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Parents have a fundamental right to care, custody, and control of their children.  What happens when the State seeks to terminate the parent-child relationship?  As the State recently found out, it better have a really good reason for doing so.  In D.W. v. Jefferson County Department of Human Resources a father won on appeal after having his parental rights terminated.

Taking away a parent’s rights is an extreme option, and should only happen when there is no other viable option.  In D.W., the Court of Civil Appeals ruled that several small problems did not equal one big parenting problem.  At least not one large enough to justify taking away a parent’s rights.

DHR Knows Who the Father Is!

When the State sought to terminate the parental rights for a child known as S.W., it told the court that neither of the parents were known.  The child’s father took exception.  He told the court:

“DHR knows who the father is, has known who the father is, has worked with the father, has attended… meetings with the father, has arranged visitation between the father and [the] child…”

The court made the State rewrite its petition to include the father.  The State wrote a new petition and again sought to terminate parental rights to the child.  The State terminated the Father’s rights, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

“The Father smoked Marihuana!”

The State appears to have seized on the Father’s admission that he had smoked marijuana. He had also once taken a Lortab pill without a prescription. But aside from having missed some drug tests the State did not have other evidence that Father was abusing drugs. Indeed, the Father passed the tests he took.

In defense of the State, the child has serious heath problems.  The child tested positive for amphetamines and cocaine when she was born.  Presumably as a result of the exposure, she has needed full time medical care since her birth. The child’s situation is truly tragic.

However, the State has to have evidence to terminate a parent’s parenting rights for drugs.  Here the Father told social workers he didn’t have a drug problem.  The father underwent a drug-abuse assessment.  It said he didn’t have a drug problem.  On appeal the court was non-plussed.

What about the anger issues?

The Court of Appeals conceded that the Father had anger issues.  However, he had sought out and gotten help for those issues.  The Court of Appeals ruled that the Father’s completion of treatment overcame the State’s concerns.

And what about missing visitation?

The Father missed some visits scheduled with the child.  However, the Court of Appeals was more interested in the quality of the visitations the Father did have.  On balance, the Court ruled that some missed visits did not justify termination of Father’s rights.

Lessons for parents dealing with DHR.