The Colorado Court of Appeals recently reversed a decision that took baby S.T. away from his father and gave him to the mother’s parents. This decision is important for several reasons. It explains how a parent’s rights should be evaluated by the court. It also clarifies that the Department must follow carefully-defined laws when it takes children away from their parents.
The baby’s mother lost custody of the baby because she was abusing prescription medication. At the beginning of the case, S.T.’s father was unknown. After a paternity test, the father was identified, and he wanted a relationship with his baby son. The court held a hearing where it determined the Department did not prove its allegations of abuse against the father, and dismissed the Department’s Petition against the father.
Strangely, then, instead of giving baby S.T. to his father, the court put the baby with the maternal grandparents anyway. Eventually, the father moved for custody, which the court refused to give him. The father appealed.
After a fairly technical legal discussion, the appellate court said that the father still had the right to act in the best interests of the child (rather than the government doing it for him). Even though the mother was at fault, the father had not lost his own liberty interest in caring for his child. The trial court was ordered to discharge the father and baby S.T. from orders controlling them, which should allow the father to be reunited with his son.
Although dependency and neglect cases are controlled by statutes, not many of the cases are appealed. That means the Department is usually able to make its own argument about what the statutes mean. A case like this, where a father challenged the Department’s interpretation and won, will be very helpful for other parents. When parents believe the Department is acting wrongfully, and they disagree with the court’s orders, they should consider filing an appeal of the decision. An appellate attorney can help you evaluate the decision and see whether you have a good chance on appeal.
1. In the Interest of S.T., No. 14CA2347 (Colo. App., Oct. 8, 2015).
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