Domestic Assault and Loss of Parenting Rights

The clock started ticking on losing their child when the Maine State Police arrived. Well, actually, it started before that.

During the course of “a physical altercation between the mother and the father” in front of their one year old son, the mom hit the father and knocked out one of his teeth.  (In Re B.P., 2015 ME 139)

When the State Police responded to a telephone call they set in motion the process of removing the baby from the home and granted custody to the Department of Health and Human Services. That was in July, 2012.  Four months later, the District Court (Maine’s court for family matters) found that both the mom and the dad had abused substances and exposed their son to domestic violence. It was determined that it was in the best interest of the baby to place “B. P.” in the care of an aunt and uncle while waiting for the appropriate time to reunite the toddler with his parents. 

Time passed. Fast-forward to October 2014. The District Court determined that the dad showed evidence of improved and sufficient ability to be a safe parent for his son. But the mom – a convicted drug trafficker and thief – failed to make the grade, particularly because she did not obtain appropriate drug treatment and failed to complete anger management counseling. This led the District Court to the conclusion that the mom had a very limited ability to care for herself, never mind caring for her son.  Her only permitted contact with her son was through supervised visits.

Here was the catch for the dad: the District Court required that the dad have absolutely no contact, direct or indirect, with the baby’s mom, and also have continued counseling.

How did it go? Not well.  In less than seven weeks after regaining custody of his son the following occurred: the mother and father spent time together (including before and after Mom’s supervised visits where DHS caseworkers could see the couple together), the father yelled at the DHS caseworker in front of his toddler (calling the DHS caseworker “whore” /“streetwalker”/ “bitch” ) and threatened the baby’s stepbrother – who had taken a picture of the baby’s parents together – by creating a disturbance in a parking lot and yelling at the baby’s stepbrother “Thanks, I will be paying you back while I am raping your daughter.” (In Re B.P., 2015 ME 139, ¶¶ 4-11)

In removing the toddler boy from both parents, and terminating their parental rights, the District Court enunciated the evidence required for its ruling as follows: “the father is highly volatile and unstable, and has ongoing difficulty regulating his emotional behavior. Given his own challenges, any contact between the mother and the father is likely to create more situations of domestic violence with the resulting adverse impacts on B. P. Despite the history of domestic violence between them, the mother’s persistent and completely untreated drug abuse, and their failure to complete or even acknowledge the need for any to continued counseling, the mother and father intend to get back together, see no reason why they should not be together, and believe that the mother is capable of caring for B.P. in an unsupervised setting.” (In Re B.P., 2015 ME 139, ¶12)

Most importantly for the toddler boy, the District Court found that the parents’ behavior “has had a negative effect on B.P.” who was described as being “unusually destructive with property, unusually aggressive with other children,  household pets, and has shown a troubling proclivity for self harm.” In addition, the little boy verbalized violent imagery to his loving aunt that led the District Court to determine that his parents’ violent behavior had had an adverse effect on B.P.  The Court counted as significant evidence the fact that the boy said to his aunt “you don’t love me anymore… You’re going to throw me in the trash” and told his uncle that his father was “going to choke [the aunt]” and that “daddy said he’s going to kill” the boy’s grandfather. The District Court found “most alarming” the fact that the boy attempted to choke the aunt and uncle’s cat after returning from the trial placement with the father.  (In Re B.P., 2015 ME 139, ¶13)

The Dist. Court’s findings, by clear and convincing evidence, included the fact the both the mother and the father were unwilling or unable to protect their son from jeopardy, and that their inability to protect their son from jeopardy was unlikely to change within a time period reasonably calculated to meet their son’s needs.  The District Court further found that parental termination was in the child’s best interest.

On appeal to the Law Court, Chief Justice Saufley wrote that there was “more than sufficient evidence in the record to support the findings that the mother is unable to take care of herself, let alone her son. She has continued to abuse drugs, she had contact with the father when she knew that doing so would put their child’s return home to his father at risk, and she is violent with the people she professes to love.” (In Re B.P., 2015 ME 139, ¶17). As to the father, Justice Saufley found that there was “more than sufficient evidence” that the father suffered from anger, volatility, emotional control issues, disrespect for the Court/DHS and that his behavior had had a “significant and strongly negative impact” on his son’s behavior.

Finally, Justice Saufley took the opportunity to stress the importance of time from the standpoint of a child. Writing for the Law Court she stated: “This case has been ongoing for longer than 3 years. The lack of permanence during the length of this case has already had too great an impact upon B.P., and the court did not err or abuse its discretion in determining that termination of both parents’ parental rights is in B.P.’s best interest… The clock has run out.”