Connecticut Juvenile Courts must now consider a parent’s request for posttermination visitation as part of Termination of Parental Rights case. This is a very important ruling relating to family integrity and the preservation of familial ties.
In a unanimous decision, the Appellate Court determined that the trial judge, Carl Taylor, misconstrued the applicable statute and therefore incorrectly applied the law when he decided that the Juvenile Court did not have the authority to decide posttermination visitation.
In re Ava W. the biological parent (respondent) claimed that the trial court should have considered her request for posttermination visitation under its broad authority to enter “any order,” pursuant to General Statutes § 46b-121 (b) (1), so long as the order serves the best interest of the child.
DCF opposed this claim and argued the following: (1) the parent lacks standing to challenge the trial court’s order regarding visitation because the court terminated her parental rights; (2) the trial court correctly determined that, as a matter of law, it lacked the authority to issue an order for posttermination contact; and (3) even if the trial court had the authority to order posttermination visitation, it correctly determined that posttermination visitation would not be in the child’s best interest.
The important parts of the Appellate Court decision are quoted below:
“We agree with the respondent that the jurisdictional hurdles of aggrievement and mootness have been satisfied and do not defeat this court’s subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate this appeal. We also agree with the respondent that a trial court has authority to issue a posttermination visitation order that is requested within the context of a termination proceeding, so long as it is necessary or appropriate to secure the welfare, protection, proper care and suitable support of the child. That authority derives from the court’s broad common-law authority over juvenile matters and the legislature’s enactment of § 46b-121 (b) (1) codifying that authority. The trial court in the present case incorrectly determined that it lacked authority to consider a posttermination visitation order on the basis of the respondent’s failure to satisfy the statutory requirements of § 17a-112 (b) through (h).
Section 17a-112 (b) governs “cooperative postadoption agreement[s]” under which parents voluntarily relinquish their parental rights and intended adoptive parents willingly enter into a postadoption contact agreement. The present case does not fall within that category of circumstances, and the respondent’s failure to satisfy those requirements did not deprive the trial court of authority to consider posttermination visitation pursuant to its broad authority under § 46b-121 (b) (1). Therefore, the trial court incorrectly determined that it lacked authority to evaluate whether posttermination visitation would be necessary or appropriate to secure the welfare, protection, proper care and suitable support of the child.
Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s order denying request of the minor child and the respondent mother for posttermination visitation with the respondent and remand the case with direction to consider the request consistent with the standard we now establish. Specifically, trial courts have authority pursuant to § 46b-121 (b) (1) to consider motions for posttermination visitation within the context of a termination proceeding and can order such visitation if necessary or appropriate to secure the welfare, protection, proper care and suitable support of the child.”
This decision will likely lead to more Termination of Parental Rights trials and potentially longer trials as parents fight for visitation with their child even if their rights are terminated.
Connecticut Juvenile Court Attorney
I represent clients in Juvenile Court matters through out Fairfield and New Haven Counties including those who reside in Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Trumbull, Stratford, Bridgeport, Westport, Weston, New Canaan, Wilton, Norwalk, Darien, Stamford, Greenwich, Shelton, Orange and Milford.