Termination of Parental Rights Needs More Than A Good Reason

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The Nebraska Supreme Court reaffirmed the position that for the State to terminate the parental rights of a parent in a juvenile court case, the State must prove both that there is a legitimate reason to do so and that the termination of parental rights is in the child’s best interests.

Under Nebraska law, for a parent’s rights to be terminated by a juvenile court, the State must prove two things. First, the State must prove that one of the reasons for terminating parental rights defined by statute (such as abandonment, neglect, or ongoing drug usage, the full list can be seen here). But the State must also prove that the termination of parental rights would be in that child’s best interest. If (like in this case) the State proves its grounds for termination but not the best interest, the juvenile court will deny the termination request.

The case, In re Interest of Justine S. and Sylissa J., involved two girls (aged 14 and 11) who were removed from their mother’s care. The State filed a motion to terminate the mother’s parental rights based on the mother’s alleged abandonment of the children and her ongoing drug usage. The juvenile court denied the motion because, while the court did agree that the State proved its grounds, the State did not prove that the termination would be in the children’s best interest. This was, in part, because the children were staying with relatives and were not going to be adopted, which would require a termination of the mother’s parental rights.

The State’s case on appeal was not helped by the fact that the State did not properly draft its brief, meaning the Supreme Court reviewed the case for “plain error” rather than the usual standard on appeal. A “plain error” standard appeal is harder for a party appealing a case to win, as there may be cases where there would be enough questions about the lower court’s ruling to overturn it normally but not enough for an appellate court to find that the lower court committed “plain error.”

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