Terminating Parental Rights in Maryland

1187576_playful_spring_time_1What happens when a Maryland child wants to be adopted, but his biological parents are still hoping for reunification? Usually courts assume that continuing a parental relationship and eventual reunification is in the child’s best interests, but there are some circumstances in which it is appropriate to terminate the relationship.

In a recent case, the parent and child had different goals. The child in question was a five-year-old boy with two older siblings. The mother had been granted a protective order against the abusive father, and this prompted an investigation by the department of social services. Meanwhile, the mother expressed numerous paranoid claims to the police and jumped out of a window. She was sent to a psychiatric unit and when asked, claimed that the father and his mother had been trying to poison her. The kids were placed in a shelter.

The child and his siblings were found to be children in need of assistance (“CINA”) and he was separated from the other two when they were all placed in foster care. CINA proceedings happen when a department of social services is called regarding child abuse or neglect. The court must determine whether the allegations are true and determine which of five “permanency plans” is appropriate with reunification being the preferred plan. The court reviews this permanency plan every six months.

The social services department worked hard towards reunification. But the child spent 27 months in foster care (the majority of his life), and he did not progress towards reunification with his parents. Nor did his relatives get actively involved. As a result, the court changed the permanency plan to one of adoption by a non-relative.

In order to terminate the parental relationship, the department of social services must petition the court for guardianship. The court must find that termination is in the child’s best interests in order to terminate. In this case, a termination of parental rights petition was filed. The mother appealed the plan change and asked for the termination case to be stayed. She lost the motion to stay, but she won the appeal after her rights were already terminated. Accordingly, her parental rights were terminated even though the Court of Special Appeals ruled in her favor.

The mother appealed the termination. The appellate court reviewed the number of permanency plan hearings (seven) and the mother’s own conduct in pursuing a plan of reunification. It noted that in the first three months, she demonstrated consistent care. However, over time, the mother began to neglect her duties. She was unemployed by the fourth permanency hearing. And she wasn’t able to address mental health issues.

In 2010, the grandmother and mother alleged that one of the siblings was being physically abused by a foster parent. They then kidnapped the kids from a scheduled visit. The department of social services concluded that the fault lay partly with the grandmother and stopped considering her as a permanent placement. The father’s visits were terminated and the mother’s visits continued, but were now supervised.

The appellate court concluded it was appropriate for the juvenile court to proceed with termination even though the CINA order changing the permanency plan to non-relative adoption was pending. This was an issue within the trial court’s discretion. The appellate court reasoned that the right to parent is fundamental, but not absolute. The “paramount concern” is the child’s best interests, not the parent’s.

The mother had argued that the termination proceedings should have been stopped when she appealed the CINA plan change. The appellate court disagreed, ruling that this was an issue within the court’s discretion, so long as the court found clear and convincing evidence that termination was in the child’s best interest. In this case, because the mother placed her romantic concerns over the safety of herself and her children, failed to adhere to a mental health treatment plan, and other overwhelming evidence, termination was justified.

If you are going through a difficult family law problem like the one described above, an experienced Maryland family law attorney can help you determine what legal action to take next. Contact our office via the online form for a legal consultation.

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Maryland Court Decides Railroad Retirement Benefit Case, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, May 11, 2013

 

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