IN RE NEVAEH W. et al., SC 19447
Judicial District of New Haven, Juvenile Matters
Termination of Parental Rights; Whether Trial Court’s Failure to Make Written Finding on Each of Seven § 17a-112 (k) Factors Deprived it of Authority to Enter Dispositional Order of Termination. The Department of Children and Families (department) filed a petition to terminate the respondent mother’s parental rights with respect to her minor daughters Nevaeh and Janiyah. The trial court granted the petition, and the respondent appealed, claiming that the trial court wrongly determined in the dispositional phase of the proceeding that termination of her parental rights was in the best interests of the children. Specifically, the respondent claimed that the trial court erred by failing to comply with General Statutes § 17a-112 (k) (4), which provides that “[i]n determining whether to terminate parental rights under this section, the court shall consider and shall make written findings regarding . . . the feelings and emotional ties of the child with respect to the child’s parents, any guardian of such child’s person and any person who has exercised physical care, custody or control of the child for at least one year and with whom the child has developed significant emotional ties.” She argued that the trial court made no findings regarding the children’s relationship with her and instead relied wholly upon its findings regarding the children’s relationship with their preadoptive foster parents. The Appellate Court (154 Conn. App. 156) reversed, ruling that the trial court failed to make the mandatory statutory findings, and remanded for further proceedings before a different judge on the dispositional phase of the termination proceeding. The Appellate Court noted that the trial court’s only finding under § 17a-112 (k) (4) was that the preadoptive foster parents were willing to adopt both children and that both children were “comfortable, secure, and safe” in being placed together with the preadoptive foster parents. The Appellate Court determined that this finding was unresponsive to the specification in § 17a-112 (k) (4) concerning “the feelings and emotional ties of the child with respect to the child’s parents” and that the trial court had a clear obligation under the statute and controlling case law to consider and make written findings regarding all seven enumerated criteria in § 17a-112 (k) in determining whether termination of the respondent’s parental rights was in the best interests of the children. The Appellate Court also concluded that a finding regarding the children’s relationship with the respondent could not be implied from reading the trial court’s memorandum of decision in its entirety, and it rejected the department’s argument that such a finding was evidenced by the trial court’s references to Nevaeh’s previous commitments to the department’s custody. The Supreme Court will now decide whether the Appellate Court properly concluded that (1) a trial court is deprived of authority to enter a dispositional order terminating parental rights if it fails to address in writing each segment of all seven statutory factors in § 17a-112 (k) and (2) the remedy for a trial court’s failure to address in writing each segment of all seven statutory factors is reversal of the judgment terminating parental rights.