The Court of Special Appeals recently agreed to hear a child custody case and then dismissed the case for being moot. One justice dissented, noting that the case presented an issue that is likely to pop up repeatedly, but this issue will not be able to be reviewed in a timely fashion by the appellate court because of procedural timelines. Even though the dissent is not precedent that can be cited, it is important because it highlights a potential problem in child custody cases that the public needs to have resolved.
In the instant case, the court was asked to decide whether it is appropriate for a circuit court to pursue a termination of parental rights case when a child in need of assistance (CINA) order was issue, but was being appealed. A child in need of assistance is a child that needs intervention (1) because of abuse or neglect or a developmental disorder and (2) because his or her parents, guardian or custodian are not able to give proper care.
In this case, a baby boy was born prematurely. He had severe health problems, including prenatal exposure to HIV, which required him to stay at the hospital. The mother had been diagnosed and hospitalized for multiple psychiatric conditions and had used drugs and alcohol. When the baby was born, she was brought to a psychiatric unit. The baby’s father had a substance abuse problem and was convicted for more than once drug-related crime.
The baby was determined to be a CINA on the day he was released from the hospital. His legal custody was turned over to the Department of Social Services and he was placed in foster care. The plan was for non-relative adoption. When the father’s paternity was confirmed, the baby’s permanent plan was changed such that reunification with his father became the goal. Later, the father stated he was not a sound placement option after all.
The circuit court asked the Department of Social Services to conduct certain family studies. Based on the findings, the permanent plan was changed back to a non-relative adoption plan, but the baby’s mother filed exceptions. The juvenile court ultimately affirmed the juvenile master’s recommendation for a non-relative adoption. The mother appealed.
While the CINA appeal was pending, the Department filed a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights (“TPR”). The court denied the father’s motion to stay the proceedings. After trial, the court terminated parental rights and gave guardianship of the baby to the Department of Social Services. The parents appealed.
Even though it had terminated the parental rights, the circuit court did not close the CINA case. In the dissenting judge’s view, it was not proper for a circuit court to terminate parental rights while a CINA appellate case challenging a change in the permanency plan was pending. The dissent reasoned that even though these proceedings were separate, the TPR proceedings addressed issues that were bound up in those involved in the appeal. Therefore, the circuit court was prohibited from acting to frustrate the appellate procedures as occurred in this case.
If you are dealing with complicated family law matters like the one described above, your child’s well being may depend on hiring a qualified and knowledgeable attorney who can navigate the rules for you. Contact lawyer Anthony Fatemi and his legal team for a legal consultation.
Maryland Appellate Court Denies Adult Sibling Visitation, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 27, 2013
Maryland Appellate Court Recognizes Congolese Marriage By Proxy, Maryland Divorce Lawyer Blog, April 24, 2013