March 7, 2008
BIRTH PARENTS' RIGHTS IN TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS PROCEEDINGS
By: Meghan Reilly, Legislative Fellow
You asked for information on parents' rights to be notified of, and participate in, termination of parental rights (TPR) proceedings.
TPR is the complete severance of the rights and responsibilities of the legal relationship between child and parent. Legal proceedings may be brought in either the Superior or probate court. The probate court may also transfer proceedings to the Superior Court at the motion of the court itself or any party except the petitioner (CGS §§ 45a-715 and -716). These proceedings may be initiated by parents, guardians, the selectman of any town having charge of any foundling, Department of Children and Families (DCF)-approved agency officials, a blood relative of the child (if the parents have abandoned the child), or the DCF commissioner, provided (1) the custodial parent has consented to termination, (2) the child is not committed, and (3) there are no proceedings in juvenile court (Policy Manual, Superior Court For Juvenile Matters, 48-8-2, http://www.ct.gov/dcf/cwp/view.asp?a=2639&Q=395592).
Because of TPR's serious and irrevocable nature, the state is required to ensure that all necessary measures are taken to properly notify the parents and make them parties to the action. It must appoint counsel for indigent parents.
Notice of the date of the first TPR hearing and a copy of the petition must be served at least 10 days before the hearing at the person's usual place of abode if he or she lives in Connecticut. If the address is unknown, service by a judicial marshal at the person's usual place of abode cannot be reasonably effected in the state, or the person lives out of state, a judge or the clerk of the court may order notice to be made by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, or by newspaper publication at least 10 days before the date of the hearing.
For unknown, unnamed, or unacknowledged fathers, probate and Superior courts require the mother to file an affidavit concerning paternity. The court can then appoint counsel for the putative father and serve notice of the hearing, as lack of notice to a parent may create a right to appeal.
The termination of parental rights is “the complete severance by court order of the legal relationship, with all its rights and responsibilities, between the child and his parent” (CGS § 45-61b(g)). The Connecticut Supreme Court considers it “a most serious and sensitive judicial action” (Anonymous v. Norton, 168 Conn. 421, cert. denied, 423 U.S. 935 (1975)).
A TPR petition may be filed in the probate court for the district in which the petitioner or the child resides or, in the case of a minor under DCF's guardianship, in the probate court for the district in which the main or local office is located (CGS § 45a-715(e)). Before a hearing on the merits in probate court, the probate court or any party except the petitioner may move to transfer the case to the Superior Court (CGS § 45a-715(g)).
Superior Court TPR petitions may be filed by the DCF commissioner, the attorney who represented the child in a pending or prior proceeding, an attorney appointed by the Superior Court on its own motion, or an attorney appointed by the child after turning age 14 (CGS § 17a-112(a)).
When initiating TPR proceedings in abuse and neglect cases, DCF must diligently search for a missing parent. Superior Court policy lists the following as potential sources of information: the attorney for the parent or child, the Internal Revenue Service, post office forwarding addresses, birth certificates, the Internet, telephone directories, probation and parole officers, certified letters to the parent's last known address, Interpol, real estate and tax collector records, closed DCF records, relatives, the other parent, death certificates, school records of the child or siblings, the departments of Motor Vehicles, Correction, and Social Services, marriage certificates, Social Security Administration, city and state directories, military branches, telephone calls to last known address, employers, voting records, local and state police, and the Chief State's Attorney's Office.
Notice of TPR proceedings in Superior or probate court must be given to:
1. the parent or parents of the minor child, including any parent who has been removed as guardian;
2. the father of any minor child born out of wedlock, provided at the time of the filing of the petition he has: (a) been adjudicated the father, (b) acknowledged in writing that he is the father, (c) contributed regularly to the support of the child, (d) filed a claim for paternity, or (e) been named on the birth certificate or in the petition as the father of the child by the mother;
3. the guardian or any other person whom the court deems appropriate;
4. the commissioner of DCF; and
5. the attorney general (CGS § 45a-716(b)).
Probate courts often require the mother to file an affidavit concerning paternity when there is no legally acknowledged father. If she knows the name of the putative father, she must include information about the relationship, whether the father knew of her pregnancy, visited, or supported her or the child. If she does not know the father's identity, she must include this information in the affidavit (http://www.dir.ct.gov/dcf/Policy/Adopt48/48-8-4.htm).
In the Superior Court, petitioners must file an affidavit showing diligent search for an absent parent's identity or location, DCF-2037 (http://www.ct.gov/dcf/cwp/view.asp?a=2639&Q=395196).
In the absence of sufficient evidence to support a determination as to who the father is, the court may make a finding that the mother is the sole parent and legal guardian and proceed with the TPR in his absence (http://www.ct.gov/dcf/cwp/view.asp?a=2639&Q=395606).
Notice by Publication
Judges may order that parents who have not been located despite a diligent search be given constructive notice of the proceedings by newspaper publication. In both courts, publication must be in a newspaper of general circulation in the place of the last-known address of the person to be notified, whether in or out of the state, or, if no such address is known, in the place where the petition has been filed (CGS § 45a-716(c)). The appropriate newspaper can be identified by calling the research department of the local public library, or by searching on the Internet (Policy Manual, Superior Court For Juvenile Matters, Service of Process, 46-3-30.6, http://www.dir.ct.gov/dcf/policy/court46/46-3-30.6.htm).
The notice must include the date, name of parent being sought, purpose of the hearing, hearing date, and the name of the DCF social worker assigned to the case. The child's name does not appear in the newspaper (CGS § 52-50).