“I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”
Iconic psychiatrist Sigmund Freud
With the day set aside to honor fathers coming this Sunday, June 18, the Minnesota Court of Appeals last month ruled on a number of cases involving paternal rights.
The rulings, however, were not favorable to those fathers, upholding termination of their rights and imposing other restrictions in relationships with their children in a quartet of decisions.
These cases fall in line with a long series in which the appellate court almost invariably upholds child termination rulings of the trial courts. Those rulings usually follow lengthy unsuccessful efforts to repair the parental problems on both the parts of mothers and fathers.
But, when they fail, termination rulings occur and, when challenged, they are nearly universally upheld on appeal, as reflected in these recent rulings.
Here’s a look at four of them in advance of Father’s Day.
A trio of cases involved termination of a fathers’ parental rights, one concerning a single child and the other a pair of them.
A father who challenged a decision by the Hennepin County District Court terminating his parental rights to his minor child was unsuccessful in In re Welfare of Child of R.L.S. – G., 2023 WL 3296146 (May 8, 2023)(unpublished).
The case involved a 12-year-old daughter who had been shuttled back and forth between the mother and father, who were never married, for several years. The child ended up in the sole custody of the father, who engaged in substantial physical and sexual abuse. Child Protection authorities in Hennepin County petitioned to terminate the father’s parental rights based on his “palpable unfitness” to parent.
Following efforts to develop a restoration plan, the child was placed in the mother’s custody, and a plan was developed for the father to seek to work toward reunification, but that was unsuccessful. At a hearing, the child testified that while she had been happy to live with her father or a while, she later felt uncomfortable when he physically abused her. She also reported witnessing the father having sex, witnessing him striking his fiancée on multiple occasions, and taking drugs. She said that she did not feel safe to return to her father’s care and that she did not want to return to his care “even if things could be different.”
Based on that evidence and testimony from others, including the Dakota County Child Protection authorities and the guardian ad litem, the court concluded that it was in the child’s best interest to terminate the father’s parental rights. The appellate court upheld that determination reasoning that the trial court did not “abuse its discretion” on grounds of palpable unfitness under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301, subd. 1(b) (4). Although the district court did not “expressly articulate” which particular acts by the father warranted termination, it did reference two occasions of sexual abuse along with “repeated physical and sexual violence … detrimental to the child’s safety.”
These findings were “supported by substantial evidence” in that the father had “taken no steps to engage in assessing or treating the underlying condition … his physically and sexually abusive behavior.” Because these findings and others supporting termination were not “clearly erroneous,” the lower court decision was upheld, and the father’s parental rights were properly terminated.
A mother and father, who had been subject to prior termination proceedings of their parental rights for a pair of their children had their rights terminated in In re welfare of children of R. T., 2023 WL 2395848 (May 8, 2023)(unpublished). The children had been in out-of-home placement but then had been returned to the parents for about a year after the Hennepin County District Court had ordered reunification. But numerous additional reports of child neglect prompted the final termination proceeding, which resulted in an additional rulings by the court ending the parent rights of both parents.
A challenge by the parents was rejected by the Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court ruling that the county made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and re
unify the family, and there as sufficient grounds to support termination “in the best interest of the children.” Recognizing the “cognitive limitations of the parents,” the county had acted reasonably, but the parents failed to correct the conditions that led to their children being in out-of-home placement for approximately four years before the short-lived reunification.
While “mental impairment” is not, in and of itself, a sufficient basis for terminating parental rights, that condition directly affects the ability of the mother and father to “safely parent” the children, who had significant special needs. That assistance was needed for the parents to care for themselves and the children does not make them unfit to parent, but the ruling was based upon additional evidence, which did not constitute an “abuse of discretion.”
The children were subjected to physical and verbal abuse with the parents, which contrasted with the children’s “needs,” while evidence showing that the children’s needs are being met in their “out-of-home” placements, which contributed to the improvements in their overall health and progress in their therapies. The out-of-home placement was giving the children needed “consistency and structure” that they need, based upon numerous occasions that the guardian ad litem met with the children and parents provided evidence reflecting that the trial court was properly “weighing the children’s competing interest for stability, safety, permanency, and health,” which warranted terminating the parental rights of both the mother and father. The ruling followed a decision two years previously in which the appellate court, in a rarity, upheld the initial prior lower court decision involving the same parents and children in which the holding was that the county had not made a sufficient effort to rehabilitate the parents and reunite the family for reunification purposes. In re welfare of children of R. T., 2021 WL 1733363 (Minn. Ct. App. May 3, 2021)(unpublished).
Another father lost his parental rights in In re Welfare of Child of A.R.G., 2023 WL 3445013 (Minn. Ct. App. May 15, 2023)(unpublished). The Chisago County District Court terminated his rights regarding his minor child after the county tried to reunify the family following the agreement by the father who had chemical dependency problems, to transfer of the child’s custody to the child’s maternal grandparents under Minn. Stat. § 260C.515, subd. 4(b).
The father appealed, contending that the court should have allowed him to amend his petition to seek transfer to this sister. But the appellate court disagreed because the district court “acted within its discretion” in denying the request, which did not occur until the termination trial began, depriving the child protection authorities of “sufficient time to respond” to the proposal.
Parental scheduling suit
A father came out on the short end of another recent domestic relations case, although not involving termination of rights in Froderman v. Lais, 2023 WL 3296367 (May 8, 2023)(unpublished).
The father challenged an order of the Nobles County District Court in Worthington establishing a parenting schedule for the summer that also addressed enrollment of the parties’ minor child in a 4-H program. The father was not supported by sufficient factual findings that the judge was biased in his decision regarding the child’s enrollment in 4-H.
The appellate court disagreed, noting that the summer parenting schedule did not amount to a “restriction” on the father’s parenting time. Although it did slightly reduce the parenting time from the previous summers, the ruling did not constitute an “abuse of discretion” by the trial court in tinkering with the timing.
It might be a Freudian slip, but the famed psychiatrist’s vision of protection of the protective force of fathers, as these cases reflect, nearly always displaced when challenges to parental termination proceedings are brought before the appellate court here.
Grounds for termination of parental rights under Minn. Stat. § 260C.301
- Clear and convincing evidence
- Consistent pattern of specific unacceptable conduct or
- Specific conditions rendering parents unable to provide for physical, mental, and emotional needs of child
Marshall H. Tanick is an attorney with the Twin Cities Law firm of Meyer Njus Tanick.
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