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Supreme Court Affirms Termination of an Incarcerated Father’s Parental Rights

In In re M.W., Juvenile, 2016 VT 28 (March 18, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family court’s TPR order.

Issue: M.W.’s father was arrested in 2013 and charged with multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault on minors and of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, two counts of obstructing justice, one count of violating an abuse prevention order, and one count of violating conditions of release. DCF also substantiated father for abuse based on the conduct that led to the twelve criminal charges. At the time of the TPR hearing, M.W. had been living with his maternal grandparents for two years and had only seen his father once in December 2013, and not again after that. The family court found that terminating father’s parental rights was in M.W.’s best interests, given that it was unlikely that father would be able to resume his parental duties within a reasonable period of time (from M.W.’s perspective). Father appealed.

Holding: The Supreme Court affirmed the TPR order, finding that the record supports the family court’s order. While father argued that the TPR decision was based entirely on factors beyond his control (i.e., his pretrial incarceration), the Court found that, regardless of the fact that the charges were still pending, it was appropriate for the family court to consider father’s incarceration and the consequences of his incarceration on M.W. Since father was never M.W.’s primary caregiver and because M.W. does not know that his father is, in fact, his father, the family court did not err in terminating father’s parental rights.

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