Go to Prison, Lose Your Kids

The Colorado Supreme Court clarified today that a trial court in a case to have a parents rights terminated for abuse or neglect, may consider the fact that a parent is a felon or incarcerated as a relevant factor in termination of parental rights cases, even though that reason standing alone does not terminate a parent’s parental rights, and is not something that the trial court is statutorily required to be informed of in such a case.  The case decided by the Colorado Supreme Court involved a father imprisoned for a long term in a Texas prison for offenses including domestic violence, and a suicidal mother who willingly relinquished her parental rights.  One of the children was two years old, and the other was an infant.  Terminating the father’s parental rights was the only barrier between an adoption and new life for the young children, who were doing well in foster care, and a much more sustained period of foster care, at least, until the father was released from prison.

The ruling isn’t much of a surprise to those familiar with the system.  In fact, in one recent case, a father’s parental rights were terminated because:

[T]he court determined that an ongoing relationship would be of no benefit to the children, citing his lack of financial support, his ineffective parenting abilities, and his disinclination to effectuate any change in the situation.

That case, arising in Fort Morgan, Colorado, arose when:

[A] home health nurse arrived for a scheduled appointment to address concerns about the youngest child’s failure to thrive.  The nurse heard a child crying inside, found two children watching television unattended, one of whom was in a swing soaked with urine and caked with formula.  Father, who was responsible for the children while mother was attending school, was asleep in the bedroom.

In short, you don’t have to be a full fledged criminal to have your parental rights terminated in Colorado, just a good for nothing so-so parent who doesn’t want to get with the program.

Also, even if you do your best to get with the program, a judge doesn’t have to let you keep a parental relationship with your children if you are in prison and have some other fault of some kind in your parenting.

In the case of the father whose relationship with his children would have been “of no benefit to the children”, the children were placed in the permanent custody of their maternal grandparents, and the mother, who was working and trying to be a better parent, kept her parental rights.

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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