reported case law of termination of parental rights in
††††††††††††††††††††††† Almost all appeals in TPR cases are appeals by parents from an order terminating their parental rights.† Almost all such appeals result in affirmances by the Appellate Division.
petitioner is either the local social services department or the foster care/
adoption agency having custody of the child, except for the relatively rare
private adoption case in which the fatherís consent to adoption is at issue, see,
e.g., In re Jonathan Logan P., 309 A.D.2d 576, 765 N.Y.S.2d 506
(1st Depít 2003);† In re Jason Brian
S., 303 A.D.2d 759, 758 N.Y.S.2d 96 (2d Depít 2003).† In most
Law Guardian is usually the Legal Aid Society in
all of the TPR appeals are prosecuted by an attorney assigned pursuant to
article 18-B of the
Termination of parental rights may be ordered by a court on any of the grounds set forth in SSL ß384-b, or, as to a father, by determination pursuant to DRL ß111 or SSL ß384-c that the fatherís consent to adoption is not required.†
The grounds for termination pursuant to SSL ß384-b are set forth in subdivision 4:
4.† An order committing the guardianship and custody of a child pursuant to this section shall be granted only upon one or more of the following grounds:
(a)† Both parents of the child are dead, and no guardian of the person of such child has been lawfully appointed; or
(b)† The parent or parents, whose consent to the adoption of the child would otherwise be required in accordance with section one hundred eleven of the domestic relations law, abandoned such child for the period of six months immediately prior to the date on which the petition is filed in the court; or
(c)† The parent or parents, whose consent to the adoption of the child would otherwise be required in accordance with section one hundred eleven of the domestic relations law, are presently and for the foreseeable future unable, by reason of mental illness or mental retardation, to provide proper and adequate care for a child who has been in the care of an authorized agency for the period of one year immediately prior to the date on which the petition is filed in the court; or
(d)† The child is a permanently neglected child; or
(e)† The parent or parents, whose consent to the adoption of the child would otherwise be required in accordance with section one hundred eleven of the domestic relations law, severely or repeatedly abused such child, and, except as provided for herein, the child has been in the care of an authorized agency for the period of one year immediately prior to the initiation of the proceeding under this section. . . .
(Emphasis supplied).† (See complete text of SSL ß384-b in supplemental materials at the end of this coursebook.)
The first ground, both parents being dead, is rarely the subject of dispute. †While there has been some significant litigation concerning the ground of abandonment, including the most recent Court of Appeals decision, In re Gabrielle HH, -- N.Y.2d --, 2003 N.Y. LEXIS 4099 (Dec. 18, 2003), that ground does not represent a large proportion of TPR appellate case law, presumably because in many abandonment cases the parents have truly abandoned their child and therefore are not around to take an appeal.† The lionís share of the appellate decisions on termination of parental rights are permanent neglect cases, with a lesser number of abandonment and mental illness/mental retardation cases and a few on consent to adoption (or the lack thereof).
Termination of Parental Rights in the Court of Appeals
††††††††††††††††††††††† After a flurry of cases on termination of parental rights following the decision of Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982), and the concerns it raised as to the protection of the due process rights of parents, a long gap ensued, and in fact there has not been a Court of Appeals decision favorable to the parent since 1990, and that was a case involving consent to adoption, not termination under SSL ß384-b.† See In re Raquel Marie X., 76 N.Y.2d 387, 559 N.Y.S.2d 855, 559 N.E.2d 418 (1990).
