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Under What Circumstances Can My Parental Rights Be Terminated?

When the Connecticut court orders the termination of parental rights, the legal relationship between you and your child ceases to exist. As you can imagine, this is a serious event that has lifelong consequences.  In nearly every case, it’s not possible to reinstate parental rights once they’ve been terminated. This isn’t the same as changing child custody or the reunification process, which involves reuniting you and your children after they’ve been removed from the home temporarily.  Because the termination of parental rights is so serious and final, it’s essential that parents understand why this option might be pursued and the ways they can protect their and their children’s rights when a petition is filed.  What is the Termination of Parental Rights in Connecticut? When parental rights are terminated, the parent-child relationship legally comes to an end. When this happens, the child is legally able to be placed for adoption. A parent can voluntarily relinquish their parental rights, provided the state agrees their rights and responsibilities should be terminated. This is never a good idea and something you should discuss with a qualified attorney.  Most parental rights are terminated involuntarily, meaning another party files a petition with the court and has to prove their case. In Connecticut, the only parties who can petition for the termination of parental rights are: Either parent The child’s guardian A childcare or child-placing or similar DCF-approved agency official The selectman of a town with a foundling child A relative of a child whose parent has deserted them If the child is over the age of 12, they must also be named as a Petitioner.  Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights in Connecticut For the court to grant a petition terminating parental rights, the Petitioner must be able to prove two things. First, they must demonstrate that the termination will be in the child’s best interests. Second, they must show that one of the following grounds for termination exists: The child has been abandoned by the parent.  There is no ongoing parent-child relationship, and it would be detrimental to the best interests of the child to allow additional time for the establishment or reestablishment of such a bond.  The minor has been refused by acts of parental omission or commission, the guidance, control, or care necessary for their physical, emotional, moral, or educational well-being. In a prior proceeding, the Probate or Superior Court has found that the child has been abused, neglected, or uncared for.  Another child of the parent under the age of seven has been found to be abused, neglected, or uncared for and the parent’s rights were terminated with respect for that child.  The parent was found to have committed sexual assault, which resulted in the conception of the minor.  The parent deliberately killed or conspired to kill another of their children or was found to have intentionally assaulted another of their children, resulting in serious bodily injury.  The parent has failed to rehabilitate themselves after having been found guilty of neglect or failure to care for the child or who failed to take specific steps to facilitate the return of a child who has been in DCF custody for at least 15 months.  

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Reinstatement of Parental Rights in Connecticut

There is probably nothing more devastating to a parent than not being able to maintain a close relationship with their child. But custody battles are common in family law cases, and protective services may become involved and make recommendations they feel are in the child’s bests interests.  When the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) becomes involved in your life, your rights as a parent may be in jeopardy. Even if the DCF agent says they are on your side, you’ll want to use extreme caution in your interactions with this agency to protect the rights of you and your children.  What is Termination of Parental Rights in Connecticut? In most U.S. states, the termination of parental rights means the same thing. The legal relationship between you and your child is completely severed by the court. If the rights of just one parent are terminated, the other parent becomes the minor’s sole legal parent. The child could also be adopted by a stepparent at this point.  How Your Parental Rights Can Be Terminated in Connecticut A termination of parental rights is not the same thing as a custody action. Just because one parent has sole physical custody doesn’t mean that the other doesn’t have parental rights and responsibilities.  It’s important to note that your parental rights can only be terminated through a court order. This is often triggered by a DCF investigation. And the termination can happen by consent or without consent.  Termination of Parental Rights by Consent One of the ways your parental rights can be terminated is if you agree to it. Since you are also giving up your responsibility to support your children, the court must also determine that this is in your children’s best interests. This is a permanent solution to what is usually a temporary problem and not something we recommend.  Termination of Parental Right Without Consent The other way the state can terminate your parental rights is without your consent. This is more common. The petitioning party must present clear and convincing evidence to prove that the termination is in the child’s best interests.  

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What is Subsidized Guardianship?

