These companion cases addressed the procedural due process safeguards required in CHINS cases. Specifically, the cases held that parents who request a contested fact-finding hearing have a constitutional due process right to such a hearing. A CHINS adjudication is a necessary step before the Department of Child Services can bring an action to terminate a person’s parental rights. The Supreme Court held that if one parent wishes to admit that a child is in need of services and the other parent wishes to deny such a need, the trial court is required to conduct a fact-finding hearing. A contested dispositional hearing is not sufficient.
These holdings are very straightforward. However, they are also very important and clarify parents’ due process rights regarding proceedings that could lead to the termination of their parental rights. These cases are very important for anyone who practices family law at the trial court level or is appealing a decision regarding a CHINS adjudication or termination of parental rights.
One interesting aspect is whether these cases are retroactive and, if so, what effect the holdings have on situations where a parent’s parental rights have already been terminated following a CHINS adjudication where that parent was denied a fact-finding hearing. At first glance, it seems that parents who have or are in the process of losing their parental rights after being denied a fact-finding hearing may have some recourse based on these decisions.
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