Dept. of Human Services v. R.K.

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Court of Appeals
  • Area(s) of Law: Family Law
  • Date Filed: 05-13-2015
  • Case #: A157281
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Duncan, P.J. for the Court; Lagesen, J.; & Flynn, J.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under ORS 419B.500 and 419B.504, to terminate parental rights a court must find (1) the parent has engaged in conduct or is characterized by a condition that is seriously detrimental to the child, (2) integration of the child into the parent's care is improbable within a reasonable time, and (3) termination is in the best interests of the child. To determine a “serious condition” the court must focus on the detrimental effects of the parent’s conduct or condition and not just the seriousness of the parents conduct. It is child specific.

The mother of both children X and R (Mother), the father of R (RK) and the father of X (XZF) all appealed a juvenile court decision to terminate parental rights. At the time of trial Mother and RK were married and living together, Mother had a history or drug and alcohol abuse, and also a history of resisting treatment and other programs given by DHS. The Court stated that because of Mother’s history of abuse, and unwillingness to seek proper treatment that it would be unlikely that Mother’s conduct and condition will change in the foreseeable future. The Court further found, based on the same evidence, that it would uphold the lower court decision of termination of parental rights. RK also appealed the termination of parental rights decision. Evidence was entered that showed that RK had admitted to his past wrongs, and had recently started drug and alcohol and domestic violence treatment, and RK also stated that while he was unsure if he would divorce Mother, if granted parental rights of R than he would stop seeing Mother. However, the State contended, and the Court agreed that RK’s recent (out of jail for only two days) and relatively short (involved in a closely supervised drug and alcohol program for two weeks) changes were inadequate to show that at the time of trial RK’s conduct and lifestyle had changed enough to stop being a serious detriment to R. The Court distinguished this from a similar case on the grounds that the defendant in the other case was in treatment for ten months prior to the termination hearing. XZF also appealed the judgment of the lower court by challenging the decision that XZF’s incarceration was a condition that is seriously detrimental to X. XZF claimed that the State failed to prove that he is unfit or that it is in X’s best interest that XZF’s rights be terminated. The State contended that XZF’s continued incarceration (36 months remaining) were seriously detrimental to X’s well being because it caused him to be placed in a situation where domestic violence and drug abuse were common, causing X to suffer from emotional distress and other behavioral problems. However, the Court held that to find a serious detriment a court must look at the situation at the time of the trial, and they concluded that because at the time of trial X was stable and also the States generalized testimony that a lack of permanency could result in emotional distress were not sufficient to terminate XZF’s rights. Judgment terminating parental rights of XZF reversed, otherwise affirmed.

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