Is it me or are others seeing this trend? The courts are getting happy about taking children from their "poor" parents. I think for one thing its not right. This article shows just this. It is the courts fault that things took too long and the boy forgot his " family." In my mind this is not in the best interest of the child.
Mother loses 7-year fight to get son back
Court says child has forgotten birth family
ASHLEY BARRON ABARRON@CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.COM
Pamela King's seven-year fight for custody of her youngest son, Cody, ended May 22 when the S.C. Supreme Court permanently terminated her parental rights to the child.
One reason cited was that Cody no longer remembered his mother and siblings, who live in Ruffin, after being separated from them for so long.
King's three children were removed from her custody by the state Department of Social Services when she was charged with passing a bad check in October 1999 and police said they found a crack pipe in her purse. In October 2000, the Foster Care Review Board recommended ending her parental rights.
Over three years, though, King completed a treatment plan required by DSS. The Foster Care Review Board changed its recommendation, and in November 2002, her autistic son, Casey, who was 12, and daughter Ashley, then 7, were returned.
However, DSS said it was in his best interests for Cody, then 5, to remain with pre-adoptive parents on Isle of Palms who'd had him for a year. King hasn't been allowed to see Cody since January 2003.
Family court terminated King's parental rights to Cody in March 2003, and King appealed. The Court of Appeals overturned that decision in January 2005, and the pre-adoptive parents and DSS appealed.
In May, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled "Cody was in a loving, stable environment with the (adoptive parents) and had no memory of his biological family."
DSS must show grounds for terminating a parent's rights. Grounds include such things as abandonment, abuse or neglect, willful failure to pay child support for a certain amount of time, or a child being in the care of the state for a certain amount of time. In this case, the only grounds accepted by the Court of Appeals was that the child had been in foster care at least 15 of the preceding 22 months.
That was enough. If the case meets one of nine designated grounds, the court may decide the case solely on the best interests of the child.
This reflects a change in the way the courts of South Carolina view termination-of-parental-rights cases, according to Jim Thompson, a Spartanburg lawyer who specializes in adoption and termination of parental rights and is an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
"What's at play here is the ongoing tension between birth-parent rights and the protection of children," Thompson said.
King's court-appointed attorney, Robert DeMarco, primarily practices real estate law in Charleston. DeMarco said his client was a captive of the system and had no way to speed up the process.
"(The Supreme Court) has now provided a pathway to DSS to get children who are adoptable away from their parents by delaying," he said. "DSS has the absolute power in these cases."
Said King: "They want to focus on how long it took me, and that was four years ago. It's taken them longer to get their stuff together than it took me."
The appeals court judges agreed that DSS had contributed to the lack of bonding and has the power to influence the factors that determine the basis of termination. They also pointed out that the Foster Care Review Board recommended reunification only six months after Cody was placed with the pre-adoptive parents, but DSS pursued termination of parental rights.
The DSS attorney, Frampton Durban, and the adoptive parents' private attorney throughout the process, Glenn Lister, did not return phone messages.
Thompson said current Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal has spearheaded the changes to emphasize a child's best interests.
"Twenty years ago, Jean Toal ... wrote a blistering dissent about how we were placing children's rights (behind) parents' rights," Thompson said. "Even if a ground (for termination of parental rights) was found, family court judges were deferring to the parent-child relationship being primary, not the best interests of the child."
The previous policy was to reunite children and birth parents whenever possible, as stated in the case of Hooper v. Rockwell in 1999, and other cases in the past that presume that it's in the child's best interests to be with a biological parent.
In 2000, Toal wrote a Supreme Court decision that "overturned 10 different cases that called for the strict interpretation of grounds versus termination of parental rights," Thompson said.
In that case, Joiner v. Rivas, Toal wrote, "We overrule those cases calling for strict construction of the TPR statutes," quoting S.C. code that says terminating-parental-rights statutes "must be liberally construed in order to ensure prompt judicial procedures for freeing minor children from the custody and control of their parents by terminating the parent child relationship." In other words, the courts and DSS should be given flexibility in terminating custody.
Another Supreme Court justice, who agreed with the final decision of the court for other reasons, wrote a separate opinion because he thought the court had misread the state code. Justice Costa Pleicones said the code was intended to ensure "prompt judicial action," not to "expedite terminations."
Although DeMarco has filed for a re-hearing with the Supreme Court, he's not optimistic. "Very rarely do they agree to hear the arguments again."
What This Means for Custody Disputes
If you are or become involved in a child custody case, ask your attorney to explain all of your legal rights, and the rights and responsibilities of the Department of Social Services. Know that courts are taking the length of the appeals process into consideration when gauging a child's best interests.