DC CHILD CUSTODY LITIGATION: WHAT IS THE BEST INTEREST CRITERIA

This blog highlights specifically the legal definition of the “best interest of the child” as relates to DC child custody litigation: All cases involving and relating to the children in family matters; termination of parental rights/adoption, guardianship and child custody and neglect – all invariably use the “best interest of the child” criteria as a paramount factor in the reaching the final order and the legal analysis substantiating that order. The court looks at different but similar legal elements in each family matter to define the “best interest of the child” criteria. For the DC child custody litigation in awarding physical and legal custody to one parent or jointly or shared in some fashion – – the court defines the relevant factors as such: 1)The child’s bond with each parent and the child’s desire and preference when applicable as to where he/she wants to reside. In the District the age of consent is generally 14, and thus, at that age or above the court will require and factor in heavily the child’s preference. 2) Each parent’s position/desire will be balanced as to both physical and legal custody arrangement.   Parents willingness to work with each other, conflict resolution, outcome of mediation
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Categories: Family Law.

DC ADOPTION LAWS: LEGAL PARAMETERS

DC adoptions can be categorized as Child and Family Services (“CFSA”) involved or private adoptions. The legal paradigm remains the same. However CFSA involvement could and generally does complicate the process as there are additional requirements to make the child eligible for the federal subsidy. Such requirements are adoption licensing, home study/visits, Interstate Compact (“ICPC”) when applicable, adoption final report, adoption subsidy agreement, federal and state police as well as Child Protection Registry (“CPS” ) clearances just to name a few. Once the CFSA procedural requirements are met, there still remains the legal threshold to completing the adoption and entering of the final order and decree. This blog however will focus on these legal requirements and the legal elements that must be established by clear and convincing evidence. After filing an adoption petition content of which is strictly confidential, the court will issue a show cause order to the biological parents with a court date for service to be completed. At the show cause hearing, assuming the parents are properly served with the show cause order, the court may move forward with the hearing. The parents may either enter a written consent, or contest the adoption. If contested, the court
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Categories: Family Law.

OHIO v. CLARK — RECENT SUPREME COURT RULING ON CHILD TESTIMONY

The U.S. Supreme Court in Ohio v. Clark decided on June 18, 2015, addressed admissibility of the non-testimonial statements in the context of child abuse investigation. Clark was trusted with care of his two children L.P., age 3 and A.T. eighteen months while their mother was engaged in prostitution at the direction of Clark. L.P. was observed at school with a black eye, belt marks on his back and stomach, and bruises all over his body. A.T. after further investigation had two black eyes, a swollen hand, and a large burn on her cheek, and two pigtails had been ripped out at the roots of her hair. Clark was convicted of several criminal counts at the trial based on the statement of L.P. to his teacher inquiring as to how the child had received the injuries. The Supreme Court in delivering the opinion carefully reviewed all current cases decided and relating to out of court testimonial v. non-testimonial statements. The Confrontation Clause prohibits the introduction of “testimonial” statements by a non-testifying witness, unless the witness is “unavailable to testify, and the defendant had had a prior opportunity for cross-examination.” However, a statement qualifies as testimonial if the primary purpose of
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Categories: Criminal Defense and Family Law.

PARENTAL FITNESS DEFINED; RECENT COURT OF APPEALS DECISION

The DC Court of Appeals in IN RE PETITION OF S.L.G & S.E.G.; D.A. (No. 14-FS-73) decided on March 5, 2015; once again reiterated and cemented the presumption of parental fitness in a contested adoption proceedings. The case is significant as the Court defined and expanded on the definition of “fitness” and outlined the legal criteria the trial court must use in rendering an opinion. The appellant biological mother contested the adoption petition by the foster family S.E.G. and S.L.G. Evidence established that the child was in the foster home for over two years, well integrated in the home and bonded to the foster parents and family. The foster family also according to testimony met the child’s mental and developmental needs, by all account and petitioner were fit and proper to adopt the child. The biological mother on the other hand exhibited mental health and behavioral issues that raised concerns as to her ability to safely care for the child. The mother also struggled with sobriety and was not compliant with services. She also consistently made poor decisions, which could comprise safety of the child. The appellant challenged the trial court ruling essentially on two grounds: that the court made
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Categories: Family Law.

RECENT COURT OF APPEALS RULING REVERSING TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS (TPR) —

In the recent opinion issued by the Court of Appeals in IN RE D.M.; T.M., (March 13, 2014), the Court once again articulated that when a biological parent is unable to care for his or her child, her choice of a fit custodian must be given a weighty articulated consideration by the trial court. T.M., the biological mother of D.M., appealed successfully her termination of parental rights by the trial court.   She argued on appeal that the lower court erred by “failing to give weighty consideration to the third-party custodial arrangement” she set forth as a placement option and in lieu of termination of her parental rights.  She had proposed her mother in law TM2 as a placement option. Although the child had special needs and behavioral issues, TM2 was willing to care for the child and had taken affirmative steps in that direction: she had completed foster parenting classes, undergone home study by the agency, and was licensed as a foster parent. CFSA did not support mother’s choice of placement reasoning that TM2’s work hours, and the child’s special need, and behavioral issues worked against the placement.  The lower court agreed.  The Court of Appeals reversed essentially stating that
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Categories: Family Law and Uncategorized.

