Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Case Law Development: State Must Prove Termination of Parental Rights Even if Parent Defaults

The Kentucky Court of Appeals took the rare action of reversing a trial court's termination of a mother's parental rights in a case in which she did not appear to contest the termination and the hearing on the matter lasted 15 minutes.  The state alleged medical neglect because one of the three children, who was born with severe medical problems, had been catheterized by another child.  The state alleged educational neglect as to a second child because he was reading far below his grade level.  As to all three children, the state maintained that mother did not maintain an appropriate home.  No evidence was submitted in the 15 minute hearing to support these allegations or the harm to the children. 

In reversing, the court commented: "We are mindful of the enormous time pressures faced by both the family court and the attorneys involved in this case. But the state’s effort to sever permanently the relationship between parent and child is a serious affair, as evidenced by the heightened burden of proof required for termination. Based on the record before us, we believe that in its haste, the Cabinet failed to show the family court clear and convincing evidence that [mother's] parental rights should be terminated. After all, “[i]t is very well to say that those who deal with the Government should turn square corners. But there is no reason why the square corners should constitute a one-way street.”

V.S. v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, Kentucky Court of Appeals May 5, 2006
Opinion on the web (last visited May 30, 2006)

Read a news story on the decision by Valarie Honeycutt Spears of the Lexington Herald-Leader (last visited May 30, 2006)

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