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Division III: Mom's Appearance at Dependency No Good for Default on Termination Petition

In re Welfare of S.I and D.D.

This case is a big one in the world of child dependencies and terminations. There is essentially a two step process for the termination of parental rights. The first one is a dependency action where the child is placed with someone else and the parents are given the opportunity to obtain the services they need and the help they need to become a better parent. Sometimes I does help with drugs, sometimes that is help with how to be a parent, and it could involve a slew of state services, agencies, and third parties, all designed to help the person become a fit parent.

The second part of this is a termination proceeding. The termination proceeding is a little different in that you are saying this person is not going to be a fit parent, and we have done what we can to help them to no avail.

I won’t bore you with the specifics of how this dependency action and termination action came about. What happened was that the mother did appear for the initial dependency action. Needless to say, the services provided to the mother did not help, or we would not be here with this termination proceeding.

A year later, the state filed a termination petition. The mother did not file an appearance in the termination action, and a default was entered which terminated her parental rights.

She argued that because she had appeared in the dependency action that no default could be entered in the termination proceeding. However, the court held that these were separate proceedings, and an appearance in one it does not amount to an appearance in the other.

Now for a bit of commentary from me. It seems to me that having these be two separate proceedings would amount to some confusion for those who are not adept at the legal system. For sure, they are interrelated, and simply receiving a notice that may have a different number, but that you know pertains to the same thing, may not warrant the same alarm to a layperson as it would to an attorney.

Perhaps it is time to modify the system slightly, so that rather than petition for a termination, a termination proceeding simply is done under the same cause number as an extension of the dependency action.

Thoughts?

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