De Factor Parent/Third Party Custody Actions: Legal Principles and Recent Relevant Court of Appeals Case:

In the District, the child custody statute extends rights upon third party and de factor parent custodians. That is, if an individual can establish by clear and convincing evidence that he/she is either a de facto parent or a third party custodian of a child – then the Statute allows for filing and litigating the custody action against the parent seeking order for grant of physical/legal custody to the third party custodian or to the de factor parent. Specifically, de facto parent is defined as an individual who has either: (i) Lived with the child in the same household at the time of the child’s birth or adoption by the child’s parent; (ii) Has taken on full and permanent responsibilities as the child’s parent; and (iii) Has held himself or herself out as the child’s parent with the agreement of the child’s parent or, if there are 2 parents, both parents; or (i) Has lived with the child in the same household for at least 10 of the 12 months immediately preceding the filing of the complaint or motion for custody; (ii) Has formed a strong emotional bond with the child with the encouragement and intent of the child’s parent
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Categories: Family Law.

RECENT COURT OF APPEALS RULING

In another recent opinion issued by the Court of Appeals, the Court applied the same legal principles emphasized and enumerated in IN RE TA. L. (No. 11-FS-01217, 2013 WL 4779715), also recently issued on August 22, 2013 – but with entirely different outcome. The Court in In RE TA. L., clearly re-established that when the biological parents have designated a preferred custodian, the trial court can only overcome their choice by finding with clear and convincing evidence that their choice is contrary to the best interests of the child.  There the Court ruled that the parents’ choice of custodian was not given sufficient consideration at trial and thus case remanded. In the recent case though different set of facts were considered.  Here there were also competing petitions.  An adoption petition by the foster parents and a guardianship motion by the grandparents.  However, the determining factual difference in the most recent case was that the child was medically fragile.  The child was born with significant medical issues.  She required early on monitoring and treatment by specialists in pulmonology, ophthalmology, gastroenterology, and endocrinology.  The evidence established that the foster parents met or exceeded the child’s medical needs diligently keep track of all
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Categories: Family Law.

RECENT COURT OF APPEALS NEGLECT REVERSAL

In yet another recent case, it appears that the Court of Appeals has gradually shifted the standard of review in favor of the biological parent and the parental rights and preferences.  In the previously blogged and reviewed cases, the competing adoptions with a parental preference and a fit father’s custody filing — were both considered and analyzed – and in each of these recent cases, the Court had sided with the parental preference arguably raising the bar to overcome parental preferences and here to find neglect against a parent. In IN RE K.M., decided on September 12, 2013, the Court reversed the neglect finding in favor of the mother diagnosed with delusional ideations, the prosecutorial type. In this case, the mother LM was diagnosed to have suffered from delusional disorder.  Specifically the psychologists described the disorder as irrational and firmly fixed beliefs that LM was being harmed by others or that other people meant to hurt or to persecute her. The two relevant statutory neglect provisions applicable were: 1)    D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(A)(ii) if the child is “without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for his or her
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Categories: Family Law.

RECENT DC COURT OF APPEALS CASE DEFINING “WEIGHTY CONSIDERATION”

The recent Court of Appeals case on a competing adoption petition litigation issued on August 22, 2013 (citation below) defined with more specificity the meaning of “weighty consideration” given to parents’ choice of a fit custodian.  Here the parents whom have been adjudicated as having neglected their children consented to E.A., the great aunt’s adoption petition competing against W.s the foster parents.   The attachment study that was conducted did not factor or involved the children’s attachment to E.A.  In short, it was one sided attachment evaluation.  The study clearly established though a secure attachment to W.s – the foster parents.   The study also deemed the impact of removal as devastating.   Another bonding study conducted by the assessment center between the petitioners, parents and the children also favored the W.s – that the children were most attached to W.s. That removal from their home would possibly cause high risk of derailment. It appears however that the Court’s opinion in the matter way swayed by Dr. Missar’s testimony, which only offered criticism of the two evaluations conducted.  That is “Dr. Frank was not in a position to offer an opinion about the children’s attachment to any party because she had only conducted
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Categories: Family Law.

DC COURT OF APPEALS REVERSES FINDING OF NEGLECT

The Court of Appeals on July 25, 2013 in IN RE ANG.P. & AND.P.; (Nos. 11-FS-1584 & 11-FS-1585), reversed the lower court finding of neglect against a biological mother who was charged with neglecting her children by leaving them without proper parenting, care and control. The legal standard specifically provides: a child is neglected if he or she “is without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care necessary for his or her physical, mental or emotional health, and the deprivation is not due to the lack of financial means of his or her parent, guardian, or custodian.” D.C. Code § 16-2301 (9)(A)(ii). In addition, a child will be adjudicated neglected if his or her “parent, guardian, or custodian is unable to discharge his or her responsibilities to and for the child because of incarceration, hospitalization, or other physical or mental incapacity.” Id. § 16-2301 (9)(A)(iii). A finding of neglect under (iii) requires a showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, of a causal nexus between the parent’s mental or physical incapacity and his or her inability to provide proper parental care for the child. See In re E.H., 718 A.2d 162, 169 (D.C.
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Categories: Family Law.