††††††††††††††††††††††† The Court of Appeals has decided approximately 21 cases on termination of parental rights (ďTPRĒ) since the Supreme Court decided Santosky v. Kramer in 1982.† Most of these were decided in the first few years following Santosky.† In fact, after 1992 there were no Court of Appeals cases on TPR until 2003.† For this 10-year period, then, appellate review was limited to the Appellate Division, and in the great majority of the cases, particularly in more recent years, the result was affirmance of a Family Court order terminating parental rights.†† The list, and the discussion, include some cases involving termination of parental rights through denial of a parentís right to object to adoption or to revoke a consent to adoption, referred to collectively as ďconsent to adoptionĒ cases.†
††††††††††††††††††††††† The following are the number of TPR cases in the Court of Appeals by year:
1982† -† 4
1983† -† 3
1984† -† 6
1985† -† 4
1986† -† 1
1989† -† 1
1990† -† 1
1992† -† 1
2003† -† 2
1989 decision was the last conventional TPR case before 2003:† In re Gregory B., 74 N.Y.2d 77, 544
N.Y.S.2d 535, 542 N.E.2d 1052.† ďThe
common issue presented on these appeals is whether the evidence adduced in each
case supported a finding that the incarcerated parent ďpermanently neglectedĒ his
child within the meaning of Social Services Law ß 384-b (7) (a), thus
justifying the termination of his parental rights and the concomitant freeing
of his child for adoption. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the
termination of parental rights was, in each case, proper and supported by clear
and convincing evidence.Ē†
1990 decision, In re Raquel Marie X., supra, 76 N.Y.2d 387, 559
N.Y.S.2d 855, 559 N.E.2d 418, involved the permissibility of dispensing with an
unmarried fatherís consent to adoption pursuant to DRL ß111.† Although this is a procedurally distinct
issue from those arising under the TPR statute, SSL ß384-b, the effect is the
same on the father (with the notable exception that, if notice is dispensed with,
the father in some cases may never be aware that he had a child).† The statute governing consent to adoption,
DRL ß111(1), provided at the time that ďwhile an unwed motherís consent is
always required[,] an unwed fatherís consent to the adoption of his under-six-month-old
child is required only where he has openly lived with the child or the mother
for six continuous months immediately preceding the childís placement for
adoption, openly acknowledged his paternity during such period, and paid
reasonable pregnancy and birth expenses in accordance with his means (Domestic
Relations Law ß 111  [e]).Ē††
††††††††††††††††††††††† The 1992 decision, Robert O. v. Russell K., 80 N.Y.2d 254, 590 N.Y.S.2d 37, 604 N.E.2d 99, involved a similar issue.† ď[T]he interest spoken of in the relevant portion of is nothing more than the Ďbiological parental interestí--i.e., the opportunity, of limited duration, to manifest a willingness to be a parent.Ē† 80 N.Y.2d at 266.† (Emphasis in original.)
††††††††††††††††††††††† After the long gap, the Court of Appeals revisited the area of termination of parental rights twice in the past year.† The case of In re Marino S., 100 N.Y.2d 361, 763 N.Y.S.2d 796, 795 N.E.2d 21 (July 2, 2003), cert. denied,† -- U.S. --, 72 U.S.L.W. 3372† (Dec. 1, 2003), arose out of a TPR proceeding in Family Court (Sara P. Schechter, J.) in which a child was the victim of sexual and other aggravated abuse, but diligent efforts to reunite the family had not been made.† The retroactivity of the Adoption and Safe Families Act was at issue.†
††††††††††††††††††††††† The Court summarized the effect of the Act as follows:
The New Statute. In February
1999, during the pendency of the abuse and
The Court held that ďFamily Court, affirmed by the
Appellate Division, correctly determined that ASFA should be applied retroactively.Ē†
††††††††††††††††††††††† In its most recent decision on TPR, the Court of Appeals had occasion in effect to consider the appropriate strictness for an abandonment case.† The case arose out of an Appellate Division, Third Department decision with a rare dissent.† The case raised the issue of whether a father who claimed to have been prevented from having contact with his child by the motherís affirmative efforts to conceal their whereabouts.†† The Court ruled:
Record evidence supports the
affirmed factual findings that Adam HH. [the respondent-appellant father] had
no contact with either the child or the agency during the six months prior to the filing of the abandonment petition.
This lack of contact evinces his intent to forego his parental rights
(see 384-b). Adam HH.ís contention
that his parental rights were improperly terminated because DSS failed to demonstrate that
it engaged in diligent efforts to encourage his relationship with the
infant is misplaced. In the abandonment context, ďthe court shall not require a
showing of diligent efforts, if any, by an authorized agency to encourage the
parent to perform the acts specified in
of this subdivisionĒ (384-b; see .
