Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Indiana
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the juvenile court finding that R.L. was a child in need of services (CHINS), holding that the Department of Child Services (DCS) should have been barred from filing a successive CHINS action after the initial CHINS petition was dismissed with prejudice. In 2017, DCS filed a petition alleging that R.S. was a CHINS. The juvenile court determined R.L. was not a CHINS and dismissed the action with prejudice. In 2018, DCS filed a subsequent petition alleging R.L. was a CHINS. Mother moved to dismiss the petition on claim preclusion grounds. The juvenile court denied the motion and found R.L. was a CHINS. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Mother's motion to dismiss should have been granted because, under the framework of Matter of Eq.W., 124 N.E.3d 1201 (Ind. 2019), the subsequent petition filed by DCS should have been barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion. View "R.L. v. Indiana Department of Child Services & Child Advocates, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals that a parent is not entitled to dismissal of a termination of parental rights petition due to the juvenile court's failure to complete a hearing within the statutorily required 180 days where the parent affirmatively waived that requirement, holding that relief is not available under these circumstances. The Indiana Department of Child Services filed petitions to terminate Mother's parental rights regarding her two children. The evidentiary hearing on the petitions was completed more than 180 days after the petitions were filed. Thereafter, the court terminated Mother's parental rights. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Mother affirmatively waived the 180-day requirement and invited the court to conduct the hearing without regard to it, Mother was precluded from later successfully invoking it as a basis for reversal. View "J.C. v. Indiana Department of Child Services" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court denying Mother's motion to dismiss the petition filed by the Department of Child Services (DCS) alleging M.S. was a child in need of services (CHINS), holding that the 120-day deadline contemplated by Ind. Code 31-34-11-1(b) may be enlarged only if a party shows good cause for a continuance, and Mother showed good cause for a continuance in this case. Under section 31-34-11-1(d) a trial court must dismiss a CHINS petition if the court does not conclude a fact-finding hearing within 120 days of the State's filing of the petition. At issue int his case was whether the 120-day deadline may be enlarged under Ind. Trial Rule 53.5 if a party to the proceeding moves for a good faith continuance that results in the conclusion of fact-finding beyond the codified 120-day limit. In the instant case, Mother moved for a good faith continuance of the CHINS proceeding. The final order adjudicating M.S. a CHINS was not issued until after the 120-day deadline expired. Mother filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court denied. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the 120-day time period may be extended for good cause, and because Mother showed good cause for a continuance, the trial court correctly denied Mother's motion to dismiss. View "In re M.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court entering a second two-year protective order against Respondent, holding that there was insufficient evidence showing that Respondent presented a present, credible threat to Petitioner's safety in order to support the protective order. In 2016, Petitioner filed a petition seeking a protective order against Respondent. The trial court entered a two-year protective order against Respondent. In 2018, just days before the 2016 protective order was set to expire, Petitioner petitioned for another protective order against Respondent. After a hearing, the trial court issued another two-year protective order. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was insufficient evidence that Respondent posed a present, credible threat to Petitioner to justify the 2018 protective order. View "S.H. v. D.W." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's finding that Father's consent to the adoption of his child was irrevocably implied in this contested adoption proceeding, holding that a parent's implied consent to the adoption of a child may not be based solely on the parent's failure to appear at a single hearing. Grandparents filed a petition to adopt Child, claiming that Father's consent to the adoption was unnecessary. Father contested the adoption. But when Father failed to appear the morning of the final hearing in the adoption case, the trial court entered a decree of adoption, finding that Father's consent was not necessary. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that where Father appeared at the initial final hearing before it was rescheduled, responded to pleadings, and maintained communication with his attorney throughout the proceedings, the trial court erred in finding that Father's consent was irrevocably implied because of his failure to attend the final hearing. View "In re Adoption of C.A.H. v. R.S.E." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court refusing to terminate Mother's parental rights on the ground that termination was not in the children's best interests, holding that the court's conclusion that the Indiana Department of Child Services (DCS) failed clearly and convincingly to show that termination was in the children's best interests was not contrary to law. Specifically, the trial court found that the children shared a strong bond with Mother, that DCS would struggle to find adoptive homes for the children, and that Mother had made progress complying with the requirements of her parent-participation plan. On appeal, the guardian ad litem argued that Mother's parental rights should be terminated because she had not yet found suitable housing for herself and her children. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in concluding that the guardian ad litem failed to show that the trial court's decision was contrary to law. View "M.I. v. K.H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the finding of the trial court that five children were children in need of services (CHINS), holding that the doctrine of res judicata applies to bar a repeated filing of a CHINS petition based on evidence that could have been produced in the first filing but that the issue was not properly raised in the trial court in this case. The Department of Child Services (DCS) filed a petition alleging that the children in this case were CHINS but failed to present sufficient evidence of the parents' alleged substance abuse. The day after the trial court dismissed the case without prejudice DCS filed a second petition alleging the children were CHINS without any new or substantially different evidence. After the court considered evidence and testimony that could have been presented during the first proceeding, the court adjudicated the children CHINS. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the doctrine of res judicata was not properly raised in the trial court and that there was no fundamental error in the proceedings below. View "V.B. v. Indiana Department of Child Services" on Justia Law

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Under the circumstances of this case, Mother’s consent was necessary to grant the child’s stepmother’s petition to adopt the child. Here, due to her drug addiction, Mother had voluntarily agreed to modify custody. Under the agreement, Mother relinquished primary physical custody, which the trial court awarded to the child’s father. Although Mother retained legal custody with parenting time, she failed to communicate significantly with her son, and therefore, the stepmother’s petition to adopt was granted without mother’s consent. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court on the consent determination and remanded for further proceedings, holding that the totality of Mother’s circumstances justified her failure to communicate with her child and that the father and stepmother frustrated Mother’s limited ability to communicate. View "In re Adoption of E.B.F." on Justia Law

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A trial court judge is not required to recuse himself or herself from a case solely because counsel for one of the parties served as a professional reference and wrote a recommendation letter in support of the judge’s application for another judicial role. In this contested adoption case, Father alleged that because the trial judge listed adoptive parents’ counsel as a reference in his application for appointment to the Indiana Supreme Court, an appearance of impropriety was created, necessitating the trial judge’s recusal. The judge denied the motion for recusal and then dismissed Father’s motion to contest the adoption and entered a decree of adoption. The Supreme Court affirmed and remanded the case, holding that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, the trial judge was not required to recuse himself on remand. View "L.G. v. S.L." on Justia Law

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Under Indiana Code section 31-25-2-5, no family case manager at the Indiana Department of Child Services can oversee more than 17 children at a time who are receiving services. The statute does not require the Department to perform any specific, ministerial acts for achieving that number. Price, a family case manager, filed a proposed class action. She alleged that her caseload was 43 children and sought an “order mandating or enjoining [D]efendants to take all necessary steps to comply with [Section 5].” The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of Price’s claim prior to class certification. Judicial mandate is an extraordinary remedy—available only when the law imposes a clear duty upon a defendant to perform a specific, ministerial act and the plaintiff is clearly entitled to that relief. The statute at issue does not impose a specific, ministerial duty. View "Price v. Indiana Department of Child Services; Director of Indiana Department of Child Services" on Justia Law