When a parent is unable to care for their children, guardianship may be necessary to deliver that care and guidance. Guardianship refers to another party being granted the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of someone else, such as a child. The court appoints the “guardian” as the decision-maker for the “protected person,” who may be a child. There are different types of guardianships under the law. One type that you might find used in Connecticut is called “subsidized guardianship.” Here is what that type of guardianship entails, some of its benefits, and who qualifies to be appointed. When Guardianship Can Become Necessary with DCF Involvement Parents have the legal right to make decisions for their children. That is until the court says they don’t. In some cases, an adult may not be able to make decisions for their child temporarily due to physical limitations, mental illness, substance abuse, or other serious issues. When there is a question of parental capacity or abuse or neglect, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) may become involved. If you become the subject of a DCF investigation, the agency may recommend guardianship if they believe that your child is in danger in the home. Once a child is removed from the home, DCF may petition the court for guardianship, meaning someone else will be appointed to make decisions for your child. What is Subsidized Guardianship? Subsidized guardianship is a placement option for children placed in foster care. Eligible caregivers become the child’s legal guardian and are able to consent to their needs relative to healthcare, school activities, and basic scheduling. Under subsidized guardianship, the guardian receives payment from the state to help them meet the child’s needs. Who Qualifies for Guardianship Subsidies? According to Connecticut law, relative caregivers are permitted to apply for guardianship subsidy. To qualify, the child must be under the age of 18 and be living with a caregiver who has been licensed for at least six months. DCF must conduct a thorough assessment of the child’s situation and recommend guardianship with the relative in question. State law also requires that subsidies be provided to relative caregivers who have been in certified or foster care for at least 18 months. But the agency can offer subsidies if the child has been in this situation for at least six months. The Benefits of Subsidized Guardianship While having someone get paid to care for your child might seem unfair, there are some benefits to subsidized guardianship. In many cases, a family member who would otherwise not be able to afford to take in your child will now be able to take on the responsibility, increasing the overall family permanence. There’s a common misconception that subsidized guardianship undermines reunification efforts by parents. In fact, this isn’t the case. In Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Illinois, reunification rates were not significantly different in cases where subsidized guardianship was offered versus where it wasn’t.  

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Grandparents as Guardians

When the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) gets involved in a family situation, the agency’s wheels begin turning quickly. When DCF believes that the child is in danger by staying in the home, they will remove them. Where that child goes next depends on a lot of factors. The court will often appoint a guardian to make decisions for the child. Depending on the circumstances of the case, it’s possible that the grandparents could become the child’s legal guardian. When DCF Gets Involved Just about anyone who feels that a child’s safety, welfare, or health is in danger can call DCF in Connecticut. In fact, some professionals are required by law to notify DCF if there are suspected cases of abuse or neglect. Once notified, DCF has an obligation to investigate the situation promptly. You will likely have a DCF investigator knock on your front door for an unannounced home visit. If the investigator has a reasonable suspicion that your child is not safe, they may also notify the police, who will respond with their own investigation. Removing a Child from the Home If DCF does an initial investigation and determines that there is a risk of abuse or neglect, they will attempt to create a plan to address the situation using their protocol and the services they have at their disposal. In many cases, DCF will remove the child from the home until they feel that it is once again a safe environment. As relatives, grandparents have the legal right to notification if DCF decides to remove a child from the home. In general, DCF has an obligation to try to place the child with the other parent (if the parents are not living together) or with a relative of either parent. In many cases, it is the grandparents who are in the best position to care for and provide a home for the child. If they choose, the grandparents can request such a placement. What Happens at a DCF Hearing? Once a child has been removed from the home, there will be a hearing in front of a judge to give the parents a chance to argue their case. If they believe that the removal wasn’t appropriate, this is an opportunity to present such evidence. Unfortunately, many judges will side with DCF unless there has been a gross misunderstanding of facts. If you wish for your child to reside with their grandparents while your DCF case is pending, it would be a good idea to have them attend this hearing and indicate their willingness to become involved.  

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What Are the Advantages of Collaborative Divorce?

Separating from a partner with whom you’ve committed to spending the rest of your life is never easy. At The Christie Law Firm, we provide representation to individuals going through the divorce process. While divorce has the potential to be highly contentious and even litigious, it can also be collaborative. If you are curious about how collaborative divorce works and whether or not it may be the right choice for you and your spouse, please reach out to The Christie Law Firm, LLC directly for the legal support you can trust. What Is a Collaborative Divorce? Rather than just being a traditional divorce in which couples work together to reach a settlement, a collaborative divorce refers to a distinct legal process. This newer method for resolving tough issues in a divorce—including child custody, child support, property division, and spousal support—requires that both parties agree from the beginning to avoid the court system throughout the process. In addition to signing a no-court agreement, both parties will hire their own lawyers for representation; lawyers agree to withdraw from the case should it turn to litigation. Parties also enter an agreement that stipulates they will use collaborative methods to resolve things. What Are the Advantages of a Collaborative Divorce? There are many advantages to choosing collaborative divorce vs. traditional divorce. Some of the top reasons that people choose collaborative divorce include: Controlled pace of divorce cases. During a collaborative divorce, the pace at which the divorce proceeds will be in the hands of you and your spouse—no one else. This allows you the time you need to fully understand each issue that needs to be resolved in the divorce and do the research and investigation necessary to build your case. Support from experts. One of the hallmark features of collaborative divorce is that each party to a divorce will assemble a group of experts and specialists to help inform their position. For example, your divorce team may include a financial specialist, a child specialist if you have any children, and perhaps a divorce coach. These professionals provide insight and guidance that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Prioritizes communication and good-faith negotiations. Rather than creating a scenario where there is one winner and one loser, collaborative divorce fosters an environment where both parties are working to achieve a win-win solution that works for everyone. Through this model, negotiations are done in good faith; not simply to win or take something from the other party. Healthy communication is at the foundation of collaborative divorce. Allows for retained decision-making power. While going to court and litigating a divorce may yield an outcome that works for you, this isn’t always the case. Indeed, heading to court is always a gamble. On the other hand, with a collaborative divorce, you and your spouse are in charge of the outcome. Alleviates stress and conflict. Litigating a divorce is very stressful, not to mention expensive and time-consuming. A collaborative divorce is often considered a more peaceful and less stressful way to terminate a marriage. Protects privacy. Collaborative divorces, and the documents and outcome of a collaborative divorce, are not public; they are completely private. If protecting your privacy is important to you, then avoiding the court system is essential. Protects children and prioritizes co-parenting. For parents who are divorcing, the collaborative divorce process can protect young children from unnecessary conflict and help to prioritize a co-parenting arrangement that focuses on the child having parenting time with both parents. The stress of a traditional, contentious divorce can be damaging to a child psychologically. Leads to healthier relationships post-divorce. There are many reasons why you and your spouse may need to continue a relationship post-divorce, including shared interests in children, property, or other friends or family. A collaborative divorce can lead to a healthier relationship after the divorce is complete.  