To the extent that Adam HH. now contends that he did not contact the agency because he believed that an order of protection prohibiting him from direct or indirect contact with the child barred him from doing so, the Appellate Division correctly observed that the proof adduced at the hearing provided no basis for this claim. Represented by counsel, he testified that he understood the order as preventing him from contacting the mother or child but he did not indicate that he believed the order prevented him from contacting DSS. His present claim is therefore unsupported by any evidence in the record. In any event, ďthe statute makes clear that the burden rests on the parent to maintain contactĒ ( the agency to plan or provide for the child. In addition to his lack of contact with the agency, Adam HH. demonstrated a consistent pattern of disregarding his obligations as a parentóthrough his abuse of the biological mother, his violations of the orders of protection and his persistent refusal to submit to the court-ordered mental health evaluation. ) and Family Court found that DSS did not discourage him from working with
Thus, there is no reason to disturb the determinations of Family Court and the Appellate Division that the agency established abandonment by clear and convincing evidence (see 384-b; ).
In re Gabrielle HH, -- N.Y.2d -- (2003).†
††††††††††††††††††††††† Neither Marino S. nor Gabrielle HH makes reference to Santosky.†
rendering of two unrelated decisions in one year in effect expanding the powers
of the Family Court to terminate parental rights, after a hiatus of thirteen
years since the last case on termination of parental rights under SSL ß384-b,
must be viewed in the context of strong public policy declared by the Chief
Judge, the Governor and the Mayor of the City of New York, in favor of moving
more children on to adoption.† Practitioners
may have some concern that, in the twenty years since Santosky,
the view of the appellate process may have evolved from being the forum in
which due process rights of the parent will be protected to a ďbarrier to
adoption finalization.Ē† See press
release, Governorís office,
††††††††††††††††††††††† The primary focus of this portion of the program is the year 2003.† A look at the preceding half-year, however, reveals a period of consistent affirmance.†† In the six months from June through December, 2002, there were approximately 57 appeals by parents from termination of parental rights (here listed in reverse chronological order), all resulting in affirmances:
In re Lindsay N., 300 A.D.2d 216, 751 N.Y.S.2d 739 (1st
In re Charlotte B., 300 A.D.2d 1150, 755 N.Y.S.2d 349
In re Damion S., 300 A.D.2d
1039, 752 N.Y.S.2d 476 (4th Depít
In re Ja-Nathan F., 300 A.D.2d
1030, 752 N.Y.S.2d 573 (4th Depít
In re Tamara Liz H., 300 A.D.2d 202, 752 N.Y.S.2d 634
In re Osadail V., 300 A.D.2d
67, 751 N.Y.S.2d 31 (1st Depít
In re Shane I., 300 A.D.2d 709, 751 N.Y.S.2d 127 (3d
In re Jennifer R., 300 A.D.2d 13, 749 N.Y.S.2d 880 (1st
In re DíAnna KK., 299 A.D.2d
761,† 751 N.Y.S.2d 326 (3d Depít
In re Karina U., 299 A.D.2d
772, 751 N.Y.S.2d 114 (3d Depít
In re Thelonius BB., 299
A.D.2d 775, 751 N.Y.S.2d 99 (3d Depít
In re Danielle Shane F., 299 A.D.2d 288, 749 N.Y.S.2d
720 (1st Depít
In re Joseph W., 299 A.D.2d 291, 749 N.Y.S.2d 721 (1st
