August 25, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Grandparent Has No Constitutionally Protected Liberty Interest in Society or Custody of Child

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of C.N. on Thursday, November 15, 2018.

Dependency and NeglectGrandparentsFourteenth AmendmentDue ProcessStanding.

In 2015, the Jefferson County Division of Children, Youth, and Families filed a petition in dependency and neglect due to concerns about mother’s mental health. Mother’s newborn was placed in foster care and mother’s parental rights were terminated a year later. A division of the court of appeals affirmed the judgment and a mandate was issued in February 2017. That same month, grandmother filed a motion to intervene in the case and then filed a motion for the child to be placed with her. The juvenile court held a contested hearing on the motion and found it was in the child’s best interest to permanently remain with the foster parents. The court also terminated grandmother’s visitation with the child. The child was adopted by the foster parents in January 2018.

On appeal, grandmother argued that mother did not receive reasonable accommodations to address her mental health issues and the child had a fundamental right of association with grandmother. Also, she asserted that as an intervenor in the case she was a real party interest as to these issues. The court construed grandmother’s arguments to be that she had standing in the case. Grandmother cited no substantive law granting her standing to assert the rights of mother and the child. Further, courts have consistently held that in dependency and neglect appeals parents and intervenors lack standing to assert the rights of other parties. Grandmother lacked standing to raise the issues on appeal regarding mother and the child.

Grandmother also argued the juvenile court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case because the child never resided or was present in Jefferson County. The allegation that the child was dependent or neglected conferred subject matter jurisdiction with the juvenile court; the question then turned on whether venue was proper. When mother gave birth to the child, she was asked at the hospital where she lived and she provided an address in Arvada, which is within Jefferson County. Thus, venue was proper.

Grandmother further argued that her fundamental associational rights with the child required that she be fully considered for placement of the child and it was error for her not to receive notice of the termination hearing. Grandmother did not have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the society or custody of the child because she had only limited visitation rights derived from statute and had no existing custodial relationship. Grandmother did not have placement of the child and was not entitled to notice of the termination hearing.

The court also rejected grandmother’s argument that it was error to not allow grandmother to file a petition for the adoption of the child in the dependency and neglect case. There is no such right in the dependency and neglect proceeding, and grandmother was not precluded from timely filing an adoption petition in a separate proceeding. Accordingly, the juvenile court did not err in disallowing the filing of the adoption petition.

The court further rejected grandmother’s argument that the juvenile court erred in terminating her visitation rights with the child. Grandmother’s visitation rights were terminated at the time mother’s parental rights were terminated.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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Comments

  1. Barbara Turpin says:

    At the time the county agency took custody, according to Federal Dept. of Health and Human Services ACYF requirements, a search for a suitable relative placement should have taken place before placing in foster care. This is best practice, proven to be best for the child and could have prevented this entire situation. A search would have determined if grandmother was a suitable placement for her BLOOD grandchild. It appears that since this child was a newborn and the foster placement was intentional to provide this foster family with an infant. If the child had been older, I believe the adoption wouldn’t have taken place. This whole situation may be legally supported, but it is morally and ethically wrong for the court not to give grandmother standing and an opportunity to raise her grandchild. I hope this has been brought to the attention of ACYF for their review of agency practices.

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