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Home Schooling Educational Neglect

Child neglect can take many forms. The failure to provide for a child’s basic survival needs, such as food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and hygiene, constitutes physical neglect. This type of neglect may also involve a disregard for a child’s safety, such as not providing adequate supervision. Educational neglect involves a parent’s failure to enroll a school-age child in appropriate classes or provide them with appropriate homeschooling. In many states, like Connecticut, educational neglect can be a vague concept that can bring the Department of Children and Families (DCF) knocking on your door to investigate. What is Educational Neglect in Connecticut? The Department of Children and Families in Connecticut broadly defines educational neglect as excessive absences from school. If the DCF discovers that you caused your child to miss too much time from school, they may be able to substantiate a finding of Educational Neglect against you. But Connecticut’s compulsory education statute doesn’t require that you send your child to a specific public or private school. You can be exempt from this law as long as you can show that the child is receiving instruction equivalent to what is taught in public schools. Some states require that homeschooling parents notify a particular state agency of their intentions to homeschool their children. Connecticut doesn’t have this requirement, but the Department of Education does “suggest” parents fill out an Intent to Homeschool form annually. Any rules for reporting are implemented at the school district level, not the state level. Reporting Educational Neglect in Connecticut When there is suspicion that a child is being denied proper care and attention educationally, a concerned individual can report the failure to educate in a homeschool setting to the Connecticut DCF. Once the DCF receives one of these reports, it will initiate an investigation. As a parent, you probably won’t know that anyone has questions about your homeschooling activities until you get a knock on your door from a DCF investigator. This can be a frightening prospect. The DCF has a lot of power, so it’s important to remain calm and use caution if you are contacted. While you don’t want to appear uncooperative, you are also not required to let a DCF investigator into your home or answer questions without first consulting with an attorney. You can politely tell the investigator that you wish to protect your rights and will have your attorney get in touch immediately. Why Homeschooling Educational Neglect Cases Can Be a Problem According to a recent report in the CT Mirror, more than 17,800 fewer students showed up for school in 2021 than the prior year. When the pandemic shut down in-person learning in 2020, many families opted not to have students return to the classroom when given the option. But a lot of those students also weren’t logging on from home for virtual learning sessions, either. The drop in school attendance was found to be disproportionately high in some of the state’s lowest-income districts. At the same time, the number of families reported to the DCF for educational neglect last year doubled compared to previous years. A combination of economic and healthcare crises has led many families throughout the state to become displaced. And the last thing parents and their minor children need is to find out they’re under investigation by DCF. According to the same report, when DCF staff and social workers investigated this massive number of new reports, it turned out that the actual cases of educational neglect were somewhat small. Housing insecurity and instability are major factors that contribute to school absenteeism and the need for homeschooling. According to state data, homeless children had the highest rates of absenteeism last year, with most of the students located in underserved districts. But that doesn’t necessarily mean DCF needs to be involved. Education professionals, medical staff, and neighbors might contact the DCF to report educational neglect when parents are simply trying to provide for their child’s basic needs or dealing with other serious issues.  