In re Miguel C., 299 A.D.2d 302, 749 N.Y.S.2d 728 (1st
In re Bryan W., 299 A.D.2d 929, 749 N.Y.S.2d 347 (4th
In re Jonathan S., 299 A.D.2d 969, 750 N.Y.S.2d 544 (4th
In re Michelle T., 299 A.D.2d 975, 749 N.Y.S.2d 454 (4th
In re Scott J., 299 A.D.2d 975, 749 N.Y.S.2d 454 (4th
In re Susan C., 299 A.D.2d 943, 749 N.Y.S.2d 761 (4th
In re Mia Tracy-Nellie G., 299 A.D.2d 186, 750 N.Y.S.2d
15 (1st Depít
In re ďBaby BoyĒ H., 299 A.D.2d 171, 753 N.Y.S.2d 363
In re Cheyanne M., 299 A.D.2d
162, 753 N.Y.S.2d 360 (1st Depít
In re Diana L., 299 A.D.2d 359, 749 N.Y.S.2d 167 (2d
In re Tashara B., 299 A.D.2d
356, 749 N.Y.S.2d 173 (2d Depít
In re Abdel Kader H., 298 A.D.2d 319, 748 N.Y.S.2d 858 (1st Depít
In re ďBaby GirlĒ M., 298 A.D.2d 315, 748 N.Y.S.2d 501
In re Makever Carl B., 298
A.D.2d 303, 748 N.Y.S.2d 493 (1st Depít
In re Joseph S., 298 A.D.2d 588, 748 N.Y.S.2d 684 (2d
In re Andre W., 298 A.D.2d 206, 748 N.Y.S.2d 720 (1st
In re Jolie S., 298 A.D.2d
194, 748 N.Y.S.2d 367 (1st Depít
In re Caresse Solange E., 298 A.D.2d 173, 749 N.Y.S.2d 215 (1st
In re Stephanie C., 298 A.D.2d 176, 748 N.Y.S.2d 243
In re Thomas M., 298 A.D.2d 162, 749 N.Y.S.2d 485 (1st
In re Shah Ronnie J., 298 A.D.2d 129, 747 N.Y.S.2d 758
In re Aaron G., 298 A.D.2d 123, 748 N.Y.S.2d 43 (1st
In re Antonio Tyrone B., 298 A.D.2d 128, 747 N.Y.S.2d
232 (1st Depít
In re Jamell Lamont H., 298
A.D.2d 108, 747 N.Y.S.2d 375 (1st Depít
In re Derrick R.,†
298 A.D.2d 1010, 748 N.Y.S.2d 126 (4th Depít
In re Tommy R., 298 A.D.2d 967, 748 N.Y.S.2d 119 (4th
In re Jasmine F., 298 A.D.2d 997, 748 N.Y.S.2d 308 (4th
In re Raychael L.W., 298
A.D.2d 930, 747 N.Y.S.2d 656 (4th Depít
In re Yusef P., 298 A.D.2d
968, 748 N.Y.S.2d 120 (4th Depít
In re Chanelle H., 297 A.D.2d
611, 747 N.Y.S.2d 363 (1st Depít
In re Melody Xena A., 297
A.D.2d 613, 747 N.Y.S.2d 481 (1st Depít
In re Jorge G., 297 A.D.2d 564, 747 N.Y.S.2d 158 (1st
In re Qudra W., 297 A.D.2d
580, 747 N.Y.S.2d 172 (1st Depít
In re Saleem G., 297 A.D.2d
677, 747 N.Y.S.2d 107 (2d Depít
In re Samantha P., 297 A.D.2d 348, 746 N.Y.S.2d 844 (2d
In re Ikea L., 296 A.D.2d 573, 745 N.Y.S.2d 716 (2d
In re Dana Marie L., 296 A.D.2d 499, 745 N.Y.S.2d 481
In re Ronell Dashawn P., 296 A.D.2d 502, 745 N.Y.S.2d 484 (2d Depít
In re Taleah C., 296 A.D.2d
459, 744 N.Y.S.2d 717 (2d Depít
In re Genesis Jeanice Blair
M., 296 A.D.2d 317, 744 N.Y.S.2d 845 (1st Depít
In re Dillon W., 296 A.D.2d 416, 745 N.Y.S.2d 451 (2d
In re Female D., 296 A.D.2d 408, 744 N.Y.S.2d 891 (2d
††††††††††††††††††††††† This writer made this observation in the course of writing briefs for TPR appeals, and incorporated the foregoing list into the Brief for Appellant written January 29, 2003, in the case In re Samantha C., 305 A.D.2d 167, 757 N.Y.S.2d 849† (1st Depít May 8, 2003), lv. den., -- N.Y.2d -- (July 1, 2003), arguing in pertinent part (at 13-18; footnotes omitted):
A review of every
Family Court has many dedicated judges, but no court can function so consistently correctly that its fact-finding determination will be upheld on the merits in 57 out of 57 cases in which the merits are reached.† The result can only be explained by a policy determination that termination petitions should be sustained.† The clear and convincing evidence standard is not being enforced in this State where 57 out of 57 cases reviewed are held to have met the standard.†
. . .
