May 1, 2023

In re Eric M. (AC 45693)

February 2023

No Ongoing Parent-Child Relationship; Failure to Rehabilitate; Probation Conditions

Father appealed the TPR judgment with respect to his child. Several years before the child was born, Father was convicted of risk of injury to a minor and sexual assault in the third degree and was incarcerated.  After his release, one of the conditions of his probation was that he could have no contact with minors under 17. He violated his probation twice, and the second violation stemmed from his having contact with his child when he was a newborn.  While Father was again incarcerated, the child was removed from Mother’s care, committed to DCF, and placed with a family member. After his release, Father again began serving a period of probation, with the additional condition that he have no unsupervised contact with his child unless approved by his probation officer.  Although Father generally complied with the terms of his probation, he failed to comply with the court’s specific steps. After trial, Father’s rights were terminated on the grounds that there was no ongoing parent-child relationship, and that he failed to achieve a sufficient degree of personal rehabilitation.  On appeal, the Court held:

  1. Father could not prevail on his claim that the trial court improperly determined that the “interference exception” to the lack of an ongoing parent-child relationship ground for TPR did not apply. Contrary to Father’s claim, the conditions of his probation and any visitation decisions made by his probation officer were not attributable to DCF, and, even assuming arguendo that the enforcement of his conditions of probation could be attributed to DCF, the interference exception would not apply. Rather, Father was responsible for the lack of relationship by failing to make any effort with the child either during his period of incarceration or after he was released, whether by asking his probation officer, DCF, or the court for permission to visit, or by seeking modification of the conditions of his probation.  Moreover, given that the initial lack of a parent-child relationship occurred because Father violated probation by visiting the child, which preceded any DCF involvement, there was no basis on which to attribute any responsibility for the initial lack of a parental relationship to DCF.
  2. The trial court found, by clear and convincing evidence, that Father had failed to rehabilitate sufficiently to assume a responsible position in the child’s life. He had not engaged in therapy in almost 3 years, had refused DCF’s attempts to get him to reengage in treatment, had not participated in IPV treatment, and had made no effort to seek permission to visit the child and build a relationship with him. Construing the evidence in a manner most favorable to sustaining the judgment, the Court here concluded that the trial court reasonably determined that the cumulative effect of the evidence was sufficient to justify its conclusion that Father failed to rehabilitate within the meaning of § 17a-112 (j) (3) (B) (i).  Moreover, Father’s reliance on his progress in sex offender treatment, to the exclusion of all other evidence of his rehabilitative efforts, was misplaced because he provided no authority to support his argument that compliance with the conditions of his probation obviated the need for him to engage in services required for reunification with his child.  Given limited evidence in the record regarding Father’s progress in his sex offender treatment, and his probation officer’s testimony about his heightened risk assessment, the Appeals Court was not persuaded that the trial court’s finding that he was doing well in that treatment undermined its conclusion that he had failed to rehabilitate.  Contrary to Father’s claim, the court correctly stated the legal standard with regard to failure to rehabilitate, and applied it to the facts found.