November 20, 2020

In Re Ja’Marie M. (AC 43710)

TPR, neglect finding, paternity, public policy

Takeaway: If a parent wants to challenge a neglect adjudication that they were originally uninvolved with, that needs to be done immediately upon being joined into the case, via a motion to reopen judgment or a motion to revoke commitment, rather than waiting to raise the issue on appeal.

Father appealed from the judgment terminating his parental rights. His child had previously been adjudicated neglected, but Father was not a party to the neglect petition, and did not participate in the neglect proceeding because Mother claimed another man was the father of the child. Following the results of a paternity test, the trial court joined Father into the case and, thereafter, the ordered specific steps for him.  Additionally, DCF amended its permanency plan to focus on reunification with Father. Father ultimately did not fulfill the court-ordered steps and subsequently, DCF sought termination of his parental rights pursuant to statute (§ 17a-112), which the trial court granted.

On appeal, Father claimed that the trial court erred by predicating its termination of parental rights judgment on the prior neglect adjudication, which he claimed was rendered improperly because the child was adjudicated neglected in his absence and he had no opportunity to plead.

The Appellate Court held that the trial court did not err in terminating Father’s parental rights by relying on a finding that the child was neglected, which was made at a previous proceeding at which he was not a party.  It found that Father’s unpreserved claim was an impermissible attack on a validly rendered final judgment of neglect, where his absence from the neglect proceeding did not deprive him of any due process — although Father was immediately joined into the case and advised of the remedies available to him to contest the neglect adjudication, he did not at any time avail himself of the avenues to challenge it, by filing a motion to open the judgment or to revoke commitment. The Court found that the important public policy interests inherent in juvenile cases reinforced the need for timely resolutions of disputed issues. Furthermore, DCF had attempted to work with Father toward the goal of reunification via court-ordered specific steps, but he failed to fully meet the criteria in them and then failed to appear both at his plea date and at the TPR trial.