December 18, 2005
Case Law Development: Denying Termination of Parental Rights after a Finding of Parental Unfitness
The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, in a 5-2 decision, reversed a trial court's determination that a Mother's parental rights should not be terminated even though it had found the Mother unfit. The trial court had found Mother unfit based on her "inability to identify men who present a risk of harm to herself and the children." Nonetheless, the court found that Mother had a strong bond with her two young children and that the children appeared to be doing well in the current situation of living with a foster family and visiting with Mother on weekends. Given that Maine has no open adoption, if Mother's parental rights were terminated and the foster parents were to adopt the children, the children would have no right to continued contact with Mother. Thus, the trial court had concluded that the current "equalibrium" was in the best interests of the children.
The supreme court held that the Maine statutes emphasize the importance of permanency and announced a new standard in applying the termination statute: "when a court applies the factors set forth in [the termination statute] to determine the best interest of a child for whom the court is considering the alternative of long-term foster care, it must address whether a compelling reason supports its conclusion that long-term foster care will serve the child's best interest over both the short and long-term." The court remanded to the trial court to consider its decision in light of this standard.
Dissenting justices would have left the enunciation of such a standard to the legislature.
In re Thomas H., 2005 ME 123 (December 14, 2005)
Opinion on the web at http://www.courts.state.me.us/opinions/2005%20documents/05me123th.htm (last visited December 17, 2005 bgf)