It is respectfully submitted that the uniformity of affirmance of termination of parental rights indicates a denial of due process.† Family Court could not have been correct in 57 out of 57 cases.†††
††††††††††††††††††††††† The time period of June-December 2002 was chosen because it was the most recent six-month period preceding the filing of the brief.†
††††††††††††††††††††††† The remainder of this discussion pertains to the Appellate Division TPR decisions rendered in 2003.† Including cases involving the necessity of a fatherís consent to adoption (i.e., not brought pursuant to SSL ß384-b), there were a total of 121 TPR appeal decisions in 2003, two in the Court of Appeals (see discussion supra) and 119 in the Appellate Division.† Of the 119 cases, 112 were resolved entirely against the parent and seven resulted in relief partially or totally in the parentís favor (infra).
††††††††††††††††† The 2003 cases were of the following types:
Permanent neglect†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 78
Mental illness/retardation†††††††††††††††††††††† 12
Consent to adoption†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† † 5
Ground not identifiable††††††††††††† 10
Total††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††† 119
The decisions were rendered in the following departments:
Total††††††††††††††† ††† ††††††† ††††††††††119
††††††††††††††††††††††† All of the affirmances were unanimous, except for In re Annette B., -- A.D.3d --, 2003 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 13892 (2d Depít Dec. 22, 2003) (dissent by Justice William Friedmann), and In re Gabrielle HH, 306 A.D.2d 571, 760 N.Y.S.2d 269 (3d Depít June 5, 2003) (dissent by Justice Edward O. Spain), affíd, -- N.Y.2d -- (Dec. 18, 2003).
††††††††††† The following are the cases determined in favor of the parent on appeal:
In re Madeleine S., -- A.D.3d --, 2003 N.Y. App.
Div. LEXIS 13225 (1st Depít
In re Joseph Albert R., -- A.D.3d --, 2003 N.Y.
App. Div. LEXIS 13033 (2d Depít
In re Ziemel Jamek-Sha S., 309 A.D.2d 867, 766 N.Y.S.2d 62 (2d Depít
In re Melissa G., 306 A.D.2d 919, 762 N.Y.S.2d 316
In re James V., 302 A.D.2d 916, 754 N.Y.S.2d 506
In re Zachary CC, 301 A.D.2d 714, 753 N.Y.S.2d 561
In re Amber AA, 301 A.D.2d 694, 754 N.Y.S.2d 387
††††††††††††††††††††††† A review of the remaining 110 cases, supplemented in some cases by a review of the briefs, indicates a number of areas in which the case law appears to be expanding the scope of termination of parental rights beyond that envisioned by the legislature in adopting SSL ß384-b and the Supreme Court in imposing the requirement of clear and convicning evidence upon New York State (and all states)in Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745 (1982).†† The following is not an outline of the categories of the decisions, but rather a discussion of several significant recurrent themes in the case law.
A.† Abandonment;† insubstantial contact doctrine.
††††††††††††††††††††††† The ground of abandonment, although considerably less frequently encountered in the appellate case law than that of permanent neglect, merits particular scrutiny because of its propensity for excusing a wholesale failure of the local social services department and foster care/adoption agencies.†
predates permanent neglect as a ground for termination of parental rights.†† Originally, it was presumably not so much a
ground as a declaration of the fact that a childís parents (or at least the mother,
with the father quite possibly not knowing of the existence of the child) had
removed themselves from the childís life with no intent of returning.† Such true abandonment was not much different
from death of parents, which was much more common before the recent improvement
in medical care.† The older placement
facilities for children started as orphan asylums.† One of the currently active foster care/
††††††††††††††††††††††† In order to permit children to be placed for adoption without waiting endlessly for the possible return of their disappeared parents, a six-month limit was set after which abandonment would be presumed.†
††††††††††††††††††††††† Now, the abandonment ground has been expanded to the point that it might well be styled constructive abandonment, but that term has become firmly associated with matrimonial law.† The very existence of abandonment litigation demonstrates the extent to which the scope of abandonment has been expanded.
††††††††††††††††††††††† The doctrine that some contact, or even some visitation, during the six-month period on which an abandonment case must be based, may be disregarded, is one which is unknown to the statutory law but has worked its way into the case law without any express recognition of the change.†
††††††††††††††††††††††† SSL ß384-b, subdivision 5, governing abandonment, does not make any reference to an insubstantial contact doctrine.† It reads in full as follows:
5. (a) For the purposes
of this section, a child is "abandoned" by his parent if such
parent evinces an intent to forego his or her parental rights and obligations
as manifested by his or her failure to visit the child and communicate with the
child or agency, although able to do so and not prevented or discouraged from
doing so by the agency. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, such
ability to visit and communicate shall be presumed.
