Termination of Parental Rights; Is there Something More Important?

At Kronzek & Cronkright, our attorneys are zealous advocates of parental rights.  We find that there is little more problematic than a parent unwilling or unable to do what is necessary to get their children home.  When a case goes to the permanency planning phase and there is a goal change from reunification to termination and adoption, the problem may be with the quality of representation by counsel or the level of services offered.  However, there are clear instances when the parent seems to show little interest in reunification.

In re Luckett, Minors reads like a case study  of what a parent should not do with a pending neglect petition case.  In this case, the respondent father appealed by right a court order terminating his parental rights to his children under MCL 712A.19b(3)(a)(ii), (c)(i), and (g). The case originated in the Wayne Circuit Court Family Division. This Court of Appeals opinion is dated August 13, 2013.

After sustaining several unexplained bone fractures, the eldest child was made a temporary ward of the court at age 3 months old. When the removal occurred, the father was homeless, unemployed, and was unable to provide for the infant. Over the next few years, the father did not meet any of the requirements of his treatment plan. Two more children were also born over the course of the case. In addition, after he left Michigan, he did not request visitation rights, custody, and presented no plans to care for his children. Moreover, the father did not attend numerous dispositional review hearings. In turn, the petitioner sought termination of the father’s parental rights to all three children. The father never attended the trial nor contacted his attorney. The court decided to terminate his parental rights to all of his children.

On appeal, the father argued that the lower court erred by finding clear and convincing evidence that statutory grounds for termination were present since the petitioner did not provide him with services. However, the Court found that he trial court did not clearly err in determining clear and convincing evidence existed that the conditions continued and there was no reasonable likelihood that they would be corrected within a reasonable time.

Regarding the failure to make reasonable efforts to offer services to him, since the father did not previously raise this issue in the trial court, he did not preserve the issue for appellate review. Therefore, the Court reviewed this for plain error that affected substantial rights. The Court found that because there was so much difficulty in contacting the father—and because he did not take advantage of the services to which he was referred—that any deficiency in the services provided were not outcome determinative and did not affect his substantial rights.

Additionally, the respondent argued that the trial court did not state on the record or via writing its findings concerning the best interests of the children, which included relative placement. Two of the father’s children live with his aunt who wants to adopt them. The youngest child resides in a foster home that is seeking adoption as well. The lower court failed to address these factors individually and explicitly address if termination was appropriate under the circumstances. Therefore, the Court concluded that remand is warranted for the trial court to state its findings on the record or in writing regarding the best interests of the children in light of relative placement.

In conclusion, the Court affirmed the finding of statutory grounds for termination, and that he was not denied right to counsel or to be present at the hearings. However, it vacated the best interest determination and remanded for further proceedings.

More than anything else, this case illustrates what not to do when a parent has a pending neglect case.  Parents and attorneys need to work closely together if parental rights are to be preserved.  We certainly understand that there are at least two sides to every story, and it is possible that Respondent Father never had his story adequately told.  However, once a court has jurisdiction over your child, you have to be willing to work very hard to get your child out of court wardship.  This means that you have to:

  1. Attend every dispositional review hearing.
  2. Stay in communication with your attorney, your case worker and the service providers.
  3. Maintain contact with your child and work on the parent-child bond, even if the visitation is supervised.
  4. Stay in the state and stay involved in your case.
  5. Regularly discuss progress and setbacks with your attorney.
  6. Have a plan on how to care for your child and move forward with the plan.
  7. Completely comply with the parent-agency treatment plan or service agreement.
  8. Do more, go above and beyond what is being asked of you.
  9. Fix the problems that brought you to court and keep you in court.

I often tell my clients that if there is something more important to them than their children, I cannot help them.  The aggressive trial lawyers at Kronzek and Cronkright, PLLC, work closely with parents who are motivated to bring their children home, get CPS out of their lives, and end the court’s jurisdiction.