunify the child with her mother, the Department sought termination of parental rights – and the respondent father was served by certified mail at his last known address in Georgia, as well as by publication. At the plea hearing in April 2006, the trial court defaulted the father, and on May 30, 2006, the court granted the Department’s petition to terminate his parental rights.1 In August 2006, the father sent a letter to the court requesting an opportunity to regain his parental rights. Acting on that letter, the court directed his counsel to file a motion to open the judgment, which was heard and denied on October 17, 2006.

The appellate court, reviewing the aforementioned two-part test used to open a default judgment elicited from Pantlin & Chananie Development Corp. v. Hartford Cement & Building Supply Co, 196 Conn. 233, 235 (1985), determined that the respondent father met neither prong. The two grounds stated for termination – abandonment and the lack of ongoing parent-child relationship, were not challenged by the respondent at the hearing in October 2006, and furthermore, he did not present a legitimate reason for his failure to appear at either the plea hearing or the termination trial. The evidence indicated that the father had not seen his child (who was nine at the time of the hearing) since she was one year old and that it was his fault for being absent from her life for eight years. He only visited her one time after her removal from her mother’s home, that occurring in 2004, along with calling a residential care facility where Ilyssa for a time while in the Department’s custody. His argument that he was never notified for the termination trial was rebuffed by the fact that he never notified the court, the department or his attorney that he moved, and as a result notice was sent to his last known address. Regardless of whether it was intentional or negligent, the father’s failure to keep the court, the department or his attorney informed of his whereabouts was not enough to satisfy the second prong of the test. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion to open the default judgment.

1. Ilyssa’s mother’s rights had been terminated by consent.

This case may be accessed by going to the Judicial Branch website athttp://www.jud.state.ct.us/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP105/105ap63.pdf

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