(b) The subjective intent of the parent, whether expressed or otherwise, unsupported by evidence of the foregoing parental acts manifesting such intent, shall not preclude a determination that such parent has abandoned his or her child. In making such determination, the court shall not require a showing of diligent efforts, if any, by an authorized agency to encourage the parent to perform the acts specified in paragraph (a) of this subdivision.
Subdivision 7 of the same statute, on the other hand, reads in pertinent part as follows:
7. (a) For the purposes of this section, "permanently neglected child" shall mean. . . .
. . .
(b) For the purposes of paragraph (a) of this subdivision, evidence of insubstantial or infrequent contacts by a parent with his or her child shall not, of itself, be sufficient as a matter of law to preclude a determination that such child is a permanently neglected child. A visit or communication by a parent with the child which is of such character as to overtly demonstrate a lack of affectionate and concerned parenthood shall not be deemed a substantial contact.
††††††††††††††††††††††† In In re Latoya P., 305 A.D.2d 263, 758 N.Y.S.2d 804 (1st Depít 2003), lv. den., -- N.Y.2d -- (July 2, 2003), the respondent mother and father testified that the mother was at Thanksgiving dinner during the six-month period at her motherís house with the subject child and respondentís sister, who was the childís kinship foster mother, and played with the child.† The sister was unsure as to whether the respondent was there.†† The Court ruled in pertinent part as follows (at 263-64):
Order of disposition, Family
Court, Bronx County (Carol Stokinger, J.), entered on
or about September 26, 2001, terminating respondent-appellant's parental rights
upon a finding of abandonment, and transferring the subject child's custody and
guardianship to petitioner Commissioner of Administration for Children's
Services for the purposes of adoption, unanimously affirmed, without costs.
The finding of abandonment is supported by clear and [263/64] convincing evidence, including petitioner agency's case record and respondent's testimony at best showing only "sporadic and minimal attempts" to visit and communicate with the child (;† see ). . . .
Similarly, in In re Kaitlyn B., -- A.D.3d --, 767 N.Y.S.2d 369 (4th Depít Nov. 21, 2003), while the opinion consists entirely of a reference to the (unreported) decision of Family Court, and therefore gives no indication of the rationale for the Courtís affirmance, a review of the Brief for Appellant reveals that the case was in fact an abandonment case in which an issue was whether the contacts between the parent and the agency (complicated by actions taken by the agency which made contact more difficult) were to be disregarded as insubstantial.† The opinion reads in full as follows:
It is hereby ORDERED that the
order so appealed from be and the same hereby is unanimously affirmed without
costs for reasons stated at Family Court,
767 N.Y.S.2d at 369.†
B.†††††††† Abandonment;† concealment of childís whereabouts.
††††††††††††††††††††††† Frequently the respondent parent in an abandonment case has been prevented by the other parent from knowing where his child is.† These cases represent a departure from the statutory scheme because the requirement of a showing of intent to abandon is not strictly enforced;† the outcome of the case is in effect determined not by any intent of the father to abandon his child but by the intent of the mother to exclude the child from the fatherís life.†
In re Antonio J., -- A.D.3d --, 767
N.Y.S.2d 334 (4th Depít
Family Court properly terminated the parental rights of respondent with respect to his son on the ground of abandonment (see lv denied ; ). The child was born out of wedlock in 1991 and has been in foster care since December 1998. The present proceeding was commenced in March 2000 after the mother voluntarily surrendered her parental rights. Respondent has not seen the child since shortly before respondent's incarceration in December 1998, and respondent does not dispute that he failed to contact the child or petitioner during the six-month period immediately prior to the filing of the petition (see ). The contention of respondent that the mother concealed the child's whereabouts from him is not supported by the record inasmuch as there was a complete absence of any contact between the mother and respondent during the relevant time period. Indeed, respondent's last contact with the mother prior to the filing of the petition was shortly before respondent was incarcerated. The testimony of respondent that he unsuccessfully tried to locate the mother and the child while incarcerated was not credited by the court, and that finding, "which turns almost entirely *** on the assessment of the character and temperament of the parent, *** must be accorded the greatest respect" ( ). The burden rested on respondent to maintain contact with the child (see ), and thus we deem it irrelevant that the efforts of petitioner to locate respondent may have been thwarted by incorrect information provided by the mother. ; ,
in In re Ruben J.R., 303 A.D.2d 238,
757 N.Y.S.2d 10 (1st Depít
C.††††††† Permanent Neglect:† Defaults.
