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Supreme Court Affirms TPR Judgment

In In re D.S., Juvenile, 2016 VT 38 (March 25, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family court judgment terminating the parental rights of both mother and father of D.S.

Issue: Before D.S. was born, DCF filed a CHINS petition based on the pattern of neglect seen in his older siblings. Both mother and father had agreed to participate in recommended services in an effort to be able to parent D.S. properly, but did not do so. DCF then filed a disposition plan and the court held a TPR hearing. After the three-day hearing, the family court found that TPR was in D.S.’s best interests. Both parents appealed, arguing that the family court violated their due process rights in failing to hold a contested evidentiary hearing and that the court also erred in granting the State’s motion in limine regarding the facts from the earlier CHINS proceeding at the start of the TPR hearing.

Holding: The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment terminating both parents’ parental rights. With regard to parents’ first argument, the Court found that the family court offered the opportunity for a contested evidentiary hearing, but that neither parent requested such a hearing. With regard to parents’ second argument, the Court found that both mother and father had the opportunity to provide testimony about their personal circumstances at the CHINS proceeding and were not precluded from introducing the evidence they claimed was excluded.

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