Chris Aug. 23, 2018

It may not be as climatic as a verdict read in open court, but receiving a written decision of a trial win is every bit as satisfying. Last week I received the court's decision in a TPR trial (termination of parental rights) trial that I had tried and briefed months ago. Two years ago DCF filed neglect petitions on my client's kids and they were commmitted to DCF custody. DCF filed a TPR petition in April of last year, with the ultimate goal of having the children adopted by their foster parents. My client exercised his right to a trial which started in November and finished in February. The judge ordered briefs which required transcripts to be ordered and distributed. Courts typically have 120 days to decide motions and issue trial decisions. 

It is not supposed to be easy for the state to terminate parental rights. Family integrity is one of the oldest constitutional rights we have. DCF must prove three main elements to win a TPR: a ground (there are several detailed by statute), that it made reasonable efforts to reunify and that termination of parental rights is in the child's best interests (this is the dispositional phase). The proof must be clear and convincing, which is a standard higher than a fair preponderance of evidence but less than beyond a reasonable doubt (although TPR's involving Native Americans may be subject to the beyond a reasonable doubt standard). 

The court decided that terminating my client's rights--which would legally sever his relationship with his kids (meaning he would have no right to see or have any interaction with them) was not in their best interests. So it denied the petition. Now that doesn't mean that they go back to him right away. They are still in DCF custody until the court grants a revocation of their commitment. Having survived the TPR, we'll be up for that fight soon.