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Future Placements And Adoptions In Termination Of Parental Rights Orders

In In re: R.B., O.B. and K.C., 2015 VT 100 (August 7, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court upheld orders terminating parental rights and transferring placement of children to a near relative.

Issue: Mother and Father appealed the termination of their parental rights on multiple grounds, focusing on the subsequent placement and notice issues.

Holding: Noting the differences between “custody” cases and TPR cases, the Vermont Supreme Court held that the family court was not required (or precluded) from considering the availability of alternative placement or adoption when making its determination regarding termination. Furthermore, once a parent’s rights have been terminated, they have no standing to challenge the child’s placement. The family court has the authority to transfer custody to a near relative, or to another person with a significant relationship to the child, after terminating the parent’s rights. That placement can be subject to conditions, limitations, and continued review. It also does not have to transfer the right to adoption since there is ample authority for the court to ensure the child’s adoption move forward. With regard to the notice arguments, the Court held that the direct notice requirement only applies to TPR hearings, not hearings on motions to reconsider. Even if there had been a direct notice requirement in this case, the error was harmless because the hearing was on subsequent placement and the parents had no standing. Lastly, the Court found no error in the family court’s decision on the merits as to Father.

Concurrence: Dooley, J., concurred, to more fully answer the questions presented. Generally, upon termination of parental rights, courts transfer custody and parental rights to DCF “without limitation as to adoption.” In this case, the order transferring placement in the relative’s care did not include rights “without limitation as to adoption.” Parents objected that this order left the children in limbo with no possibility of permanency since no one was authorized to consent to adoption. They argued it created another conditional custody order, instead of a TPR order. After examining the statutes involving juvenile proceedings and adoptions, Justice Dooley concluded that the order was permissible since consent is not required for adoption and the legal custodian can petition for adoption after having custody for six or more months. He acknowledged that his decision renders the “without limitation as to adoption” language, which only appears in juvenile law, superfluous.

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