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Special Education Issues with DCF Cases

Suspicions of child abuse or neglect are taken seriously in Connecticut. Like most states, Connecticut has a mandated reporter statute, which requires certain professionals to notify the state’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) of suspected abuse or neglect cases. This often triggers an investigation by the agency. But there can be massive complications when there are special education issues involved. What is the Mandated Reporter Statute in Connecticut? According to Connecticut Statutes Section 17a-101, certain professionals are required to report any suspicions of child abuse or neglect to the appropriate agency (DCF). The purpose of this law is to “protect children whose health and welfare may be adversely affected through injury and neglect; to strengthen the family and to make the home safe for children by enhancing the parental capacity for good child care; to provide a temporary or permanent nurturing and safe environment for children when necessary…” The statute provides a long list of mandated reporters. Among them are physicians, nurses, social workers, paid childcare workers, and school employees, just to name a few. If any of these professionals have a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect, they are required to file a verbal report with DCF within 12 hours and a written report within 48 hours. How Special Education Issues Can Complicate DCF Cases While investigations by government agencies are supposed to be fair, recent studies show they can be incredibly biased and unfair, particularly when there are special education issues involved. A recent series written by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit organization, revealed many schools nationwide have misused their DCF reporting authority when children in the school make learning challenging or when parents don’t agree to special education services for their children. Children with learning challenges like ADHD or mood disorders may act out in the classroom. When the school wants one thing for the child, and the parents want something different, this can put the two parties at odds. Unfortunately, schools have the power to contact the state’s child welfare hotline to ask for an investigation.  

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How Can an Attorney Help Before and During My Substantiation Hearing?

If the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) has made a finding of substantiation against you, you have the right to appeal the finding through a substantiation hearing. To help you exercise this right and protect your best interests throughout the process, working with a skilled DCF family law attorney is strongly recommended. At The Christie Law Firm, LLC, we have years of experience and can represent you before and during the hearing process. Call us today to learn more. What Is a Substantiation Hearing? A substantiation hearing is an appeal following a finding of substantiation. A finding of substantiation is a decision issued by the DCF indicating that allegations of abuse or neglect have been substantiated. When the DCF receives a report of suspected abuse or neglect, it is required to open an investigation. At the conclusion of the investigation, it will issue a notice of its findings. If a finding of substantiation is issued, the party in question has 30 days from receipt of the notice to file an appeal. During the substantiation hearing, a party can introduce new evidence and witnesses, as well as cross-examine witnesses. After the hearing is concluded, a notice of findings will be sent via mail. There is a process for further appealing the findings of the substantiation hearing if need be. The Role of an Attorney During the Substantiation Hearing Process If the DCF has issued a finding of substantiation and you want to appeal the process, it is strongly recommended that you exercise your right to legal counsel. The various ways in which an attorney will represent your interests and advocate for you include the following: File an appeal of a DCF substantiation decision. The first thing that your attorney will do is to help you understand your right to appeal and how the appeals process works. An appeal must be filed within 30 days of receipt of the notice of substantiation. An attorney will manage all of the filing documents on your behalf and ensure that you don’t miss the filing deadline. Question witnesses. As stated above, one of the rights of a person involved in a substantiation hearing is the right to question witnesses. Your attorney can prepare questions and manage the cross-examination process on your behalf. Questioning witnesses is one of the key elements of a substantiation hearing and is best managed by someone who is very experienced and understands how a hearing officer makes a decision. Review the evidence. The DCF will submit all of the evidence that it has against you. You have a right to review this evidence and prepare a response. What’s more, it’s important that you understand that the burden is on the DCF to prove a finding of neglect or abuse. Your attorney will review all of the DCF’s evidence and help you understand what it means for your case. Ensure that you do not breach the statute of limitations. If you breach the amount of time allocated under the law for filing an appeal (30 days), then your right to appeal is forfeited. One of the key roles of your attorney is to ensure that you do not breach the statute of limitations and that your right to appeal is protected. Understand the hearing officer’s decision. At the conclusion of the substantiation hearing, the hearing officer assigned to your case will issue a determination. Your attorney will explain the hearing officer’s decision to you and what it means for your case and your rights as a parent or guardian. Strategize your next steps. Finally, one of the most critical roles of an attorney is strategizing your next steps at each stage of the process, from when you first receive a substantiation letter to after the hearing officer’s notice of decision has been issued. In addition to the above, your attorney will explain your legal rights and what the DCF can and cannot do throughout the process. Your attorney will also explain to you your options and what you may be able to do to improve the outcome of your case. Is Working with an Attorney During a Substantiation Hearing Required? There is no requirement to work with an attorney during a substantiation hearing; however, doing so is strongly recommended and may have a positive impact on the outcome of your case. Call The Christie Law Firm, LLC Today At The Christie Law Firm, LLC, we understand the stress and fear following the receipt of a DCF notice of the finding of substantiation. To learn more about how our law firm can help and the experience of our DCF family law attorney, call us directly at (860) 461-7494, send us a message online, or visit our Hartford office in person.