††††††††††††††††††††††† Although a default could of course arise in any type of termination proceeding, the problem seems to occur particularly in permanent neglect cases.†
††††††††††††††††††††††† Defaults had occurred in eight of the 119 cases decided in 2003, including one of the cases decided in the parentís favor.† Unlike ordinary civil actions, these cases generally involve defaults occurring during the pendency of the case, not at the outset.†
inability to attend every single court appearance is brought about by the same
overwhelming life problems which tend to land a parent in court for termination
on the ground of permanent neglect.†
While diligent efforts are imposed upon the agency to work with the
parent in conjunction with such programs during the period to which the
petition is referable, and in fact participation in treatment programs is
frequently at the core of the plan for the parent, if the parent fails to
attend a single court appearance due to illness or actual engagement in an
inpatient program, but fails to make an application for an adjournment, the
likely result will be termination on default.†
Respondent parents are typically poor and without an abundance of
resources.† Inpatient programs are
designed to control the participantís behavior, and are therefore forboding if not absolutely forbidding as to contact with
the outside world.† In In re Laura Mariela R.,
302 A.D.2d 300, 754 N.Y.S.2d 546 (1st Depít
While Family Court should have explained its reasons for denying respondent's motion to vacate the dispositional order, (Nadle v L.O. Realty Corp., 286 AD2d 130), the motion was nevertheless properly denied since she failed to demonstrate a reasonable excuse for her defaults in appearing at the fact-finding and dispositional hearings. Although respondent averred that she had been participating in an in-patient drug rehabilitation program at the time of the hearings, she did not explain why she had been unable to notify her attorney or the court of her unavailability for a hearing date she knew about two months earlier (see Matter of Ashley Marie M., 287 AD2d 333). Respondent, in support of her motion for vacatur, also failed to make the requisite showing that she possessed a meritorious defense. Her affidavit provided no indication that, contrary to the allegations of the permanent neglect petition, she had in fact planned for the child's future (see Matter of Willie James Scott R., 265 AD2d 163). Respondent's attorney's conclusory affirmation in opposition to the petition was unavailing since she lacked personal knowledge of the facts.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The intolerance of
default, even a single default by a disadvantaged litigant after establishing a
record of attendance, stands in marked contrast to the strong public policy in
ordinary civil cases of disposing of cases on the merits and giving the
defendant his or her day in court, and in particular the policy of liberally
opening defaults in matrimonial cases (which frequently involve children as
well but usually do not involve indigent parties).†† Defaults were not opened where the illness
was not corroborated, In re Menesha B., 306
A.D.2d 22, 759 N.Y.S.2d 662 (1st Depít
D.† Permanent neglect:† Refusal to confess to sexual abuse.†
††††††††††††††††††††††† Where alleged sexual abuse of a child has occurred in a family, frequently a criminal case is not brought due to the higher standard of proof (proof beyond a reasonable doubt), but rather the case is brought as article 10 proceeding (Fam. Ct. Act art. 10), on the ground of abuse or neglect, and a finding is made based on the applicable lower standard of proof (proof by a preponderance of the evidence) and the relaxed evidentiary standards unique to child protective proceedings.† The parent consistently denies the abuse, and then, when he is ordered into sex offender treatment, the treatment predictably fails because a standard requirement of such programs is that the alleged offender confess his acts of sexual abuse.† He is then made a respondent in a termination proceeding on the ground of permanent neglect, for failure to complete the treatment program, and thus ultimately his parental rights are terminated without there ever having been a finding by clear and convincing evidence of the sexual abuse which is the true ground for the termination.†† The decision of In re Samantha C., 305 A.D.2d 167, 168, 757 N.Y.S.2d 849 (1st Depít May 8, 2003), lv. den., -- N.Y.2d -- (July 1, 2003), is illustrative of the means by which a preponderance finding in an article 10 proceeding is in effect converted to a permanent neglect finding in a termination case:
Order of disposition, Family
Court, Bronx County (Allen Alpert, J.), entered on or about March 1, 2002,
which, upon findings of permanent neglect, terminated the respondents' parental
rights with respect to the subject child and committed custody and guardianship
of the child to the Commissioner of Social Services and petitioner agency for
the purpose of adoption, unanimously affirmed, without costs.
