In re B.K. and L.K.Annotate this Case
This case began in 2014 when the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) filed a petition alleging that B.K. and L.K., then six and seven years old respectively, were children in need of care or supervision (CHINS). In September 2014, the parents stipulated to a CHINS adjudication, which was adopted by the family court. In the stipulation, the parents admitted that over the previous four years they had not engaged in recommended services for domestic violence and substance abuse, and that the children had suffered severe trauma due to witnessing violence in the home and had frequent unexcused absences and tardiness from school. ness from school during the 2013-14 school year. The court approved a case plan with concurrent goals of reunification with mother and father or adoption, with interim custody with DCF. The case plan called for father to participate in parenting classes and domestic violence treatment, and for mother to participate in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Father made significant progress toward the case plan goals. Mother, by contrast, attended visits and therapy inconsistently, and was incarcerated for a period in 2015. Since December 2015, mother has had no contact with the children. In April 2016, DCF filed petitions to terminate the parental rights of both parents. However, the court found that father played a constructive role in the children’s lives and that it would not be in their best interests to lose father as they had mother. By 2017, the trial court issued its decision terminating father's parental rights, finding permanency should have been given greater weight in its analysis, and that the best interests of the children were ultimately served by termination. On appeal, father argues that the court’s decision lacked a rational basis and that it erred by terminating his parental rights based on findings that were not supported by clear and convincing evidence. DCF argued the trial court did not base its decision on any new findings of fact, but merely reconsidered the law. The Vermont Supreme Court disagreed, finding the trial court made clear that it learned two new facts at the hearing upon which it relied in reweighing the best-interest factors. The original decision did not include these findings, which were based upon statements made by the attorneys and the foster mother at the hearing. The court based its decision to terminate father’s parental rights at least in part on these new facts. For that reason, the Court could not hold that error to be harmless.