Clear and convincing evidence, including the testimony of the caseworker assigned to the case during the statutorily relevant period and petitioner agency's case record, supports Family Court's finding that, respondents, by failing to attend a therapeutic program whose completion was deemed essential to their resumption of custodial parenting responsibilities, failed to plan for, and thus permanently neglected, the child (see
There was ample support for Family Court's finding that termination of respondents' parental rights so as to facilitate the adoptive process was in the child's best interests (see ).
; ). Respondents' denial of their need for therapeutic intervention rendered the agency's diligent efforts unavailing (see ).
The pertinent statutory provisions are the following:
FCA sec. 1046(b)(i):†
. . .
(b) In a fact-finding
(i) any determination that the child is an abused or neglected child must be based on a preponderance of evidence. . . .
SSL sec. 384-b(3)(g):
(g) An order committing the guardianship and custody of a child pursuant to this section shall be granted only upon a finding that one or more of the grounds specified in subdivision four are based upon clear and convincing proof.
E.†††††††† Affirmance of termination without opinion.
††††††††††††††††††††††† Twelve of the 33 TPR decisions of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, rendered in 2003, are in essence affirmances without opinion:† one sentence affirmances stating no points of law and making no reference to the facts of the case, although sometimes referring to the Family Court decision as the basis for the affirmance.† Since the Family Court decision is not reported or otherwise published, the Appellate Division decision is for all practical purposes an affirmance without opinion.†
††††††††††††††††††††††† Without obtaining and reviewing the briefs in each case, the legal researcher cannot know what the decisions in effect have decided, and therefore cannot determine whether the termination was in accordance with due process and statutory requirements.
George E. Reed, Jr.
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†† This observation is not correct as to the Court of Appeals, but all but two of the 21 Court of Appeals decisions rendered in the modern era† (after Santosky v. Kramer) were decided between 1982 and 1992.
 The reasoning is admittedly somewhat circular, but knowing that it is rare for the Law Guardian to oppose the petitioner, it is assumed that if a decision affirming termination of parental rights makes no reference to the Law Guardianís position that is because the Law Guardian took the same position as the petitioner.
†† The various case counts in this article are believed to be correct, but may well be slightly under the total.† The counts were obtained by searching for ďtermination of parental rightsĒ (or variations thereof), ď384-bĒ and ď384bĒ, using a major legal research database, and culling spurious results.† In particular, the focus being on statutory termination of parental rights on the grounds set forth in SSL ß384-b, the inventory of cases concerning consent to adoption, etc., may not be complete.
†† The same list, less four cases which were subsequently found, appeared in the Brief for Appellant written January 3, 2003, in the case of† In re Latoya P., 305 A.D.2d 263, 758 N.Y.S.2d 804† (1st Depít May 20, 2003), lv. den., -- N.Y.2d Ė (July 2, 2003).
†† All ten cases categorized as ďground not identifiableĒ were decided in the Fourth Department.† Two other Fourth Department cases would have been given the same designation, but the briefs were obtained and the cases recategorized accordingly.†
†† The count is believed to be correct but the inventory may not have been entirely error-free.† In particular, the reporting of ďconsent to adoptionĒ cases may well be incomplete;† the focus of this program is termination of parental rights in proceedings originated by the government or an agency under contract with the government, as opposed to the private proceedings in which a fatherís parental rights may occasionally be terminated.† It should also be noted that one case with both abandonment and permanent neglect grounds was categorized as abandonment, and that in a few cases it appeared but was not explicitly stated that the ground was permanent neglect.† Finally, where separate cases involving the same children were decided the same date, they were counted as one case.†
† General references to affirmances herein include cases in which the appeal was dismissed.†
 The necessary facts do not appear in the opinion, but only in the Brief for Appellant and the transcripts.